I sat in the club and listened to the music as Duke Ellington led the ensemble through his latest composition, Black and Tan Fantasy. A heaviness welled up in the center of my chest as the sorrowful melody played out. The notes, so similar to those played at a funeral, reminded me of the day we laid my sister to rest.
The next number started up, and the phantom weight lifted. People began dancing and laughing again. Unfortunately, my grief lingered. I sighed and drummed my fingers on the table while my foot tapped the floor.
“Fuck,” I said. “Where is everybody?”
“With all due respect, sir, we still have three hours.”
“I’d rather be sitting outside the spot for a coupla hours than be the last one on site. I don’t need anyone getting creative on me.”
“No, sir. I wouldn’t like that much, either.”
“And sit down, why don’t you? People know who you are and what you do for me. Your presence is enough to dissuade anyone from trying anything stupid.”
“Thank you, sir.” The tablecloth moved when Vincent swung his legs under the table. “Here comes that hotsy-totsy serving girl.”
I turned my head in the direction of Vincent’s gaze. I recognized the broad coming toward us, but I’d be damned if I could remember her name. Her tiny, sequined skirt inched up as she moved. I don’t think I’ve seen a better pair of gams in a long time.
“Just you and your torpedo here tonight, Charles?” The server asked. “I’d be happy to keep you company.”
“Just waiting for my guys to get here, Betty,” I said, reading her name tag. “We got business. Speaking of which, how you supposed to keep me company if you’re working too?”
“For you baby, I’d leave this juice joint in a heartbeat. I just love your face, not to mention those blue eyes you’ve got. Can I get ya a drink?”
Her headband slipped a bit when she cocked her head to the side. The giant feather sticking out the top reminded me of Alessandra’s favorite accessory. My sister’s death was the motivating factor for having Vincent around. I gave a tight smile and tried not to think about the past.
I looked down at my watch. “Yeah, I’ll take a whiskey.”
With a wink, Betty left my side. I watched as that luscious gold-covered ass made its way to the bar. For a moment, I wondered why I turned her down.
“Here comes that friend of yours, sir. The one that makes me jumpy.”
I knew the guy he meant. It made me like my bodyguard more for picking up the mojo radiating from a vampire. Thing was, Luc was on my side.
“Distractions like that are likely to get you killed one of these days, you know,” Luc said.
“That’s what he’s for,” I said, pointing to Vincent. “So, you decided to come with us tonight?”
“Well, I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but I’ve got a feeling I might be needed.”
As far as I was aware, no one else knew Luc’s secret. I had to admit, I was quite shocked at first. Luc didn’t look a thing like the creature from the moving picture Nosferatu–no bald head, pointy ears, or extra-long fingers. Instead, he had a full head of brown hair, normal ears, and green eyes. Until I found out he was a vampire, I overlooked his too pale skin and elongated teeth.
“You’re the first one here. Have a seat,” I said.
“Who’s all coming?”
“Tommy, Phil, and Nicky.”
“We should be enough manpower, I would think.”
“Yeah, with you here, we’re good. But I’m hoping this is just an ordinary bootleg. We go in, get the booze, get the fuck out.”
Betty bounced back up to the table. “Drink should be up soon. Place is busy tonight. How about something to eat?” She shifted, and her arm brushed my shoulder. I doubted it was an accident.
“Naw, hoping to leave soon, if these little pricks ever get here.”
She turned and waded into the crowd. Once I lost sight of her, I noticed Tommy, Phil, and Nicky appear at the doorway of the speakeasy. They paid the fee and made their way over to the table just as a bunch of people started dancing the Charleston.
“It’s about time, boys, where you been?” I asked.
“Sorry boss,” Nicky said. “We got caught up.”
“Caught up?” I stood, and my chair screeched across the floor. Though I was shorter than everyone, they all stepped back. “You’re fifteen minutes late. If I tell you to be somewhere at a certain time, I expect you to make it happen.”
I grabbed Nicky by the arm and stepped into him. I kept the edge of my knife low. People were already looking in our direction, I didn’t want to give anyone reason to rat us out. “If I didn’t need you in one piece tonight, I’d slice you up good.”
Nicky blinked his eyes rapidly. “I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”
Betty strolled up with my whiskey. She stayed back a couple of feet. “Hi, boys. Can I get you all some drinks?” Her voice was shaky and her hand trembled as she held out my glass.
Tommy, Phil, and Nicky looked at me, pleading. Grown men asking permission for a drink. Pathetic, but at least they knew who was boss.
