Charlie counted off the new tempo for the song. It took a while to get it perfect, but tonight needed to be special. The solo guitar intro was replaced by Nikki’s electric piano buzzing in a few seventh chords to create more harmonic tension.
“This next one is a new one for us. I don’t know about you, but I always feel the eyes of strangers on me when I go to a bar.” The ting of Charlie’s ride cymbal give Shandi her cue. “At least on stage I expect it.” She softens her voice and adds a dash of husk. “But for the rest of you, remember there’s someone Watchin’ You.”
Jason on bass, Nikki, and Charlie hit the mark together. The short fills on Charlie’s part were exactly what they needed. Nothing ostentatious, but with the down tempo they were going for, the quick hits weren’t enough to fill space. Shandi started her survey of the crowd. She readjusted on her stool and embraced the mic with her right hand. A guy in the front row chose that moment to exhale his cinnamon vape at her. She fought the bite in her throat as she breathed it in and the burn in her eyes.
“Livin’ as you do and I’m watchin’ you, oh woah,” the crowd quickly hushed themselves as Shandi’s crooning swept over them. It made the job of finding her target easier as most of the people will now be facing her. Knowing the person she’s looking for, there’s a greater chance the lady would be on the fringes of the audience.
“And you don’t really know a-just what to do, oh woah,” it wasn’t too hard to find her. Once turned, it’s hard for a vampire to ever change their appearance for very long. Most accept it early on. But few had the white trash blond hair, black roots Starla always sported. Shandi could see she was preoccupied with the man in the striped polo and Haggar slacks.
“You don’t really know,” Starla finally looked Shandi’s way. Seriousness leaked down her face and she slowly moved her way towards the door.
“You don’t really know,” Shandi extended the last note, letting it travel a whole step up before coming back down to the half-cadence. It was an agreed signal to her friend outside to get ready for Starla to come out. She followed Starla pushing herself through the crowd, glancing back to the stage to see Shandi locked onto her. She couldn’t get out of the bar faster.
“You don’t. You don’t know. What to do.”
The metal door to the back alley slammed hard from the too tight spring. For many, the sight of a man dressed like Sherlock Holmes wreathed in ghostly fire and a guy not much older than her with skin cracked and a divoted holding a women in a full-nelson would be more than most could handle. Shandi didn’t have that luxury.
“Did she pass the stake test?” Shandi moved toward the inflamed man.
“Flinched faster than I could show her the thing.” The man tossed the piece of wood in his hand without it catching fire. A truth about vampires is that few things really scare them. Guns, knives, a gang of thugs are not nearly as frightening to them like they are to mortals. But stakes are something they fear. Whatever caused vampires to exist, it gave them a primal fear to stakes like we have fears of snakes and spiders. So if you want to know if you are dealing with one, flash a stake and watch. Old ones can keep their cool better, but there is always a tell. Starla is to new, so she hasn’t experienced the threat they are.
“You are so fucked!” Starla screeched and tried to pry herself out of the man’s grip, but he stood there like a statue.
“No. Unfortunately, Starla, tonight will be your last.” Shandi walked up to her and cupped her face. She felt the tears welling. Making friends was something neither her nor Domino really let themselves do as matter of survival. But this club and Starla were two of the few constants in their lives. So it was impossible for connections and feelings to not evolve. There were countless times Domino went out on a hunt and the only one she could go to stop feeling afraid of what lived in the shadows was Starla. She was the closest thing to a girlfriend she had since she was a teenager. How do you say good-bye forever?
“Ha! What? You gonna stake me? Shandi, you can’t even step on a bug. How you gonna shove that in my heart, even if you could pull that off with your weak ass body?”
“I’m not. My friend Richard is the one that’s here for you. I was only his contact that could help him get to you.”
Pure fear froze Starla. Richard approached her, dropping the stake mid-way. He place hand on her chest, blue flames dancing across the pale skin and fabric.
“Why?” ask Starla.
“You are a sin Domino needs to resolve. That is my job. I eat sin.”
“Shandi…you can’t…you can’t let him.”
Shandi turned her head away from them.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make it fast.”
“I don’t want to die.”
“Trust me, sometimes, it’s better than what we have here.” Richard closed his eyes. The blue flames surrounding him rippled up his body and flowed into Starla. “Rest in peace, Starla Jean Roberts.”
Flames erupted from Starla’s body, blinding and quick like Roman candle. It reminded Shandi being too close to the ignition of bonfire. Just as fast, the flames went out and only ash remained where Starla existed. Richard was partly bent over and his friend, Derek, was rubbing his arms.
“You two okay?” Shandi went over to Derek to look him over. He was something completely new for her. Richard tried to explain it to her. He died once, then his body was reanimated, but his soul didn’t rest and he somehow managed to merge body and soul again. It was a little too much for her to understand, but when Richard said he was there to help Domino’s ghost rest, that was all she needed to know. There was soot and ash on him, and his cloths were burned completely, but physically there wasn’t a mark on him.
“Yeah, we’re good. I don’t make it a point to go around as a walking crematorium, but I figure you’d want it fast.” Richard pushed himself upright. His pallor seem gauzy and warn, like fabric of his big was pulled apart like cotton. Derek moved wordlessly to the old ’38 Oldsmobile parked at the other end of the alley.
“Honestly, I don’t know what I wanted.”
“Most people don’t. Not even the dead.” Richard looks down the alley. “I think Derek needs to get going. He may not be nearly as strong or dangerous as he was before, but he still has some nasty side effects if he stays in a place for too long.”
“You know how to reach me.” Shandi turned and headed in the opposite direction.
“Hey! You sure you’re ready?”
Shandi stopped and turned back to him. “I don’t know if I ever will, but I don’t have much of a choice.”
Richard saunters up to her, habitually checking an ornate gold watch. “Of course you have a choice. I’ve dealt with a lot of kinds of people as a reporter, a hunter, and now as a geist. You got a good heart. That’s rare even in the normal part of the world. Domino knew that too, which is probably why he kept you away as much as he could. Right now is where you decide the rest of your life.”
“Tell me,” Shani stepped in a little too close for casual conversation, “of the people you met that have been touched in the slightest by the supernatural, how many of them ever really get the chance for normal?”
“Well, it’s hard to say.”
“Because there isn’t anything to say. We don’t get a choice in this. When we see what in the darkness, we lose that chance everyone else has.”
“You know I can’t help you when you’re with them. And I can’t tell you what you are going to walk into. A lot has changed since I was with The Contingent. People are going to be suspicious of you.”
“Then it’ll be even since I’ll be suspicious of them.”
“You can’t go at it alone. That’s how you get killed. You need friends.”
“Friends are a liability, you can only trust family.”
“What’s that make us?
“Get me a birthday present and we’ll see.” Shandi turned back around and started back toward the end of the alley.
“When’s that?” Richard yelled after her.
“Someone whose family would know.” Shandi turned the corner and picked up the helmet hooked on the motorcycle handle. She took her time getting set for the trip a head. She knew what awaited her to answer The Contingent’s call. But she had nowhere else to go. Better the devils you know than the ones you don’t.