There were very few things that Regan could say with certainty. One of them was that neither major political party really cared about fixing the economy as much as it cared about winning the next election. Another was that if it is not in the budget, it is not getting spent.
On that list certitudes was the fact that Emma was straight.
She was not homophobic; far from, Regan and Emma had stood with gay friends in college to protest some of the more intrusive policies from the school’s administration. They had shared a dorm room for a semester, and an off campus apartment for a year, and at no time had Emma shown the least interest in other women. At Gretchen’s bachelorette party they had stopped in a lesbian bar for some drinks and Emma had been hit on, repeatedly, for over an hour. She laughed off each and every advance, politely but firmly. Regan was sure she would have done the same in Emma’s shoes, but the massive sparkling diamond Harrison had given her for their engagement seemed to act as a particularly strong ward against unwanted affection.
Which is how Regan knew that there was no earthly reason that her best friend for life would be dreamily following a pretty blonde out into the night to become that particular vampire’s late night dinner. It had to be some kind of spell or vampiric power that Klarissa, the Earl’s assistant, was using on Emma. It was the was the only explanation for Emma’s complete entrancement by the blonde woman.
“You just can’t leave your bill unpaid,” Regan said pointedly.
Emma blinked. Regan could see something in her eyes. Would she listen and stay at the table? Or would Klarissa’s charms continue to work their literal magic and entice Emma into stepping into the darkness?
“What?” Emma asked, still focusing on Klarissa as she stood up.
“If you don’t pay your bill,” Regan explained patiently, “there will be wide ranging consequences that will have a massive impact on the local economy.” She still had little clue how this power that she had discovered actually worked. All she could think to do was to keep talking about money as persuasively as possible. “If you don’t pay this bill, then the waiter will have to pay for it himself out of his tips for the evening. Given the state of the overall market right now, that will probably represent several additional tables he will feel compelled to take on to make up the difference. And anyone working that hard on a night like this, taking on those extra burdens is going to do a weaker job for it. He simply won’t be able to do his best work because of the extra burden and, Emma, it will be your fault.”
Emma paused and turned away from Klarissa for the first time since the other vampire had appeared. “My fault?”
“Oh yes,” Regan continued, feeling a surge of energy in her veins. “Not only that, but imagine the wider damage you will do. By having several poorly served tables, this entire establishment could see a drop in patrons. Word of mouth is the most potent form of advertising these days, and consider that if just a few people Tweet how bad the service was, what might happen. It begins with a few lost customers tonight but soon those reviews turn into self fulfilling prophecies. Soon they have to lay people off. Soon the entire chophouse may have to close.” She reached out to touch Emma’s arm across the table. “You, Emma Johansson, would be responsible for putting dozens of people out of work. Do you want that?”
“Oh no,” Emma shook her head slowly, as though in a trance.
“Then you need to sit down and wait for the bill.” Regan’s mouth widened into a smile, confident that she had just saved Emma’s life. She risked looking at Klarissa.
The other vampire glared back at her, eyes intent upon her own. “Why did you do that? You know I deserve a chance to get to know your friend.”
Regan had been horribly wrong. Klarissa,this beautiful if deadly creature, was not a bad person, Her outer shell of formality and standoffishness cloaked a warm and loving heart. Why was Regan being so paranoid?
“You can stay and settle the check for Emma, can’t you?”
Regan nodded. “Of course, I can.” It was the least she could do as thanks for just being acknowledged. Women as beautiful and perfect as Klarissa rarely even looked at people like Regan. She watched dreamily as Klarissa took Emma’s hand and started to lead her out of the restaurant, weaving around the tables as other patrons continued to dine, visit and go about their lives. They had reached the hostess station when Regan’s head finally started to clear, the spell Klarissa had woven starting to fade.. That was twice that someone had gotten into her head and tried to rearrange her thoughts to their own convenience. It was becoming annoying. A waitress with black hair tied back in a small ponytail stopped them, probably to ask if they had enjoyed their evening. Regan shot to her feet and headed towards them.
“Miss,” she shouted, trying to get the attention of either the hostess or the waitress. The girl with the ponytail turned towards her, while Klarissa took advantage of the distraction to continue to the doors. “That woman,” Regan pointed at Klarissa hastily, “the blonde, she hasn’t paid her check.” At the mention of money, Regan’s blood surged again. “She owes you money!” She was starting to get the hang of this.