I sat back down. “Yeah Betty, go ahead and bring a round over.”
“None for me,” Luc said. “I just had dinner and ate too much. I’m not feeling so well now.”
Betty went to grab the drinks while I told everyone what I wanted them to do.
We drove two cars and parked them across the street from the warehouse. Lights shone through the front room windows. The other guys were already there. Shadows moved inside, but I couldn’t tell how many people were in there. Didn’t look like many.
“Shit,” I said. “Well, let’s go, then.”
“Okay,” Luc said. “You’re the boss.”
Vincent stepped out and looked around. He waved his hand, and my new wingtips hit the asphalt. It was the signal for the other boys to follow suit. We closed the car doors with barely a whisper, allowing the night to continue in its silence. We picked this neighborhood because no one in their right mind would call the cops if they saw anything, but we didn’t want to risk it. There was also a chance we could still go in with an element of surprise, but I doubted it. If I were the boss standing in the warehouse, I’d have a lookout–even if it was just to keep from being surprised myself.
A bitter wind blew through the nearly deserted street. I couldn’t breathe for a moment as my entire body tensed. If it wasn’t freezing, it was damned close to it. Brick buildings surrounded us, some with shattered windows. Three people sat around a flaming garbage can at the mouth of the nearby alley. The wind died down and we crossed the street as quietly as we could. Luc was better at it than the rest of us. Sometimes he could be so silent it was like his shoes didn’t touch the ground.
We reached the door to the warehouse and Tommy opened it while he held the briefcase in his opposite hand. Nicky walked inside first, followed by Phil, Vincent, myself, and Luc. Tommy swung the door shut and sealed us in.
My eyes scanned the place. Dim lighting showed glimpses of multi-colored brick walls. Radiators sat under each window. People were everywhere. Men stood along the walls, blended into dark corners, and looked down on us from the rafters. Damn it, the other boss and I agreed on bringing two guys a piece. The rabble fanned out, and by the way they all moved, I could tell we were fucked.
The shooting started and Vincent blocked me as best he could. Luc moved in behind me. I raised my gun, and for the first time I was happy to be so short. Aiming under Vincent’s arm was easy.
The three of us moved well together, anticipating each other’s moves. We made our way further into the warehouse then Vincent fell to his knees, coughing blood.
Someone bellowed behind me. I couldn’t feel Luc at my back anymore. Fire ripped across my shoulder. I took a bullet, but fought against screaming. I wouldn’t give these motherfuckers that satisfaction.
The room was void of furniture, so there weren’t many places to take shelter. I dropped to the floor to make myself a smaller target but it also balled up any chance I had of really making a good shot. Luckily the bastards were stupid; I didn’t hear the familiar automated sound of machine guns.
What happened to Luc? How were my other guys doing? I wanted to have a good look around, but I knew better and stayed where I was. The deafening sound of so many shots in an enclosed area slowed then stopped altogether. They must have ran out of bullets.
“Double up,” I heard someone say. “Check them to make sure.”
“This one’s dead.”
“We’re good over here.”
Fuck, my guys didn’t make it. Would Luc not be able to get back up either, or was he faking it? Footsteps echoed louder by the second. They headed for me next. My heart raced as I tried to come up with some sort of plan. What would Mama and Papa do if they lost two kids in one year?
Somebody kicked my leg. The toe of their shoe met with bone, and the pain shot up toward the rest of my body. A sound escaped me and fucked up any chance I had with them all leaving.
“Not your target though. He’s still with us, I think.”
“Well hurry then, get him up.” Hands slid under my arms and peeled me from the floor. Two guys held me, one on each side. Another guy turned, closed the distance between us, and started throwing punches. Each hit to the gut took the air out of me. Every sock to the jaw hurt like hell. My eyes began to swell–I couldn’t feel the blows anymore, but my head continued to snap back. There had to be more than one guy pounding on me now.
It was hard to breathe, I could barely see, and I felt the warm wetness of blood trickle down my neck. A hand pushed into my shoulder and forced my body upright. I blinked in an attempt to see.
“Caught ya off guard, didn’t I?” I recognized the voice. It was the same fat fuck I tried to off a couple weeks back. He was supposed to be in Chicago. Blood filled my mouth and when I couldn’t hold it there anymore, I spit it out, right where his ugly, scared face should have been.
I readied myself for another punch to the gut but instead of a meaty smack to the stomach, I felt the sting of the blade slide in. The bastard came forward, jerked his hand upward, and said “Take that, Paglione.”
