“So, Reg,” Emma asked as they rode along towards Stacy’s off-campus apartment. “Did you break out the designer threads for me or for the Earl?”
Regan turned from watching the suburbs streaking past them to stare at her best friend for life. “Designer threads?”
“I remember when you got that blouse,” Emma explained. “I helped Harrison pick it out. The thing cost in the ballpark of two hundred dollars.” She reached out and rolled the sleeve between her fingers. “It’s softer than a baby’s bottom and you swore you’d never wear anything that expensive, ever. Which has me wondering why you felt the need to change it up.” She pointed down into the darkened floor of the backseat they shared. “Plus those heels? Choo. Trust me, I know my over-five-hundred-dollar-shoes.”
Regan considered for a few moments. She had been going more and more to the back of her closet every night, picking out the fine combed silks, and the more expensive blouses and skirts. She had not once slipped into a pair of sneakers in the last two weeks. Even her usual cotton panties were a thing of the past, replaced with pure lace garments, revealing but flattering. It was as though overnight she had become hyper-aware of the feel of material against her skin, the coarseness of a rough cotton tee shirt being a constant distraction compared to the caress of fine cashmere. With all the clubbing that Stacy had dragging her along to, it had also meant dry-cleaning bills on par with the Greek national debt, but she did not feel she had a choice. She had to live after all.
The shoes, on the other hand were mildly uncomfortable and served no purpose other than to show every other woman in the restaurant that she could afford to spend eight hundred ninety five dollars, plus shipping and handling, on a pair of shoes. The more she reflected on this the more she realized it was a completely irrational choice, and hardly a cost-effective one. That is, unless she wanted to establish herself as a woman of means, which they did quite effectively.
Anyone who did not recognize the work of Jimmy Choo was not someone she needed to impress or intimidate.
“So?” Emma prompted.
How did she explain this? She glanced over the back of the front seats towards Larry and Sammi and considered how much she could safely say to Emma about her new life. As it was Emma was in enough danger without drawing attention to how much she may or may not know about the local “night life.”
“For the Earl,” she lied. “And the shoes are knock-offs.” She stole a glance towards Emma before turning to look out the window again. Emma was not convinced but did not inquire further.
The silence was broken by the sound of Regan’s cell phone. She slid the device from her handbag and checked the screen. An unknown number and a blank icon greeted her. Shrugging, she muted the phone and sent the call to voicemail.
The car pulled into the parking lot of Stacy’s apartment complex. Regan thanked Larry and Sammi for the rescue, promising to repay them later. Sammi waved and Larry assured Regan that indeed she did owe them, but that he was in rush to collect on the debt. She lead Emma up to the fourth floor balcony and down to the door to Stacy’s place. It was easily found as the windows were papered over keeping out sunlight and prying eyes. Before Emma could ask, Regan explained that by being a bit of a video gamer, Stacy explained the papered windows as nothing but an effort to reduce screen glare.
“It’s open”, Stacy shouted when Regan knocked. She opened the door and stepped into the small space to see Stacy leaning wearily on the kitchenette counter, her hands wrapped around a mug offering the advice “Think, while it’s still legal.” Her hair half covered her face with its usual natural, chaotic ease. Gone, however, were Stacy’s usual skirts, fluffy sleeved blouses, and Edwardian vests. Instead she greeted them in a tee shirt that reached down to her knees, and bare feet. “Hey,” she groaned not looking up at them.
“What’s wrong?” Regan had spent enough time around Stacy over the last month to know that if she was not dressed in something pulled from the pages of a Steampunk thriller, something was off; the child-vampire at the very least added a pair of goggles to every outfit she wore.
Stacy took a sip from her mug. “What do you mean? I’m just great.” Her voice was rich with bitterness and frustration.
“Well, you’re not, you know, dressed,” Regan offered. “Did we interrupt something?” She glanced around, half expecting to see a boy stretched out on the couch, exhausted from having been fed on. There was no one else to be seen.
Stacy came over with her mug in hand and dropped onto the couch, the hem of the shirt rising up enough to reveal a pair of cut-off jean shorts. “No sense getting dressed up if I’m not going out.”
Regan moved over to sit next to her, leaving Emma to stand, awkwardly, next to the door. “What?”
The diminutive vampire gave a dismissive shrug. “Since we left the Library, it’s master has decided I’m not being true to my blood. He thinks I’m turning my back on the truth of being a Book and I need some encouragement to return to the true path. He’s really pretty pissed that we didn’t stay, and that I’ve been running around with you, so he’s forbidden me to leave this apartment unless it is to come ‘home’. On top of that, I have to swear to return to the library at least one night of the week.” She pointed towards Emma with the mug. “It was great of you to bring me something but I’m only allowed to drink the blood he has Daryl bring me every few days. I’m pretty sure it’s rat blood.” With a grimace she took another drink from her mug.
“Oh,” Regan started, unsure how to explain at first. “Emma, this is Stacy, my vampire big sister. Stacy, this is Emma, my best friend since second grade and not someone I want fed on.”
