Authors: Jaye Wells
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A Sabina Kane Novella
Los Angeles, November 1979
The guy on camera wore a ratty ski mask, a black turtleneck stretched precariously over a beer gut and too-tight bell-bottoms. The wall behind him was covered in some sort of collage done in shades of black and white with accents of red. I tried to make out the details, but the poor video quality made the picture fuzzy.
I shook my head at the grainy image. If it had been anyone else showing me this, I'd think it was a joke. But the Dominae weren't exactly known for their senses of humor. I glanced over at Slade. He wasn't smiling. He rarely did, from what I'd seen. Of course, I'd only known him for about ten minutes, and his lack of good humor was probably due to his not wanting to be saddled with a rookie.
“My name is Viper,” the guy on tape said dramatically. I barely managed not to roll my eyes at the fake name. “For too long we, the mighty
, children of Lilith, have hidden in the shadows. The time has come to reveal ourselves to the sons of Adam. Unlessâ”
He paused dramatically. I knew what was coming and resisted the urge to fast-forward through his lame speech.
“âthe Dominae give me one billion dollars!”
I choked on a shocked laugh. Viper wasn't the first vampire to try to extort money out of the Dominae. But he was the first to demand such a ridiculous sum.
“The money must be deposited by midnight Wednesday or I will give all the major media outlets in LA the story of the century.”
He went on to rattle off the name of a local bank and an account number. Tanith cut the tape off as he started to rant again.
“Do you have the envelope the tape came in?” Slade asked, all business. His look screamed badass assassin. Dressed in black from neck to toes, he wore a leather blazer, slacks, and expensive Italian leather shoes. In fact, the only things keeping his look from being a Shaft rip-off were his pale skin and auburn hair.
Tanith shook her head. Of the three Dominae who ruled the
, she was in charge of the business side of running the race. Considering the sum of money this guy was demanding, it wasn't a surprise she was taking point on this. In all honesty, I was glad it was she and not my grandmother who was talking to us. As the Alpha of the race, Lavinia Kane rarely concerned herself with this sort of issue. But I was surprised she wasn't there to watch me squirm when Tanith told me my first job as an assassin would be shadowing someone. Disappointing me was somewhat of a hobby for my grandmother.
“We had them dusted,” Tanith was saying. “No fingerprints.”
Slade nodded. “Have you tracked the account he mentioned?”
“The account belongs to a Zeke Calebow.” She slid a file across the table.
I scooted closer to Slade to get a look at the contents. He ignored me and focused on the papers. The picture clipped inside was a mug shot of a portly male vamp with shaggy copper hair and freckles. He looked stupid and meanâa bad combination. The guy in the video wore a ski mask, but my gut told me this Zeke and Viper were one in the same.
“What do we know about Zeke?” I asked.
Tanith sighed. “Not much. Family is trash. Last known job was a strip club in the Valley.”
Slade slammed the folder shut before I could read the name of the club from the dossier. “We'll check it out,” he said in a clipped tone.
“You have seventy-two hours to neutralize this threat.” Tanith said, looking from Slade to me and back again. “I don't think I have to remind you how sensitive this matter is. We want this guy dead yesterday.”
“Consider it done,” Slade said. Then he turned on his heel and marched toward the door. He didn't look back to make sure I followed. But I did anyway.
An hour later, Slade pulled up in front of the Tit Crypt. He hadn't said much to me on the way over. I tried to play it cool, but inside I was stoked. Even though I'd graduated with honors from assassin school five years earlier, most of my jobs thus far involved roughing up vampires who forgot to pay their tithes to the Dominae. This would be my first kill mission, which was why I'd been paired up with a more experienced assassin.
Among Enforcers, Slade Corbin was a legend. The instructors at school spoke about his feats with reverence and had used some of his more daring missions as case studies. Rumor had it he was less than a century old, which was hard to believe. But looking at him, I believed it. The light auburn color gave him away. If he'd been an older vamp, the shade would be darker. For him to have accomplished so much at such a young age meant he was someone I'd be able to learn a few things from.
