Home > Lifeblood (Vampire Files #2)

Lifeblood (Vampire Files #2)
Author: P.N. Elrod

Chapter 1

"BE A SPORT," I said to the bartender, not quite meeting his eye, "I'm nursin' a broken heart."

"Yeah, yeah," he replied, and continued polishing a glass with a gray rag.

"No foolin', I got the money." And I fumbled five singles from my shirt pocket and let them flutter onto the damp black wood of the bar. "Come on, that's worth a bottle, ain't it? I won't make no trouble."

"You can make book on it."

He had a right to be confident. We were nearly the same height, but I'm on the lean side and he was built like a steam shovel and just as solid.

He thought he could take care of me.

He stopped polishing the glass and put it down next to the bills. I smiled and tried to look friendly, which was a hell of an act under the circumstances. This was one of those cheaper-than-two-bit dives where you take your life in your hands just by going to the men's room. From the smell of things, the facilities were located just outside the front door against the wall of the building, gentlemen on the left, ladies I renewed my hopeful smile and rustled the bills temptingly.

He looked at them, then gave me a fishy eye, gauging my apparent drunkenness against the lure of the money. It was a slow night and the money won. His hand made a move for it, but mine was a little faster and covered three of Washington's portraits first.

"Wise guy," he said, and took a bottle of the cheap stuff down from the shelf behind him. Hell, it was all cheap, but that hardly mattered to me, I only wanted an excuse to hang around.

"I've had some, but not that much." I left two bucks on the bar, took the bottle, glass, and remaining money, and tottered to the second booth in line along the wall. With my back to the front door I settled in, using the careful movements of a drunk who wants to show people he isn't. I spent a lot of time counting my three dollars and putting them away before pouring a drink and pretending to imbibe. Ten cents for the whole bottle would have been an overcharge; the stuff smelled like some of the old poison left over from before repeal. I brought the glass to my lips, made a face, and coughed, spilling some of it down my well-stained shirtfront.

While I was busy dabbing at the mess with a dirty handkerchief, a big man in dark gray came in and went straight to the bar. He was in a suit, which was wrong for the neighborhood, and he was in a hurry, which was wrong for the hour. At one in the morning, nobody should be in a hurry.

He ordered a whiskey with a beer chaser and took a look around. It didn't take long; except for me, seven booths, and the bartender, the place was empty.

He studied me like a bug. I pretended real hard that I was drunk and simple-minded and hoped he'd buy the act. It helped that I wore rough work clothes that stank of the river and past debauches with the bottle--just another country kid corrupted by the big bad city.

Apparently I was no threat. He knocked back the whiskey and took the beer to the last booth next to the back door and sat on the outside edge, where he could see people coming in from the street. I used the tilted mirror hanging over the bar to watch him. It was an old one with flecks of tamish like freckles, but his reflection was clear enough. He hunched over the beer and drained it a sip at a time, with long pauses in between. His soft hat was pulled low, but now and then his eyes gleamed when he used the mirror himself. I kept still and enjoyed his slight puzzlement when he couldn't spot my image in the glass.

Another man walked in from the night and hesitantly approached the bar.

He was also too well dressed, but was a bit more seedy and timid. He had a tall, thin body with a beaky nose that supported some black-rimmed pince-nez on a pastel blue velvet ribbon. He wore a cheap blue suit, the cuffs a little too short and the pants a little too tight. His ankles stuck out, revealing black silk socks peeking over the tops of black shoes with toes that had been chiseled to a lethal point. He affected a black cane with a silver handle, which would buy him eternity in this neighborhood if he waved it around too much.

He tried ordering a sherry and got a look of contemptuous disbelief instead. He had better luck asking for gin, then made a point of wiping the rim of the glass clean with his printed silk handkerchief before drinking. After taking a sip, he dabbed his lips and smoothed the pencil line under his nose that passed for a moustache.

He looked around, as nervous as a virgin in a frat house. He noted me and the man in the back booth, and when neither of us leaped out to cut his throat, he relaxed a little. He checked the clock behind the bar, comparing its time to a silver watch attached to his vest and frowned.

The bartender moved away, no doubt driven off by the scent of dying lilies that the newcomer had doused over himself. A cloud of it hit me in the face like exhaust from a truck, and I gave up breathing for a while.

He looked at the watch again and then at the door. No one came in. He removed his hat, placing it gently on the bar, as though it might offend someone. From a low widow's peak to the curl-clustered nape, his dark hair had been carefully dressed with a series of waves that were too regular to be natural. He removed his gloves, plucking delicately at the fingertips, then absently patted his hair down.

The bartender caught the eyes of the man in the booth and shrugged with raised brows and a superior smile as though to say he couldn't help who walked through the door as long as they paid. The man in the booth hunched closer to his beer and watched the mirror.

Two minutes later a lady walked in, probably the first one to ever cross the threshold. She was small, not much over five feet, wearing emerald green with a matching hat and a heavy dark veil that covered her face down to her hard, red lips. She carried a big green bag trimmed with beads that twinkled in the light. Her green heels made quite a noise as she crossed the wood floor to the tall man at the bar. He straightened a little, because polite men do things like that when a lady comes up to them, and he did look polite.

She glanced around warily, her eyes resting on me a moment. She must have been pretty enough to be noticed even by a drunk like me; at least she had a trim figure and good legs. I gave her an encouraging, if bleary leer and raised my glass hopefully. After that she ignored me and tilted her chin expectantly at the tall man.

He frowned, worried, but gathered up his hat, cane, gloves, and drink and followed her to the second-to-last booth at the end. She sat with her back to me and the man slid in opposite her with his back to the big man in gray, who was now pressed tight against the wall. She seemed not to have noticed him.

   
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