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Authors: MaryJanice Davidson

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BOOK: Undead and Unappreciated
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Chapter 26

“Y
ou're really gonna do it?”

“Bet your ass.”

“It didn't really cause any of your problems.”

“No,” I agreed, “but it's dangerous. It's just lying around in the library for anybody to pick up and read.”

“It's irreplaceable.”

“So was the Nazi regime. Besides, I promised my mom I wouldn't burn it.” We were standing on one of the big bridges connecting the suburbs with Minneapolis, and talking loudly to be heard over the hum of traffic. It was chilly—maybe forty degrees—but I was so hyped up I barely noticed. “So it's gonna sleep with the fishes.”

I shoved, and the Book of the Dead went down and down (it was a high bridge), and then plopped into the Big Muddy.

“Huh,” Jessica said after a long moment of watching it sink out of sight with nary a bubble. “I guess I thought it would float on a bed of pure evil, or whatever.”

“It's made out of skin, not Gore-Tex.” I brushed off my chilly hands. “Boy, was that a relief or what? I should have done that months ago.”

“Yep, that's that.” Jessica zipped her coat higher. “Now what?”

“I don't know, but it's gonna be something, you know, take-chargish.”

“Oh, good.”

“And stay out of the basement.”

“I don't think George would hurt me. Not on a full stomach, anyway.”

“All the same.”

“Don't worry. One vampire attack a week is my limit.”

 

I hadn't had much time to effect change in my life—I'd talked with Jessica for hours, then destroyed a priceless artifact, and that had pretty much burned up my night. But after sleeping through the next day, I rose around six ready to kick some passive-aggressive vampire ass. First stop: Scratch.

On the way out to my car, I thought about trying to find Eric and doing something embarrassing like telling him I loved him, but chickened out. Also, I wasn't sure it would change anything. The last thing I could stand was being a burden—on anyone. If he didn't feel the same way—or worse, if he once had but didn't anymore—I wasn't going to be all Scarlett O'Hara (“Where will I go? What shall I do?”) on him.

But at least I knew, now. It was sort of a relief to have it at the top of my mind, instead of lurking deep in my subconscious. But realizing—okay, admitting—I loved Eric Sinclair didn't solve anything. Real life was messy, and loving him didn't magically undo the old problems and make everything wonderful and perfect. In fact, it sort of made a few things worse.

If you took anything wrong in my life—“I'm upset Eric tricked me and made himself king” or “I'm upset Eric didn't tell me about my sister and Satan”—and tacked on “and I love Eric Sinclair,” it made things messier.

Irony: loving Eric Sinclair and having it be another on a long list of problems. But now was the time for action! I was all done crying naked in the closet, thank you very much. I would be the mistress—queen, if you will—of my own destiny!

Starting with Scratch. I knew that place could make money; the vampires were sulking and not helping me. I needed to put a little fear of the queen into the undead. And I needed to have Margarita Mondays.

I drove around for what seemed like half an hour, looking for a parking ramp that wasn't full, then finally gave up and parked in one of the handicap spaces just down the block. I felt a twinge of conscience but managed to squash it; being dead had to count as some sort of handicap. For the millionth time, I reminded myself to get a Manager Parking spot put out front.

I stormed through the door and stood in the nearly empty (groan…on a Friday night!) bar. “All right, listen up!” I began, only to be cut off by Klaus.

“Oh good, you've decided to drop by,” he snarked.

“Hey, hey. I've had other things going on.”

“Other things besides being the queen.”

“Well, yeah. I mean no! It's all sort of wrapped up in…” I trailed off. Why was I explaining myself to this yutz? This was not part of the Take Charge plan. “Listen, things are going to be different from here on out.”

“You're right about that,” a vampire I didn't know piped up from her seat at the bar.

“Who's talking to
you
?”

“The employees of Scratch are now officially on strike,” Klaus announced. He looked at his watch. “As of 6:59 p.m.”

“You're
what
?”

“On strike.”

I was having trouble processing this. “You're
what
?”

“We have formed a union,” he continued, “to demand proper working conditions.”

“And proper working conditions would be…?” I had a horrible suspicion what they were.

“We want sheep to be allowed here, we want to be able to drink blood on the dance floor—”

“And at the bar,” another vampire said. He was a pale brunette in a denim jacket, sitting next to the woman who'd spoken up earlier.

“Right, at the bar…” Slight Overbite was ticking the demands off on his long, spidery (yerrrrgggh) fingers. “And if a sheep becomes difficult, or a human wanders in, we want to be able to have a little fun.”