Stacy’s eyes lit up. “Oh!” She beamed a wide smile, suddenly energized. “I’ve heard so much about you; I’m sorry I’m such a mess.”
Emma smiled back, nervously. “Yeah,” she said, “I haven’t heard a thing about you.”
Regan frowned, thinking about how litten she had seen Emma in the last month. “That would be my fault. Sorry.”
Stacy waved a hand. “Hey, better late than never.” She smiled again at Emma. “It really is cool to meet you, and I’m sorry I suggested eating you.”
“Apology accepted,” Emma answered, though it sounded a bit more like a question. Regan did not blame her for being unsure of herself around vampires, given what had happened in the last few hours.
“Wait,” Regan said, as she processed what Stacy’s comments. “How is he keeping you here? The door was unlocked. Why not just walk out?”
Stacy pointed to the corner of the room, where stood a life sized statue of a woman. Regan had been so surprised by Stacy’s state she had not even noticed it. She looked closer and realized with a gasp that it bore a disconcerting familiarity. The long hair, the small mouth, the once bright eyes. It was one of the two hunters that Regan had helped consign to a fate of becoming a living statue back in the cellars of the library. She had assisted in collecting the blood used in the ritual to eternally lock the woman into an existence of marble servitude to Jeremiah of the Book, Master of the Library of the Straits.
“Yep,” Stacy said as Regan’s face paled. “She’s been ordered to stop me from feeding or leaving the apartment at all unless its with Jeremiah himself.”
“How does a statue stop you from leaving?” Emma looked confused. Regan was impressed that she was not freaking out.
Regan shook her head. “By walking over and stopping her, I bet.” She looked at Emma. “Trust me, vampires are just the start of it all. There’s a whole lot of real for what shouldn’t be: Vampires, living statues, werewolves-”
“Actually,” Stacy interjected, “werewolves are just a myth. Really.”
Emma let out a long low whistle. “I’d turn this all into a book, but no one would believe it enough to get past the first chapter. A statue that keeps you from leaving? That’s a whole new kind of freaky.”
“Tell me about it,” Regan muttered.
“Right,” Stacy said, “Enough of the Stacy Pity Party. You’ve got cop problems?”
Regan quickly explained about the traffic stop while Emma studied the statue. She made faces at it, and tentatively poked it in the ribs, while Regan recounted their escape. “I thought the cops left us alone,” she said when she had finished describing the events.
“They usually do,” Stacy answered, “but if someone was pissed at you they might use them to get your attention. It’s not a huge deal, I got a friend who’s got a back door into every major precinct network. Tell him who pulled you over, and about what time and -poof- it never happened.”
“What will this cost me?” Regan was hardly anxious to add another name to her ledger of debts given how far she had gone to clear it.
“Dunno,” Stacy smiled. “Let’s go ask.” She got up from the couch and moved into the bedroom, waving for them to follow. “I sent him an email right before Daryl left to get my blood supply for the night, so maybe he got back to me.”
They followed her into the humble bedroom. Stacy’s computer was a multi-monitored gaming rig, propped up on table made by a discarded closet door and two cut down sawhorses, a three thousand dollar computer laid out on a three dollar desk.
“Let’s see,” she said sitting down in the chair and opening her email. “He just wants,” her voice trailed off before she narrowed her eyes. “Aw, hell no.”
“What?” Regan squinted to read the text but Stacy closed the email before she could see what it had said.
Stacy picked up her phone from the desk and tapped on the screen a few times. She held it up and waited, her raised finger a signal that she was going to take care of things.
“Hey, Dodger? Yeah, Stacy.” She smiled as talked, her voice casual. “I got your email and I’m not quite sure how to say this but you’re completely nucking futs. You and I know that your standard fee for a little cop-mop is an even two hundred and that’s it.” She continued to grin, as she listened. “Look, how about we just make it four and call it a night?” There was another pause as her cheeks started to redden. She swiped her mops of hair back out of her face. “Yeah, she’s the red-head I told you about, but-” Stacy paused, cut off on the other end of the line. “You’re killing me, here,” she answered a few moments later. “I’ll ask her but seriously, I’d just take the six hundred I offered you- yes it was six, you’re just too fixated on your lack of a sex life to listen to me- take the eight hundred and call it good.” Regan glanced at Emma who shrugged. “Okay, okay,” Stacy nearly shouted into the phone. “I’ll tell her it’s the only thing you’ll take in trade, but she’s not going to be happy with it.” Stacy put the phone down on her desk with surprising gentleness considering the anger in her voice. Again, she swept her hair back. “Dodger will only accept a two hour date with you as trade for cleaning up your record.”
“A date?” Regan was shocked. Was this middle school?
“No sex, no blood, no feeding. Just two hours at a bar, talking. Dodger, he doesn’t get out much, and I may have mentioned once or twice a few things about how you looked in some of those ‘hot for teacher’ outfits you were wearing last week and he might have gotten it into his head that he’d rather have a date with you than take money for this.”
“Do I have a choice?” Regan rubbed her eyes in frustration.
“Not if you want the cops to forget that they pulled you over and then were led on a high speed chase.”
