Alice was starting to regret giving up that drink. She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there going through the photos, but the sun was setting, and the light coming in through the windows was growing dim and taking on a reddish hue. Alice stood. She was hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything since before she got on the plane that morning, and her body was starting to protest.
She had had to train herself to go hungry for lengths of time, to ignore her needs so she could focus on the job. But it was foolishness to do that when she didn’t have to. She didn’t know how long it would be before she was tasked with dealing with something more directly, and she should make sure she was rested, full, and hydrated. She wasn’t exactly going to take a nap here just yet, but she could at least deal with her hunger and thirst. Looking around at the state of the sitting room, she doubted that there was much she would be willing to eat in whatever passed for a kitchen in this place. They would at least have water, she hoped.
There was a closed door set into the wall. Alice set the photos down on the end table and walked over to try the handle. It was locked, and she could feel the cold radiating off of it. She backtracked out to the hallway and walked down to the next entryway past the stairs. The kitchen.
It was inapposite to the sitting room, well appointed and well kept, complete with an island, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops. Alice was taken aback. Bruce was sitting, reading a newspaper in a small breakfast nook where light from the setting sun was streaming in through bay windows. He had a glass of wine in front of him, along with a half empty bottle next to it. He looked over the paper at Alice as she stepped into the room, then went back to reading.
Her assumptions happily overturn, Alice opened the refrigerator to see what other surprises lay in wait for her. The refrigerator was exceptionally well stocked, someone had gone to great lengths to fill it with healthy food that was also easy to eat. Alice took two hard boiled eggs from a bowl, along with a container of yogurt and cut carrot sticks. There were bottles of water, which she helped herself to.
Next to the fridge was another shut door, positioned so that whatever room was off the sitting room she couldn’t get to was behind it. She could feel the cold coming off it, just like the other one. Alice set her bounty of snacks down on the counter and opened her bottle of water, taking a swig before speaking. “Bruce.”
He folded the top of the paper down, revealing his black eyes and reddening bald head and looked at her. “Hmmm?”
“What’s through this door?”
“Why is it locked?”
“So nobody goes in there.” He unfolded the paper as though that was the end of the conversation.
Alice tried to keep the irritation from showing in her voice. She couldn’t tell how successful she was. “Bruce, what is it about the dining room that makes you want to keep people out of it?”
Bruce folded down the paper again and did nothing to conceal the irritation in his voice. “Gee, You think I if I was gonna tell you that I woulda said just now when you just asked. Hmph.” He put the paper back up between them. “It’s off limits. that’s all you need to know for now.”
Alice started to say something, then stopped herself. She considered her options, and none of them were particularly appealing. She was tempted to cross the kitchen and show Bruce what happens when she isn’t treated with respect. But she didn’t know where he stood with Esther. She could push him on the issue, but he had made clear he wasn’t going to answer, and she suspected he would just piss her off more. And then she might do something stupid. She could stay quiet and not know, but that meant she was letting him talk to her like that, control the information. She hated leaving him thinking he had won. She would keep her mouth shut for now. She’d wait until she met Esther.
She opened drawers until she found a spoon, and started to eat her yogurt, thinking. “Bruce, did a package come for me?” Gary sent her gear up separately. A lot of it was stuff she couldn’t fly with.
Bruce didn’t lower the paper. “Yeah. It’s in your room.”
Alice finished her yogurt in silence, then took the rest of her bottle of water and left the kitchen in silence. The stairs were hardwood and creaked as she walked up them. At the top of the stairs, the hallway stretched out ahead of her, doors staggered on either side, all closed, before ending in the open door to a bathroom at the end of the hall. Alice walked down, listening, and not hearing a thing coming from any of the doors she passed. The hallway was dark, even with the electric sconces set into the wall between the doors.
As she approached the door to the room. Her room, the third one on the right, she could see that the hallway didn’t end with the bathroom. It branched out in either direction, but she would explore later, after she had inventoried her things and saw where she would be sleeping.
Like everything else she had encountered so far in this god forsaken city, the door handle was cold, but it turned easily and door swung inward. Inside, the room was sparsely appointed, much like the hallway. The walls were bare of pictures, but there were two wall sconces, one next to the door and one on the opposite wall, between two windows, set above a small desk. She shut the door behind her and turn the lights on. They slowly buzzed into life, and filled the wood paneled room with light. Against the wall on her left was a bed, made, complete with comforter. On top of it was a large box. Looking out the window, she could see the skyline of the city.
Alice had a moment where she felt like she could almost remember something. It was a warm memory, of a noisy time, full of life. She had smelled lavender, could almost remember being held, cradled. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes, clearing her vision. The last thing she needed now would to be sentimental about this place. She didn’t even know if she was staying.
