Sunday, December 2, 2012

Chapter 21


Chapter 21
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Regan watched as the waitress slid back to their table, a plate of miniature beer glasses balanced before her.  Despite a long stretch of partying into the wee hours of the morning, the idea of dating was still something she felt was too elusive.  It seemed finding someone at a bar to curl up with and forget the world for a few hours was an easy task.  Getting them to call again; that was considerably not so easy.

This whole date had been a bad idea, though she had been left with little choice. It was this or wonder when the police would recognize her car and resume the high speed chase she had just barely survived.  As such she really was at Dodger’s mercy.

“Thanks,” he said as Marcella put down the tray of drinks.  She quickly began to list off which beers were which, while Dodger smiled politely up at her. Regan tried to follow but got lost in most of the technobabble about brews and after tastes and hops choices.  She never was a beer drinker before her death; after it she had avoided anything but blood.  She still had no idea how she was going to fake sampling all these tastes without spitting them back up again.  It was highly unlikely that a series of beer-based spit-takes was part of Dodger’s grand plan.

Marcella had finished rattling off the choices available to her and turned to smile at her. 

“Those all sound great,” Regan said quickly, sure that none of them would taste better then bitter vinegar with a bad sawdust aftertaste.  She looked back at Dodger whose eye brows arched upwards to be visible from behind his glasses.  She smiled as sincerely as she could under pressure.  “But not as good as the waitress,” she said quickly.  “You were right she is absolutely adorable.”  She reached out to grab Dodger’s hand.  “Hon,” she added with what she intended to be a loving nod.  “I should know better than to ever doubt my true love’s taste in women.”


When she shifted her gaze to look up at Marcella she had expected to see a flattered grin and perhaps a bit of blush on the woman’s cheeks.  Instead the waitress stared back, her mouth slightly open and her tray clutched protectively to her chest.  “So,” she said slowly.  “I’ll just let you two have some time to sample and I’ll be back in a few to take your drink and dinner orders.”  Without giving either of them a chance to say anything she was gone.

“What the hell was that?”  Dodger pulled his hand out of Regan’s.

“Flirting?”  She did not think she did that bad a job of it.

Dodger adjusted his glasses.  “I’m supposed to be the one she’s nervous about, and you’re supposed to be the one that makes her feel comfortable and safe.  Congratulations, Red, you’ve managed to completely flip flop that.”

“Because I said she was cute?”

“If you had said she was cute you would have been fine.  You practically made it sound like we were going to kidnap her and feast on her roasted flesh in the grand tradition of the Donner Family.”

Regan looked down embarrassed.  “I didn’t think it was quite that bad.”

“I just want to know how you managed to have a different guy in your bed for nearly three weeks if that was your idea of flirting.”

Regan looked down. It had been a lot easier to pick up someone at a club when he was several drinks along, and all she had to do was smile, offer up a place to retreat to, and make it clear that sex was waiting.

Dodger shook his head, his hair bouncing a bit as he did, and reached for one of the glasses.  

“Might as well imbibe.  I’m pretty sure you just blasted my last six weeks of work into nothingness.”

Regan sat back in her chair, glaring at him.  “Do you have to be so mean?”

Taking a long slow pull on the glass he drained it.  “Nope.  It’s totally a perk that only a select few get to enjoy.”

“I’m honored,” Regan answered flatly.  She reached for another of the glasses and without a thought started to drink.  She might as well get drunk; this date sucked.

The beer hit her tongue and throat as though it were pure tar.  Bitter and sharp the taste stung as she drank, her eyes feeling as though they were starting to water as she forced the drink down her throat where it rolled and milled in her stomach.  It was the most revolting thing she had ever drunk.  She tried to smile but found it nearly impossible to do.

Dodger was reaching for anther glass. “You’ve got to try this one.  It’s the got a nice bitter bite.”

“Which makes it different then the last one, how?”

“That was a sweet beer.”

“Liar.”

“Never.”

“You lied about not calling the cops on me.”

Dodger stopped.  Regan actually had no idea if he had or not and was just lashing out at him. She had expected some kind of pithy rebuttal.  The lack of one caught her as unawares as her comment had caught Dodger.

She repeated the accusation.  “You lied about calling the cops?”

“Look.  I needed a break, an in with you.  Getting you a bit of a record would give you a reason to call me.”

“You nearly got me and my best friend killed!”  Her voice rose as she spoke; she was sure that everyone was staring but could not bring herself to look around to see.