The hostess said nothing but the waitress seemed caught in Regan’s own spell. She turned and put a hand on Klarissa’s arm. “Excuse me ma’am, what table were you at?” Klarissa scowled at Regan before plastering an insincere smile on her own face and turning to the waitress. Regan rushed between the tables no longer caring how much chaos she caused along the way. She came up next to Emma and took hold of her other arm, pulling her best friend away from the fair-haired vampire. Klarissa’s attention was divided, Regan realized, and was unable to keep everyone within her spell. The waitress was now nodding happily as was the manager who had also come over to see to the commotion. Emma, however, was far enough removed that Regan was able to pull her out the doors towards the parking lot and drive. Regan lead the way to the valet station and demanded her keys, then took off at a light jog towards her car, all but dragging Emma along behind her. She wrenched the door open, shoved Emma inside and ran to the driver side.
“What the heck happened?” Emma said as Regan pulled out of the lot, and quickly turned towards Woodward.
“You ever see Star Wars?” Regan asked in response.
“Yes,” Emma said, clearly confused by the question. Regan glanced over to catch the moment of recognition in Emma’s eyes. “Oh wow, vampires are like Jedis?”
“I think the plural of Jedi is just Jedi.”
Emma punched Regan in the arm, a little harder than was comfortable. “Because that’s the most important part of the conversation right now.”
“Hey,” Regan countered, turning onto the boulevard and putting the gas down more than she normally felt comfortable. “If you’re going to make a pop culture reference, you should at least get the grammar right.”
Emma started to say something and paused. “Okay, point Regan.” She marked in the hair and then quickly spoke again. “You guys can do the Jedi Mind Trick?”
“I think so,” Regan confessed. “At least some can. I know that for it to work for me I have to be talking about money. I’m not sure what everyone else can and cannot do. I’m still learning all of this, remember?”
Emma nodded. “So what was going on? All I remember is that your friend is smoking hot and I have never, not once, said that about another woman.”
“Her kind of vampire must have an ability to make people really, really like them.”
Emma blushed. “I think I was picturing her naked.”
Regan pressed down harder on the accelerator. “Okay, really, really, really like them.”
“And I think I was enjoying it.”
Regan took her turn to punch Emma in the arm. “Will you knock it off? I’m being serious.”
“So am I,” Emma squeaked back, embarrassed. “I think I would have done anything she said just to be near her, now that I’m free of it all and can think about anything but her.”
That made sense to Regan. Books could issue orders and mess with someone’s thoughts, while Roses could make themselves simply incredibly attractive, and inspire followers through that. Of course, that also meant that those thusly enraptured were thinking for themselves. Regan had done more than her share of dangerous and foolish things out of love’s desires. There were clear downsides to ensnaring someone with good looks alone.
They hit the highway and Regan pointed the car back towards her home, giving Emma more details of what had happened over the last few weeks, sadly recounting a few of her overnight encounters.
“So, if you’ve just been out partying, why did the Earl want to see you?”
“Honestly,” Regan answered, “I have no idea, whatsoever. If I slipped up, I can’t imagine he’d agree just to meet me for dinner, but something had to happen to make him want me there to yell at.” Then she remembered. “The box.”
“Klarissa gave me a box,” she glanced around the car’s interior before realizing she had left it behind. “I bet it was important too,” she said in frustration.
“How fast are you going?” Emma asked.
Regan glanced down and immediately pulled her foot off the gas. “Oh geez,” she groaned, then glanced in the rearview mirror. As the car started to slow, the vehicle behind them lit up with red and blue lights.
“Oh, that’s not good,” Emma said spotting the lights as well. “Do you think you can talk your way out of it?”
Regan considered. “I might be able to make the case I can’t afford the ticket, which is not totally false.”
She pulled the car off to the side of the road and watched as the police car did the same. Placing both of her hands at the top of the steering wheel, she squinted and looked into the rearview mirror. She watched the two officers get out of their car, but instead of approaching they both pulled their sidearms and took aim.
“Both of you,” one of the officers shouted, “step out of the vehicle and keep your hands in plain sight. We will fire.”
Emma glanced at Regan. “Okay that’s not normal.”
Regan stared back. “They have to know.”
“I said, we will fire,” the officer shouted again. “Now step out of the vehicle.”
Regan was not going to wait to see happened. She slammed her foot down on the accelerator, and popped the car into gear. It surged forward as Regan guided it back onto the pavement, her mirror lit with the muzzle flashes from the officers’ sidearms. She swerved into the passing traffic and continued to accelerate. She would have, at most, a ten second head start and then she would in one of those accursed high speed pursuits that almost one hundred percent of the time ended in a fatality. In this case, she was already dead and immune to the long term effects of serious injury. Emma had no such protection.