She hadn’t really considered that before. She didn’t have to accept this assignment. She didn’t have to stay working for the Guild, either. Could she give it up? She could call Travis now. If she told him she wanted out, he would take her in until she got set up. She’d have to stay out of Esther’s way, but that might be easy. She might be in jail for a while, hitting a cop.
Travis had done it. She didn’t think she had it in her to do what he did, though. He was always better at picking his own mission. Alice had only been in the city for a few hours, and she was already anxious not having a someone to tell her what the job was, telling her what to do. She shook her head again. That wasn’t it. She hated being told what to do.
And she wasn’t anxious. She was eager. She wanted to hunt, and she had her quarry. She didn’t really need Esther to know what she needed to do next. Alice stepped over to the package on the bed. She had her gear, too. Alice pressed the edge of a nail into the tape and listed to the pop as she pulled the flap back to open the box.
She pulled the items out of the box and set them on the bed. It was a heavy package. Her silk underclothes were on top, nearly impossible to cut, useful for keeping her from getting incidental scrapes and for popping out the stray buckshot that always managed to find its way ricochet back at her in the close quarters she fought in so frequently.
Her kevlar vest would be in there too, heavy, but good for taking the direct hits. It wouldn’t stop anything more powerful than a handgun, but if she was going to get shot, it would most likely be from a handgun. Anything more powerful, and the vest would only really be good for keeping her organs inside her corpse. The thought reminded her of what had happened to Janice and she put it out of her head.
Her infrared goggles were in the package, useful for night vision, and for spotting hungry vampires on the street if they didn’t see her. It was a battery hungry device, so she really couldn’t use it for long. It was modified to run off the lithium ion powertool batteries, so it would last a little longer than if it was running off the stock battery, but it looked like Gary had neglected to send her any of those.
Her matte black .45 was packed, in the shoulder holster. Two boxes of hallow point ammo were included. And a small plastic case of six silver bullets. Those had to have been hard for Gary to give up. She’d have to thank him if she talked to him. She didn’t like guns much, but staying at range was always a good idea when it came to the vampires. Even so, guns aren’t normally a great weapon against them to begin with. Piercing wounds are brutal on mortals, but don’t do much to things that don’t bleed. The hollow points were good against the undead. Stopping power and tissue damage were king when it came to fighting vampires. High caliber weapons that hit hard and leave a big hole work pretty well on anything. She set the gun on the bed.
The box contained a selection of knives for utility and combat. She admired the leatherman multi-tool before setting it down. And finally, her lost love, the blackwood dagger was inside, wrapped in a cloth. It had been both strange and liberating to be walking around all day without the dagger sheathed against her spine. She had made it herself. African Blackwood was an extremely hard, dark wood, and it had taken her the better part of a month to hand carve it down to be sharp enough to use as a stabbing weapon. It had a reddish hue to the grain when she held it up to the light.
Calling it a knife was probably too generous a term. The edge was never going to be sharp enough to be seriously used as a slashing weapon. It was heavy enough to break bones if she hit someone with it. But it was mainly a stake. If a vampire was the type to die to a stake through the heart, this would do that. If not, well, a stake through the heart will still make for a bad day. Lastly, she pulled out her gloves. They were a little light for the weather, but they were better than nothing.
Alice pulled the blinds and got suited up. She stopped by the bathroom on her way out. Better to use the facilities when you can. She looked at herself in the mirror. She felt better in her battle dress, but she still needed a hat. She couldn’t be out for any real length of time without one, even wearing 40 pounds of equipment, she’s freeze before the night was through. She headed down the stairs to the coat closet and looked around. A moment later, she had a purple wool skull cap.
Alice turned and stepped up to the front door, took a deep breath, and put her hand on the doorknob to open it. She felt a hand on her shoulder as Bruce spoke. “Where you think you’re going?” Alice turned around to face him. He kept his hand on her. His grip was loose, but the weight of his hand made his meaning clear. To make sure she understood, he voiced it. “You can’t leave. Gotta wait for Esther to get back.”
Alice could smell the alcohol on his breath. She didn’t care if she worked for Esther or she went out on her own. She had work to do, and she’d had enough. If this asshole was going to be giving her orders, she didn’t think she’d last here anyway. She grit her teeth and tried to stay relatively civil. “Bruce, I’m leaving. Take your hand off my shoulder before I take it off your wrist.”
“I can’t let you leave.” He gripped her shoulder tighter.
“Fuck it.” Alice delivered a sharp strike to Bruce’s gut, leaning into the punch. Bruce doubled over and gasped for air. Not giving him a chance to recover, she delivered a hook to the side of his head, and Bruce collapsed to the floor. Alice stood over him a moment, staring down at him. She sighed, bent down, and rolled him into the rescue position. Alice let herself out, bracing herself against the cold.