Regan put her hands up. “Then I guess I’m his for a night.”
“Two hours,” Stacy corrected. “And I’d hold him to that no sex rule. If he wanted to get laid he should have put that in the negotiations.” Stacy turned back to the computer and started typing. “He’s not a bad guy, he just has a thing for red-heads.”
Regan started to say something when her phone rang again. She pulled it out and again saw an unknown name and number. She sent the call to voicemail.
“Okay,” Stacy said, watching text scroll across the screen. “Dodger says he’s already spotted the traffic stop on the right server. He’ll clear it out now and call you tomorrow night to make plans.”
“Great,” Regan muttered. Her phone chirped with the new voice mail message. She turned on the speakerphone and dialled into the voice mail. The smooth computer voice stated that she had one new message.
“Ms. Fairchild, this is Mr. Strathmore,” the voice was calm and smooth. “I am sitting in my study, curious as to why I am alone. According to the incredibly obstinate electronic assistant in this phone that Ms. Stephanowski insists that I use, you were supposed to join me here over an hour ago. You have not. This is incredibly unsettling and quite surprising given our history. I strongly recommend that you find your way here tomorrow evening within an hour of sunset or I assure you that shortly thereafter I shall release the hounds. You do not want me to release the hounds, Ms. Fairchild, this I assure you. Good evening.”
“I thought you were meeting him in person,” Stacy said, turning around. “You know what he means by releasing the hounds, right?”
Regan nodded. That had be a threat to have her foxed, hunted down by other vampires. What had happened? She had made arrangements to meet him at the restaurant, a safe public space. She looked at Emma, now very concerned. “Stacy, can I borrow your car? I need to get Emma home and, well...”
“Safe,” Stacy finished for her. She nodded and tossed the keys to her. “I totally understand. And I barely feel safe with Venus de Milo out there, I can’t imagine how you feel, Emma.”
Emma’s face twisted in thought. “I’m pretty sure that some time tomorrow my brain will actually process all of this and I’ll start a serious round of freaking out. Right now nothing is making sense on any level which is allowing me remain fairly calm, all things considered.”
Regan said her goodbyes and they let themselves out of the apartment, leaving Stacy alone with her marble warden. They headed down to the parking lot and out to the small two-seater Stacy owned, but rarely drove. Looking like she was underage could lead to unwanted attention when she was behind the wheel. They headed back out to one of the main roads along the side of the sprawling campus.
“You’re in deep aren’t you?” Emma’s voice was quiet, unusually subdued.
Regan nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on the road ahead. She did not speak.
“I really barely know anything about this. Look,” Emma’s voice pitched up slightly, “I’ve seen a lot of vampire movies. Things never end well for mortal friends and family. I think I get why you gave me space, you know, to keep me hidden away so I wouldn’t get hurt.”
Regan blinked, a red haze starting to fill her vision as she drove. The truth was that she had not called because it had not occurred to her. She was living the high-life, working with consulting clients until eleven, hitting a rave at midnight, dancing and laughing until four, and then curling up with a warm guy until sunrise. Every night she had thought that she should call Emma, to reach out to keep that friendship alive, and every night something had just been slightly more pressing, slightly more urgent. And so the weeks slid past. She could not bring herself to say anything; it would hurt Emma even more to know the truth and Regan had no talent for falsehoods. She settled another nervous nod of her head.
“Regan,” Emma reached over and put her hand on Regan’s arm. “I’m your friend, for life. I know it probably sounds stupid, and that I should have my head examined for not wanting to run for the hills, but I love you. We’ve been there for each other through everything life threw at us, and please, let me help with this too.”
Regan let go of the wheel with one hand and took hold of Emma’s. “Thanks.”
Out of the corner of her eye she caught Emma’s smile. “So what do we do now?”
“Well,” Regan began. “We start with me getting you home and safe. Then I go home, get something to drink, and start figuring out how I’m going to square things with the Earl and go on a date with a computer hacker all in one night.”
Emma’s voice dropped again. “I’ve been thinking about that off and on tonight,” she said nervously. “Do you have to go out and find someone in a back alley?”
“You really want to know?”
“Yes,” Emma said, her voice still low. “I want to understand my best friend and what she’s going through.”
That was fair. “I actually have someone come by the house every few days that I ‘kiss’. That’s what she thinks it is, the messenger girl. I really don’t understand it, and I really can’t describe it. But from what I can tell, she really enjoys the experience. I’ve ‘kissed’ some of the men I’ve dated, and I keep a bottle of blood that Jeremiah gave me on hand for nights like tonight.”
“So,” Emma started. Regan could recognize that blogger’s curiosity in her tone. “You’re not going to drink someone in person?”
“I honestly just want to go get home, warm up some blood, and crash, hard.”
There was a long silence before Emma spoke again. “What if I told you I wanted to know just what this ‘kiss’ was like? I mean, I almost got bit by one vamp tonight, I might as well know what I'm in for, right?”
Regan took her eyes from the road and stared, shocked at her friend.
Our story continues into chapter 17