He turned the car off and leaned toward me. “Okay, this is how it's going to work. You're going to shut up and stay out of my way. I ask the questions. I make the decisions. And when we find this asshole, we're going to split the payment ninety-ten.”
My mouth fell open. “Excuse me?”
“Which word didn't you understand?”
I cocked my head to the side. Slade might be a legend, but no one spoke to me that way. “Listen, buddy, I don't know who the hell you think you are, but the Dominae asked us to team up on this. I'm not going to sit around and let you collect all the money.”
Or the respect
, I amended silently. I'd waited too long for a real chance to prove myself to the Dominae as an assassin for this guy to get all the glory.
“No, you listen, sweetheart. You make trouble and I will end you. I've got a lot riding on this payday for some rookie to fuck it up for me. So, you'll march your ass in there and watch while I find our guy and get the job done. For your trouble, you'll walk away with ten percent. And I'm being generous here. Ten large for doing nothing is a good deal.”
I could tell this asshole wasn't going to listen to reason. Fine, I decided. Let him believe I was just some inexperienced hack. “Okay, I'll tell you what. I'll let you do the talking in there if you agree to a seventy-thirty split.”
He cursed under his breath, something about godsdamned stubborn females. “How about ninety-ten and I don't kick you off the case altogether?”
“You can't do that!”
The bouncer at the door waved us in. Slade swaggered ahead of me, and I followed along, glaring daggers at his back.
I'd been in this place before. Being an Enforcer for the Dominae meant I had to experience the seedier sides of the vampire underworld on a regular basis. Strip clubs especially seemed to attract tithe-avoiding repeat offenders, so I spent a lot of time staking them out. That allowed me to make contacts with the club owners and bouncers, who understood the benefits of cooperating with an Enforcer. For me, the relationships meant I had access to the
in order to find out the
As far as clubs went, the Tit Crypt fell into the lower end of the spectrum. Instead of valet service and tight-assed chicks with glorious racks, it offered an all-you-can-eat buffet and hard-looking females who didn't even try to conceal the boredom on their overly made-up faces.
On the stage, a female with red hair twisted into Bo Derek braids swayed her hips in time to the disco tragedy of Donna Summer's “Bad Girls.” I shook my head at the music. How a race that had invented disco managed to rule the world while vampires had to stay in the shadows escaped me.
In contrast to the disco-inspired fashions favored by most of the strippers, I wore a “God Save the Queen” T-shirt studded with safety pins, torn jeans, and biker boots. I topped the entire ensemble off with a beaten leather jacket I'd found at Goodwill. The confrontational look discouraged the roving hands and eyes of the club patrons.
I continued past the stage and the interested stares of the men seated there. Fang, a male vamp with a mustache that would have made Burt Reynolds jealous, wiped the bar down with a dingy towel. He regarded Slade with mean, narrowed eyes as he approached. I hung back, as instructed, biding my time.
“I need some information.” Slade slammed a twenty on the bar.
The rag slowed its circling as Fang turned unfriendly eyes on him. “Ain't got none for sale.”
Slade sighed and slapped another twenty down, harder this time. “I'm looking for one of your employees.”
Fang leaned forward. “Look, mister, you want to look at some titties, you've come to the right place. If you're asking me to squeal on my people, you'd best turn your ass around and go.”
I choked on a laugh at the look on Slade's face. His jaw clenched, obviously a precursor to violence. I stepped out from behind the column I'd waited behind. The move drew Fang's attention.
His face transformed into a smile that flashed some fang. “Amateur night is on Tuesdays.”
I grinned and strutted over the bar to run a finger down Fang's leather vest. “How about a private dance, then, hot stuff?”
Fang leaned his elbows on the bar. “You sure your boyfriend here won't mind, Sabina? From the glare he's sending me, his mama never taught him how to share.”
“Don't mind him,” I said, waving away Slade's fierce frown. “Listen, Fang, I was hoping you could help me out with something.”