“Kill them,” I clarified.

“Right. Also, we want a dental plan.”

“Really?” I gasped.

“No.” He grinned, a wholly unpleasant image. “That last one was a joke.”

“This whole
thing
is a joke. You guys are seriously nuts if you think I'm going to allow
any
of that. In case you didn't get the memo, we are, as of Nostro biting the big one, a friendlier vampire nation.”

“You'd pull our fangs,” he spat.

“I'd have you act decently!” We were nose to upturned nose. “What
is
it with you guys? You're dead, so you have to be assholes?”

“We don't have to be,” the woman at the bar admitted. “We just like to. You can't change hundreds of years of mystic evolution.”

“Sure I can. That ‘we're going to do it because we can' crap doesn't fly with me. Now: as for being on strike, you're not on strike, you're fired. I can get anybody to run this place. You don't like the working conditions? Fuck off and die. Again.”

“This is your last chance to change your mind,” Denim Boy said. Like I was scared of anybody wearing a Tommy Hilfiger knockoff.

“No,” I said. “It's yours.”

“You're not leaving us with a lot of breathing room,” a new voice said. For a place I'd thought was practically deserted, there were a shitload of vampires suddenly around.

“Fortunately,” Klaus said, “we don't need any.”

Another vampire came out from the back, dragging—uh-oh—Laura. He had a bunch of her perfect blond hair in his fist, right by her skull, and she had both hands on his and was stumbling, trying not to trip.

“Surprise,” she said, trying to smile.

Chapter 27

“C
heaters!” I cried.

“We were so happy to make your sister's acquaintance.”

“I'll bet, ya big cheater.”

“Eric canceled our meeting,” she said, “and I had a free evening, so I thought I'd come and see you.”

“Well, next time, call first.”

“I got that,” she said.

“It was almost too good to be true,” Asshole said. “It's so rare to find a vampire with any living relatives. And to have one walk into our hands…”

“Right! Rare. Don't you guys think that's weird? I mean, look how young she is. She's not my great-great-granddaughter, she's my kid sister. Doesn't that tell you something about me? Like maybe you shouldn't be messing with me?”

“I figure they don't like their working conditions,” Laura said helpfully, still clutching the vampire's hand. “But this seems kind of extreme.”

“Maybe your
mother
could help us out,” I said, then waited. We all waited. Laura looked puzzled—or maybe she was rolling her eyes, I couldn't tell. “You know, your
mother
could show up and, you know, give us a hand.”

Nothing. Humph! Typical. The devil: never around when you needed her.

“Look, you don't want to do this,” I told Klaus and the cow at the bar and Tommy Hilfiger. “You really don't.”

“I think she's right,” Laura said, practically up on her toes. “I think you should try a walkout first. I think hostage-taking should be a second resort. Maybe third.”

The vampire jerked her head, and she cried out.

I rubbed my eyes. I had to admit, I hadn't foreseen this.

What should I do? What if I lied and told them they could have their sheep and their homicide and their kill-one-get-one-free Thursdays, got Laura out of danger, then reneged? Could a queen go back on her word? The other vampires might lose respect for me…well, more respect.

“Before we get into this any further, I just want to clarify: What exactly do you guys think happened to Nostro and Monique?”

“The king helped you.”

“Okay. And, just for the record, do you see the king around anywhere right now?”

Klaus hesitated. “No.”

“I better leave one of you alive, then. I'm getting really tired of this ‘Sinclair must have helped her' bullshit. If one of you spreads the word about me, that would really help me out.”

“Ouch! That
really
hurts,” Laura said to the vampire fisting her hair. “Will you please let go?”

“Shut up, sheep.”

“Are you particularly attached to this man?” Laura asked me.

“I've never even
met
him.”

“Oh, okay. I really, really hope this doesn't give you the wrong impression.”

“Wh—” was as far as I got before a shaft of reddish gold light burst from the vampire's stomach, and he evaporated. Or vaporized. Or something—he didn't even have time to scream, it was that fast.

I
screamed. Not very monarchlike, it's true. But I couldn't help it. See, in real life, vampires didn't disappear when they were killed. They didn't collapse into a dramatic dust pile or burst into flames, short of direct exposure to sunlight. They didn't even die when you poked them in the gut.

You stuck a stake in their chests and/or cut their heads off, and they died forever. They didn't get back up. Well, I did that one time, but that was a special case.

But other than sunlight cases, there was always a body, no matter what you did.

Laura was standing by herself, patting her hair down with her right hand and holding a—I guess it was sword of sorts—in her left. Proof! Proof she was hell spawned…she was a lefty!

