Kandy-4-Peter 9. Ghost in the Restaurant 1

“There’s been more gang activity lately,” said Dylan, the manager at Red’s. He did an excellent job at keeping his fangs hidden, but Peter could tell he was Itoril by the look in his eyes. They practically appeared natural under the bright lights at the restaurant entrance, but it was more of how the man carefully observed his surroundings that tipped Peter off. Dylan shook his head and said, “The city is sliding into the shit-house if you ask me.”

Red’s doorman, Kodiak, nodded his head in agreement. The bearded guy seemed like a friendly bear, but Peter imagined the doorman could turn fearsome.

“Neighborhood watch, mate.” Dylan rubbed his bald head and glanced around over Peter’s shoulder. His gaze returned, stern, but warm. “That’s what I’m talking about. Show these pricks we mean to keep our neighborhood. Armed break-ins are bad for business.”

More security cameras, including outside, sounded reasonable. Dylan’s suggestion about street patrols seemed a bit extreme, though. And that the gangs Dylan referred to were Itoril gave him pause. Dylan knew only a little about the thief, Vasir, mostly by reputation for defying authority and kicking ass. According to Tigris, an Itoril may be much stronger or faster than the average human. Anything that provoked an Itoril gang didn’t sound like a good idea, and patrols seemed like a good way to provoke a street thug.

Kodiak nodded with a grunt. “I’ll keep my eye out more often.”

After the two Red’s employees left, Peter turned to find Nine waiting with her arms folded. Her long face told him she had bad news.

“Beth called in,” said Nine. Her gaze dropped to the floor. “She isn’t coming in. Ever.”

“The break-in?”

“Mostly, but I think letting Tigris decide her own dress code was part of it.”

It sounded like it was time to let all the distractions like a break-in, injuries, and ghosts go, and get down to hiring. Laura and Richard were students with limited time, so he supposed he could talk Nine and Tiger into more hours until he found someone new. If only that damn coffin and its crazy contents had never arrived.

“Slow night, but at least we have guests,” said Nine. She offered her best supportive smile, but it wasn’t enough. Two men stood at the bar, deep in conversation, and a family of four enjoyed their meal at a table beside the stage. A slow night was an understatement. “Put a smile on your face, Peter.”

Nine kissed him, full on and sloppy. It wasn’t wise to display affection like this in front of the others, but it felt wonderful. And no one was paying attention to them, anyway.

“That’s better,” said Nine. She winked and marched away like she owned the place, hips swinging and heels clicking with confidence.

A smack on the back of the head, and he swung around ready for a fight.

Arms folded, Tara stood before the door. She glared at him with her razor-like eyes.

“What the hell are you doing here?” said Peter.

“I warned you about that girl,” said Tara.

“Whatever, Tara, if you have more wine to deliver, leave it. I’ll mail you a check.” Determined to get back to more important matters, Peter marched away and onto the stairs.

“Don’t you dare speak to me like that, little brother.”

On the second floor landing, he spotted a woman at the top of the stairs. She passed in the hall, pausing long enough for him to get a good look. Dark hair, medium build, it was the same woman from the other night. She disappeared into the office.

“Kandy,” said Peter. Quickly, he climbed the steps and turned into the office.

His desk sat there, alone and untouched. Everything else appeared as he had left it, the chair pushed into the desk, the gun case resting on the floor at the far end of the desk. The guitar case leaned in the corner. No Kandy.

Footsteps approached, and he spun around finding Nine in the hall. Leaning out the door, he glanced at the stairs searching for Tara or Kandy.

“Peter, we need to talk,” said Nine.

“Have you seen my sister?”

Nine glanced down the stairs. “Is Tara here?”

“I think she brought more wine.”

Peter pulled Nine into the office and closed the door. They stood there looking at each other for what felt like two minutes, but it was more like thirty seconds. He could tell Nine had something important on her mind, and she seemed to work out what she wanted to say. Trying to decide if it was the right time to tell her about seeing Kandy, or her ghost, he fidgeted on each foot. He felt certain he hadn’t been seeing things, but he had no idea where Kandy had disappeared to. Much like the thief from last night, the Itoril woman had vanished into thin air.

More important, he needed to ask Nine if she had an idea if anyone else in the restaurant knew about the contents of the canister or notebook. Boris knew nothing. Fearing the chef might become agitated hearing about blood inside his freezer, Nine had told Boris that the canister held personal medication. Somehow the thief had learned about the canister and where to find it.