All hands holding me let go. I collapsed to the floor in a heap of blood-soaked pain as I heard everyone leave. I grunted and spewed blood. It hurt to breathe. I should have taken Betty up on her offer. It woulda been more fun than dying.
The icy hands of Death rolled me onto my back. Through a haze, I could see Luc’s face above me. His lips moved, and occasionally I’d hear a word or two. He reached his hand into his pocket and brought out a knife. The tip bit into the palm of his hand. I coughed when he pressed his wound against my stomach. Blood flew from my mouth and splattered Luc’s cheek.
“Let my blood aide this man,” Luc said. “May he rise from this night and move on to the next and the next, forever more.”
My eyelids fluttered, then burst open. My whole body stiffened like one giant muscle spasm. Then the pain stopped. I took a sharp breath in–the first one like it since before the shooting started. When the air left me, I felt each organ let go, they no longer needed the oxygen.
I stared up at the light bulbs of the warehouse. They seemed brighter somehow. As a reflexive reaction, my arm went up to shield my eyes, and that’s when I realized the pain was gone. I turned my head to the side.
“What the fuck?”
“Feeling better?” I heard Luc ask.
“Yeah.” I sat up with an impressive amount of grace.
Nicky lay to my right. He was on his stomach. One arm stretched above his head and still gripped a gun. His other arm was twisted underneath him; his elbow stuck out at an odd angle. Nicky’s mouth hung open and a thin trail of blood seeped out onto the concrete to merge with the larger puddle spreading beneath his head. I felt bad about treating him the way I had earlier. He’d been a good kid, a newlywed. What would I tell his pregnant wife?
Phil was about ten feet farther into the room than I was. He was face-up and his eyes were open. A bullet wound had oozed blood and thicker things down his forehead onto the floor. His gun lay just inches from his hand. He’d never left home. His death would kill his widowed mama.
I turned and saw Tommy lying closer to the door than anyone else. He was mostly on his side but both of his shoulders touched the ground. He had bled from a spot high up on his body, and his leg looked like it took a shot too. The briefcase he was in charge of when we all entered the building was gone. Tommy’d been a great husband and a terrific father. His wife couldn’t work on account of her back. I wondered how she’d feed the kids.
I saw something move across the ground in a darkened corner. A rat scurried across the room. I swiped my gun off the floor, aimed, and shot. It helped to release the anger and guilt. The force of the bullet was enough to make the vermin slam into the wall.
“Not that I’m complaining, but I’m not hurting anymore. And why does it smell so damned good in here?”
“I hope you weren’t joking when you said you wanted to be a vampire,” Luc said.
“I wasn’t kidding, but I said not now.”
“Aside from creating you tonight, there was nothing I could do. And you look a hell of a lot better than you did earlier, too.”
I felt a heavy wetness saturating my lower body and I glanced down. My shirt was a red ruin plastered to my stomach. Smaller patches of blood dotted the rest of my shirt and pants. I couldn’t imagine looking any worse. Then I remembered all the hits I took to the face. I brought my hand up to touch my cheek, and it met with the same smoothness that was always there.
Luc stood, and I glared at him. “Alessandra’s gone, not even a year. I can’t leave my family now.”
“We should be able to buy some time. Besides, you’ve got too much money and territory. You disappearing at this point in time probably wouldn’t be the best thing for the city.”
“My mouth is as dry as a desert, and I feel like I haven’t eaten in a week,” I said.
“Yes, we’re going to have to see to that. Stand up.”
I was shocked at the ease of my movement. I was expecting to be sore or stiff, but I rose to my feet faster than I ever assumed possible. Luc walked toward the door and I followed him. The thought dawned on me that he was the one to follow me into the building. A crooked smile formed on my face when I realized the change in our power structure. Not that I minded. Luc was no sap, I could learn from him.
“It’s a good thing we’re in a less than reputable neighborhood,” Luc said. “Hopefully we can find a person walking by themselves, or maybe with just one or two other people. I’d hate to have to chance getting you home and cleaned up before you’ve fed.”
Kristi Lloyd is a mother of two children. With a Goth/alternative style, she is an actual blue-haired lunch lady for a local high school. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and baking. She resides with her family in Colorado. Kristi writes an urban fantasy series, and one of her main characters is a mob boss-turned vampire. You can find her story, “The Hut of Yasmine Babushka,” at quatumfairytales.com. Her article, “American Horror Story: Exploiting the Fear of Americans Everywhere,” can be found at dreamseternal.com.