“Sorry about that,” she said. “But I just couldn't stand to have his hands on me another second. Yuck.”

“What is
that
?” I gasped.

She glanced at the flame-colored sword. It glowed with such heat, it was actually a little hard to look at. “Oh, this?” she asked, like I was asking her about a new bracelet. “Well. I can forge weapons from hellfire.”

“And you can
kill
people with that?”

“Not people,” she said helpfully. “I'll be glad to fill you in later.”

“This—ah—this changes—changes nothing,” Klaus said, looking like he was trying not to barf. I knew the feeling. “We still—we still—ah—demand—demand—”

“You have to get close with that,” Tommy Hilfiger said. “You can't get us all in arrgghh!” He said “arrgghh” because, quick as thought, Laura's sword changed to a crossbow, and she shot Tommy from across the room. He vanished in a puff of light, just like the other one.

She lowered the crossbow to her side and looked modest. Which she actually pulled off. She was so beautiful, she looked like a fairy-tale princess. With a weapon of mass vampire destruction.

“Ha-
ha
!” I crowed. “How about that, Klaus the mouse? Hah? Hah?”

“Wait a minute.” I turned to Laura. “You know we're all vampires?”

“Sure.”

“And you were going to tell me when?”

“I was waiting for you to tell
me,
” she said, having the nerve to sound offended.

“But how did you
know
?”

“Sometimes I just…figure things out. I guess I get that from my mother.” She looked disgusted, like having anything in common with her mother was a revolting thought.

“Your mother.”

More disgust. “The devil.”

“You know. Your mom. Is the devil.”

“Her mom is the devil?” the lady at the bar asked in a hushed voice.

“And you let me take you to the Ant's baby shower and never said anything? And brought her a present? And had
two
slices of carrot cake? And
talked
to her?” I was trying to figure out which was more annoying: yet another vampire coup or Laura keeping her mouth shut all this time.

“Well,
you
never told me you were the queen of the vampires,” she said hotly.

“That's totally a different thing!” I cried.

“I wanted to get a chance to meet the woman who carried me for nine months.”

“And then
dumped
you at a hospital.”

“Yes, but when you compare that to, you know, being Satan, it doesn't seem so bad. In fact, it's downright friendly.”

She had me on that one. “Laura, don't you get what this means? Your
mom
is
Satan
!”

“Of course I get what it means. Besides, I don't think your parents define who you are,” she reasoned.

I opened my mouth to yell some more, only to get cut off. “Excuse me,” Klaus said, sounding peeved, “but you have other business to attend to right now.”

“It's not more interesting than this, pal,” I said. “Vampires being sneaky and up to no good is so
not
anything new.”

“She's too dangerous,” the woman at the bar said, “to live another five minutes.”

“Which one of us is she talking about?”

“Does it matter?” Laura asked.

Klaus said something in rapid French—I think it was French. The door to the back room opened, as did the front door, and all kinds of waitresses and bartenders and bouncers started streaming in. They were all pale and twitchy and pissed-off.

“As far as plans go, it's not the worst one I've ever seen,” Laura said. “But you'll die if you all try to jump us at once.”

“You got what he said?”

“Oh, I'm really good at languages.”

“Which ones?” I asked, curious.

“All of them.”

Of course. “Look, she's right. Can't we sit down and discuss this like civilized dead people and hell spawn?”

“Please don't call me that.”

“I'm sorry! Just please don't shoot me or stab me.”

Laura looked mildly crushed. “I wouldn't do that, Betsy.”

“Sorry again.”

“You can't—” Klaus said, and then lunged at me. Aha! The old ‘keep a placid look on your face and talk normally and then jump them' trick. Unfortunately, it totally worked; he bowled right into me, and we went sprawling backward, knocking a table aside. Several vampires, I was sorry to see, leapt onto us to help.

“Nothing—is—more—important—than—this!” Klaus shouted, punctuating each word by smacking my head onto the floor. It was fairly easy for him because he had both hands around my throat. The guy was quick
and
strong; he had a grip like an angry anaconda.

“Au contraire,”
I gurgled, and then I couldn't say anything at all. What was he doing, strangling a dead girl? That couldn't really hurt me; it was mostly just annoying.
Must be plenty pissed,
I thought.

I was digging my fingers into his hands to pry them off, but his grip never loosened, and the flesh was just peeling away in strips. Blurgh! Death loomed (again),
and
I was grossed out. It was the worst week ever. Again.

BOOK: Undead and Unappreciated
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