Harrison was not really into playing video games, unlike most of his college friends. When he did play, however, he was very much taken with driving games. Regan would watch him play on Saturday mornings while she reviewed her spreadsheets, or prepared tax filings. He had invited her to join him, and she had always refused; she had something more important to do. In this particular moment, she regretted every single time she had declined.
“Here,” she said, tossing her phone to Emma between high speed swerves around other cars. “Call Daryl T and put him on speaker.” Emma did and soon Daryl’s voice filled the car as Regan continued to weave her way along the road.
“Regan?” Daryl’s voice asked.
“Daryl,” Regan panted, trying to keep focused on the path her car was making as it barreled down the highway. “I’ve got a state trooper following me and I think he knows that I prefer O positive over O neg.”
“Why?” Daryl sounded only slightly skeptical.
“They pulled me over speeding and then tried to shoot me.”
“Okay, that’s a good sign you got read. What do you want me to do?”
Regan’s mind raced. She needed a plan. Specifically she needed a way to hide this car and then get as far away from that point as possible. “I’m open to ideas. I’m an accountant, not Danica Patrick. They are going to catch up with me.”
There was a pause before Daryl spoke again. “I’ve got some ideas but they all require knowing where you are, first.”
“Do you have a computer there?”
“Log into the MyPhone website. You’ve got my number. My password is ‘My God Adam Smith’, all one word.”
“Seriously?” Emma interjected.
“Don’t judge,” Regan shot back. “You should be able to track my phone there,” she added to Daryl.
“One second,” he responded. After a short pause he was back on the line. “Okay I’ve got you. Take exit eighteen and make a right when you get off. I’ve got a friend in that area that can help you out. When you get clear of the highway, switch over to just your parking lights so he knows it’s you coming.”
Regan glanced at a mile marker. She had to evade the trooper for another six miles. She tensed her fingers on the wheel. Daryl hung up, presumably to call his friend. Regan pressed down harder on the accelerator. The phone rang again and Emma answered it.
“Regan’s phone, Regan’s hostage speaking.”
Regan would have punched her again, but was too busy fighting to hold the wheel steady. Instead she stole a sideways glance to catch Emma nodding and listening. She eventually put the phone down.
“He says he’s on his way to meet us at Five and Napier. There’s a golf course there we should be able to ditch the car at.”
Regan nodded and continued to watch the other cars slip past her as she sped along, the state trooper cruiser closing with each passing mile.
“So,” Emma said, leaning back in her seat. “Is Daryl cute?”
“I’m trying to not think about the fact that if you make one wrong move we’re both going to end up mile long splatters of flesh on the concrete, so can you please indulge me with a little something before I die?”
“Yeah,” Regan answered, her voice tight, “he’s actually really cute.” She blinked and pushed the car over a lane before slamming into the back of a slower car. “I’m just not sure it’s worth thinking about because of the whole ‘Stacy Thing’.”
“Oh,” Emma answered as a long single vowel sound. “Wait, like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey Mistress’?”
“No,” Regan answered. “It’s a servant kind of thing. It’s a long story, but can we sum it up as ‘I’m not sure he’s available’?”
“Sure,” Emma said. “Here’s your exit.”
Regan nodded and eased the car off the highway. She could see the cruiser following as she slowed to make the right onto the surface street, then pressed down hard on the accelerator, powering out of the turn. The cruiser did the same, maybe a hundred yards behind them. Regan turned off her head lights, leaving on the running lights. She raced along the street, passing a large truck that was idling in the right lane. As she blazed past it, the tractor gave a roar and started up, beginning a sweeping left turn to block all four lanes of traffic and start to ease into a nearby lot. Regan could hear the squeal of tires in the distance as she ran the red light and turned left onto the next street. Emma put a hand on Regan’s leg.
“I think that was it.”
They pulled up into the parking lot of the golf course Daryl had mentioned. Another car pulled in behind them and rolled up into an adjacent parking spot. Regan and Emma quickly clambered out of their car and to the next, making hasty introductions. “Larry?”
The bald headed thrall she had met her first night of vampiric life smiled at her in the rear view mirror. “You’re one lucky biter. Sammi and I were here doing some recon for another biter and were just wrapping it up. Doubly lucky that Sammi here knows how to hotwire a ninety two Peterbilt.” He quickly pulled out of the parking lot and turned towards town. A round faced woman with grease streaked cheeks and short black pigtails waved over her shoulder at them.
“Uh, hi,” she said, sheepishly, then turned back forward.
“Now,” Larry asked, “assuming you want to get some distance between us and those cops, where should we be headed?”
Our story continues into Chapter 15 Addendum
Our heroine is at a crossroads. What, dear reader, shall she do?