“Now, take it down a notch,” he started to say.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do,” she shot back her voice as loud and as firm as before. “You don’t own me and I sure as hell do not owe you any favors.”  She slammed her fists down on the table, knocking one of the samplers out of the tray. “Dammit, I was starting to really like you, you, you…”  She struggled to put her anger, her frustration into words.  She glanced around the restaurant.  A woman with her black hair slicked back in a tight bun was staring at her now, her glass inches from her lips where she had paused mid-drink.  Another waitress, a small woman with freckle-dashed cheeks and strawberry blond locks was backing away from their table, seemingly unable to look away.  Regan shifted and stared down at the table where there spilt beer was starting to soak into her napkin.

“Listen, Red,” Dodger started again, his voice betraying his desperate need to regain control of the situation.

“My name is Regan Fairchild, progeny of Kendra Hampton, Blood of the Coins and you will address me with some modicum of respect you spineless net-worm.”  Her voice was low and angry.  Most of it was directed at herself for her outburst, but enough was directed at Dodger as well.  She did not look up at him.

“Listen, Regan,” Dodger tried.  He paused and when she said nothing he continued.  “I arranged a traffic stop.  That’s all.  You have to believe me.  I did not tell them to shoot at you, or to chase you and Emma halfway across town.  I swear, it was just supposed to be a little traffic ticket that you’d want me to make disappear, that’s all.”

“And I’m supposed to believe you because you’ve never lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie.”  He paused.  “Completely.”

Regan looked up and glared.  “I don’t do well with lawyers and technicalities.  You lied about calling the police.”

“Okay, okay,” Dodger said, offering is hands up to her.  “I called the cops.  I put you in a position to need me so I could get a date with you.”

“And help me turn that waitress into your blood slave.”

“Doll. And people are still staring.”

“Whatever.  And I don’t care.”

“Don’t care, then, but the Earl gets real antsy with the dog-leash when people start making a scene in a restaurant and spouting things about the blood that we’d rather the mortals not know.”  He leaned in an dropped his voice to a near whisper.  The threat of the dogs and the implication of a hunt was enough to snap Regan back to a bit of reality.  She continued to fume but dropped her voice.

“Give me one good reason not to storm out of here.”

“Don’t have one.”  He sighed, the kind of thing that a vampire had to with purpose.  “I humped this whole thing pretty well and you don’t have a single good reason to hang here a minute longer.”

Regan pushed away from the table and strode towards the door of the restaurant.  It felt good to leave him there.  It felt good to be in control.  It felt good to leave the letch at the table alone, forced to explain to the lovely Marcella why he was not a complete tool and she should give him the chance that his “girlfriend” had not.  She smiled as she passed the waitress at the hostess station, not even looking back a moment before throwing open the doors and stepping out into the night.  She stood and inhaled the cool air, feeling the cold in her chest as she did, the soothing familiarity of the sensation helping ground her emotions in the present.

She looked around the parking lot and realized with a bitter sense that she had not driven here.  Her car was back at the Earl’s and she was, again, stranded.

Taking out her phone she opened the contacts screen and stabbed at an image.  The phone rang before a familiar voice picked up.  “Regan?”

“He called the cops on me.  Your friend called the police so I’d have a reason to call him and go on a date.”

“He what?” Stacy’s voice conveyed an appropriate level of shock and surprise, implying that she had been unaware of the hijinks that Dodger had planned.

“He arranged for a traffic stop so that I’d have to call him to fix it.  He set me up so I’d agree to go on a date with him.”

“I’d say I was surprised,” Stacy said fairly calmly, “but that does sound like the kind of stunt he’d pull.  He’s a decent guy, Regan, but sometimes he doesn’t think like normal people do.”

They talked a little more about her situation.  The statue was still there keeping watch, and Stacy was starved for attention and for real blood, reminding Regan that her own situation could be considerably worse.  Regan quickly realized that of all her friends who could help get her a ride home, Stacy was probably the worst to call upon.  She was not going to be able to leave, and Regan could not bring herself to ask that Daryl, Stacy’s thrall and companion, be sent for her.  Instead they made small talk for a short while, and then hung up, leaving Regan still outside the bar, and still without a ride home.

She sat down on of the planters out front of the brew-pub and considered her options.  It was not long before Dodger emerged from within.  He started towards his car, but paused when he caught sight of her.  “You’re still here?”