Fang's moustache twitched. “Anything for you, good-lookin'.”
“We're looking for Zeke Calebow.”
Fang frowned. “What you want with that lousy son of a bitch? I had to fire his ass.”
“Bastard cut a peephole in the girls' dressing area. Caught him jacking off in the utility room with his eye glued to the wall.” He shook his head. “Two of my best girls quit when they found out.”
Slade spoke up. “Do you know where we can find him?”
Fang sent Slade a contemptuous look. “Last I heard, he took a job at T&A Video over on Victory.”
“Yeah, I know the place.”
“Did Zeke ever say anything antagonistic about the Dominae?” Slade asked.
I froze and held my breath while I waited for Fang's reaction.
The bald vampire threw his head back and laughed. “Shit, son, do you think this is one of them sacred temples to the Great Mother? Everyone around here says shit about the Dominae.”
Slade pressed his lips together. “This isn't a joke,” he snapped. “Do you think the Dominae send out two Enforcers to hunt down people to deliver a warning?”
Fang sobered quickly. “Look, if Zeke stepped in some shit, it's not my business. Like I said, he doesn't work here anymore.”
“If you think of anything else that might help, will you call me?” I asked.
The vampire winked. “Sure thing, doll.”
“Thanks, Fang,” I said. “I appreciate it.”
“I don't suppose you'd prefer to show your appreciation topless,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
I laughed and shook my head. “How about a rain check?” I slid an extra twenty across the bar. Fang pocketed the payment smoothly.
Fangs chuckled. “Yeah. I'll call you right after I beat his perverted ass.”
Slade frowned at the vamp. “Just as long as you leave the killing to the professionals.”
Slade grabbed my arm and swung me around before I'd taken three steps out the door.
“You want to explain to me what the fuck you were thinking in there? I thought we'd agreed you'd let me do the talking.”
I jerked my arm free of his grasp. “First of all, you're welcome for getting the information we needed. And second, Fang never would have talked to you if I hadn't been there.”
“And why is that? You been doing some moonlighting?”
I crossed my arms. “The vamps who don't pay their tithes usually spend them on one of three things: gambling, titty bars, or prostitutes. I know just about every vamp bookie, club owner, and pimp in the city.” I stepped up on Slade, emboldened by the small victory of shocking him. “And if you'd taken two seconds to ask me instead of issuing orders, I would have told you that there was no way Fang would talk to you.”
“Because Fang's brother was killed by an Enforcer for bootlegging blood-wine during Prohibition.”
“Why does he talk to you, then?”
“Because I flirt with him shamelessly.” I smiled. “And because I saved one of his best girls from being raped by a patron several months ago. Fang loves his girls, and by helping one of them, he considers himself in my debt.”
“Oh,” Slade said.
“Yeah,” I said. “And if you drop the asshole routine on the way to T&A Video, I'll tell you all about Larry Garrett, San Fernando Valley's vampire porn king.”
A small bell dinged over the door as Slade held it open and motioned for me to go first. He'd been surprisingly quiet after our little chat. I took that as a good sign, since he seemed the type who liked to bark orders unnecessarily. So, as I brushed past him, I was feeling good. At least until I caught a whiff of the storeâa charming perfume of stale cigarettes, body odor, and dried semen.
T&A Video lay in the armpit of the San Fernando Valley. The introduction of VHS tapes a few years earlier had revolutionized the adult film industry, and T&A was just one of the many new establishments catering to the discerning wank-film connoisseur.
On the surface, it looked like your typical video store, except with sections dedicated to every fetish known to manâand sometimes beast. But in the back, it held one of the most extensive collections of vampire porn in Southern California.
As expected, Larry manned the counter. He had an unlit cigar clamped between his lips and wore a polyester shirt covered in a retina-burning psychedelic print. I thought the thick chain with the male symbol was a nice touch, though. Over Larry's head, a TV bolted to the ceiling displayed a scene involving a pizza deliveryman and a woman whose undercarriage looked like one of