He was handsome, no denying it. A fit man in his late thirties, maybe early forties, blue eyes, pale skin, short brown hair with just a touch of gray at the temples. He was shirtless, which would have given Alice a nice view of his lean muscular torso had it not been for the woman he was holding as a shield in front of him. He had her by the throat. Beautiful, long hair, thin, late twenties, still dressed from clubbing the night before. She was in a panic, uselessly clawing at his wrist and thrashing her body. She was having trouble breathing with his fingers digging into her neck.
They had tracked this… Alice hesitated to call it a man. She and Ed had been following him ever since they had heard about this club where young girls went missing with disturbing frequency. They had been patient, and they had cornered this predator in his… its… lair, which turned out to be a basement apartment with interior access to the club.
Alice held her hands up in front of her, palms open. She was mostly unarmed, just a combat knife sheathed vertically along her spine and a holdout pistol strapped to her boot. She was a better hand to hand fighter than she was a marksman, which said more for her close combat skills than it said against her aim; she didn’t have much trouble hitting the target when she needed to. Her partner, Ed, wasn’t as disciplined as she was and had never taken to the training. He couldn’t really hold his own in a fight, so she had him on the shotgun, and he was keeping it pointed at their target, and by virtue of the circumstances, also at the hostage. The man addressed Ed, “Careful boy. You fire, she’s -”
He was interrupted by the roar of the shotgun, and buckshot tearing through his leg. The force of the blast knocked it out from underneath him, taking him and the girl to the floor. The girl gasped for air and screamed. Alice didn’t waste the moment it would have taken to be pissed off at Ed for taking such a risk shot and charged, grabbing the girl and dragging her away and out of Ed’s line of fire.
Ed smirked and chambered another shell, “Sorry? You were saying?” He took aim again. “Might be we can arrange a deal.”
In answer, the man’s face twisted with animalistic fury, his true nature coming to the fore. His features shifted, mouth opening wider than any man’s should, exquisitely sharp fangs extending. In an instant, his eyes went from blue to black, the pupils expanding to fill them entirely. Alice felt a wave of nausea wash over her and she stumbled with the girl. Ed’s shotgun roared again, but it only partly caught the creature as it launched itself toward him, tearing open the skin on part of its face and across one shoulder. The force of the blast caused it to turn in the air as it closed the distance to Ed.
Franticly, Ed tried to chamber another shell, but the creature was on him before he could line up a third shot. The creature batted the shotgun aside with enough force that it embedded itself in the drywall of the basement. Ed tried to fight it off, but the outcome was a foregone conclusion when the thing got within arm’s reach of him. Alice charged back into the fight, drawing her knife from its sheath as she closed. As she was bringing it down hard on the vampire’s back, it turned to face her, sweeping her arm to the side, so she brought the blade down on empty air and had to step forward, off balance.
The vampire slammed his elbow into her ribs, knocking Alice sideways. She gasped as the wind was knocked out of her, and the knife fell from her grip, skidding across the floor. She forced herself to turn back to face the monster in time to see it casually toss Ed into the wall where he slid down to the ground, limp. It wasn’t even looking at her.
He… it… turned its attention back to Alice and bare moments passed as it moved impossibly fast, landing on top of her. She had no time to react as it pinned her to the ground, then reached up and closed its hands around her throat. She struggled helplessly, slamming her forearms into its elbows, twisting her body underneath it, but she might as well have been pinned down by an iron beam. Then it began to squeeze. She felt the world begin to dim as it smiled down at her.
Alice woke with a start, gasping for air as the plane’s wheels touched down at Logan airport in Boston. The woman sitting next to her was eying her over her Dan Brown novel. Alice hated flying. She hated it almost as much as she hated her nightmares, but today she hadn’t been able to avoid either. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was still more or less intact. Ed… she didn’t want to think about Ed.
She was already starting to regret agreeing to come to this city in the middle of the worst winter on record. She maybe could have stayed in Georgia, kept working small gigs, kept looking. But she needed a change. And the money here was going to be good.
There was the upshot of seeing Travis. She hadn’t talked to him in a couple of years, hadn’t seen him in several more. He took off as soon as he was old enough. He had gotten in touch with her when he settled on Boston, given her a phone number and told her he would keep the line open for her. They had talked since then, infrequently, but enough for her to know he was still in the city. He would have called if he’d moved. She didn’t know what he would be doing here. The couple of times they had talked, she hadn’t asked him what he was doing, and he had done them both the favor of not asking her what she was doing either. The calls were short.
Alice paid the bills with bodyguard work; she had gotten into it on the recommendation of one of her martial arts instructors. It paid well and the commitments were flexible. She could make enough to stay afloat on the infrequent evening gigs providing “personal protective services” for some executive or C lister who thought of himself as a big deal, and then spend the rest of her time with her ear to the ground. She had realized she might be able to kill both of those birds with the same stone if she started getting hired to work on protecting people from supernatural threats, and she had started making it known that she was available for that sort of thing. That’s how she had met Ed.
God, she was tired. Alice shook her head to clear her thoughts. She really couldn’t afford to be thinking about Ed right now. Travis didn’t know she was coming. She had made it a point not to call him. She was mostly here because she had gotten a bite on one of the new leads she was cultivating. This one was a bigger commitment, but it paid a lot better. And Alice really needed to put some distance between herself and Georgia right now.
This lady, Esther Lucas, had hired her as a bodyguard, saying it was because “the spirits had told her” she was under attack. “The spirits” were also where Esther had gotten her referral to Alice. Not that Alice didn’t believe in that stuff. She just thought that whoever “the spirits” were, they weren’t likely to be in the business of giving out phone numbers. She figured it was part of the woman’s image to couch everything as a prophecy or a message from the great beyond or something like that. She couldn’t begrudge her having a party line. Either way, the money was good, and the job included room and board.
Alice hadn’t checked any luggage, so when the plane finally taxied in to the gate, she shouldered her backpack and walked up the boarding way into the airport and followed signs down to arrivals. Esther had said she would send a car, and true to her word there was a tall black man in a cheap suit holding a sign with Alice’s name on it.