“You’re my ride, remember?”

He mulled that over.  “Want a lift back to the Earl’s?  I’ve got a few hours to kill.”

Regan did not feel she had much of an option and figured that it was not that far to ride along.  She would be back at her car within a half hour and then could go about the rest of her evening in peace.

The walk to the car was silent.  Dodger opened the door for her but did not linger to close it for her as well.  They did not say a word as he maneuvered out of the lot and onto the road.

“So what’s in a few hours?”  Regan finally asked.

Dodger did not say anything at first.  He just drove on.  Regan repeated the question, sure she was making a mistake.  He finally answered.

“Marcella’s meeting me when she gets off her shift.”

Regan stared, her own mouth slightly open with shock.  “She’s… what?”

Dodger shifted in his seat, flexing his fingers around the steering wheel.  “She felt bad that I got dumped publicly and she offered to hang out with me tonight to talk about it.”

“Stop the car.”

“Regan, listen, let’s talk-“

“Stop the car,” she repeated.  Dodger did as she said, and pulled over onto the shoulder.  She stepped out into the night, and down a bit.  The ground sloped down and away into a ditch that she remained just on the edge of.  She watched as Dodger drove on, leaving her alone, on the side of the road, again.

Her mind went to the night she had ended things with Harrison.  There too she had sat along some lost street, alone in the darkness, watching the love of her life drive away and out of her heart.  Here, at least, she had little emotion to spare for Dodger, if that was his real name.  She doubted it.  The Artful Dodger was likely the inspiration.  She mused on the character from Dickens as she walked along the shoulder in the dark, wincing as a car would speed past her.  Regan imagined that the driver of each was staring, wondering what a woman in three hundred dollar slacks and five hundred dollar shoes was doing walking along the shoulder of a sleepy back street at such an hour.  For her own part, she had no good explanation.

She could be furious at Dodger for all that had happened.  The lies were just the start.  She was more furious that he had managed to leverage her storming out of the restaurant into a pity play for Marcella’s attention.  And somehow she was the one left walking, in the dark, along the side of the road.

Regan lost track of time as she walked but soon found herself back at the same shopping center that hosted the Burned Rock Brewery.  She was not sure what her motivation was for walking back into the restaurant and bar.  Her feet hurt and were caked in mud now.  She was sure her hair was a mess and her slacks had to have a layer of dust on them.  She considered trying to talk to Marcella, to tell her what a pig Dodger was, but instead slid through the waiting area and into the bar.  She ordered a glass of red wine and closed her eyes.  The sounds and the smells filled her and warmed her.  For a few moments she tried to join them, to become one of the crowd of happy revelers.

“An interesting choice of drinks.”  The voice was low and gentle, a smooth baritone that she did not recognize but had a gentle familiarity to it.  She opened her eyes and turned to the speaker. He was an older man; white hair highlighted his temples and dusted the top of his moustache.  

“It makes me feel comfortable to have.”  She answered, studying him.  It had been such a long night already and she knew she had no patience for games, or for another one-night-stand.

He shook his head.  “Still,” he acknowledged, “it’s wise of you to order something even if  you never drink it.  Neither of us wants the mortals to know what is going on around them, do we?” He winked and took a long pull from his tall beer glass.

Somehow he knew what she was.  Her eyes darted towards the exit.  Her gut told her to get as far away from this man as she could.  She did not need more complications this evening.

“Stay,” he extolled putting a hand on her shoulder. “Please.”  His eyes begged her and she could not resist relaxing and easing down into her seat a little more.  He continued his voice low.  “For the forgotten, any company, even that of biters, is truly a blessed thing.”

“The forgotten?”  That was a term she had not heard before.  He seemed to be breathing easily, though such could be achieved with practice and was not an indicator of mortality.  As Dodger had demonstrated, even drinking a beer could be faked with practice enough.

“This is not the place to discuss it.”  He glanced around the bar.  “Let’s finish our drinks and go somewhere more private to talk.”

Regan glanced around as well.  She had no desire to be alone.  While she did not know much of him, she felt assured in his presence.  He knew what she was and did not reject her for it.  

That said a great deal all by itself.

Still, perhaps she was better off calling her friend Emma and hoping she could pick her up.  Even making a call to the Earl was an option, really.  She doubted he would come but he had enough retainers, surely, to get her to her car again.

The story continues into Chapter 22

Our heroine is at a cross roads. What, Dear Reader, shall she do?

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