“Peter,” said Nine. She folded her arms and gazed at the floor. “I sent a sample of your blood to someone Tigris recommended.”

“Wait. What?”

“A sample of mine, too.” Gaze meeting his, her expression turned fierce. “Peter, I had to do it. Something isn’t right here, and I can tell you’ve been hiding something from me. Something’s been bothering you, hasn’t it?”

Peter took a deep breath. There was only one way about it. He had to spill it. “I’ve been seeing things like a ghost or something. Kandy, I think.” He didn’t think. He felt reasonably certain as far as one could reason about disappearing women.

“Oh my God, Peter!”

“Only briefly, but I’m certain she sees me, too.”

“Oh, sweetie,” said Nine. She bit her lip and dropped her gaze.

“Nine, besides Tiger, does anyone else know about the canister or notebook?”

She shook her head and shrugged. “I suppose someone could have become nosy,” she said. Her expression softened, and her face paled. She had something else on her mind.

“Nine, what is it?”

Clasping her hand over her arm, Nine covered the tattoo of Chinese characters for vampire. “Every once in a while,” she said, and rubbed the tattoo. “Once or twice in a day I taste blood in my mouth.”

It was Peter’s turn to bite his lip. Her dark expression told him she tasted more than a hint of blood like licking a cut finger. He couldn’t imagine what drinking human blood might be like.

“And this morning,” said Nine, her voice growing quiet. “This morning I craved blood.”

Time Wraith 6. Vampire Ice

I sat on the edge of the bed and stroked Laura’s hair. Unconscious or asleep, the girl rested in a tangle of bedsheets. Listening to her heartbeat, her music, warmed me. Her scent was like an intoxicating flower.

Pressing upon my mind was what I had found under her bed.

Holding the two syringes in my hand, I searched their nearly transparent bodies and razor sharp needles. I could still smell the contents. The silver fangs had dripped Itoril venom.

On the streets the drug was called, vampire ice. An effective pain killer, vampire ice was also a powerful hallucinogen. As far as I knew, there was no such thing as synthetic venom. Chemistry, and a freezer, allowed venom to survive in a container outside of a body, a tricky process I had been told on several occasions. Of course, the most challenging part was obtaining Itoril venom. Few Itoril were venomous, and those that were could kick some serious ass.

I didn’t know which bothered me more: fellow Itoril had died for the drug, or that Laura could casually inject herself with vampire ice in my home. I felt cheated.

It took some rousing, but finally, Laura awakened and gazed at me with her sleepy eyes. I held up the syringes and asked her where she had obtained them.

She spat curse words at me.

Unaccustomed to being spoken to with such disrespect, I had a mind to correct the teen as boys and girls had been corrected back in the day when I was young, a belting to her bare behind until she bled. These days there were easier ways to punish a teen. Reaching over to the bed table, I snatched her phone. I marched out of the room and held the door shut.

Laura pounded on the door and shrieked obscenities.

With all the commotion, I barely noticed I wasn’t alone in the hall. Dark talons lashed out, and I spun away. The wraith, not much more than a shadow, crept closer. I threw the phone and syringes, and they passed right through the wraith.

Kandy-4-Peter 8. Ice Thief

The security alarm screamed.

Falling on hands and knees, Peter scrambled for the gun case and opened it. Tigris sped out of the office.

The siren made his head throb, but he managed to push the ammunition clip inside the handgun and climb to his feet. Shoulder banged doorjamb, and he spun catching the wall with one hand. Two quick gunshots from below, and he ducked. Every other step down the stairs sent a rush of pain up his leg. On the second floor landing, he spotted movement rushing out of the light at the bar and into the green glow of the exit sign.

He fell to one knee at the edge of the balcony beside the stairs leading down, and he held the pistol in both hands aiming as he scanned the restaurant. The high ground offered protection and a great view of the entire bottom floor from the stage, through the dining area, the bar, and to the entry where shattered glass covered the floor.

Movement, and Peter aimed towards the wall near the kitchen door. Creeping along the wall, Tigris held a fire extinguisher like a club. Peter aimed ahead of her at the open kitchen door. He thought he heard something crash inside the kitchen. The screeching alarm pounded into his head.

A figure emerged from the kitchen, and Tigris swung the fire extinguisher. The intruder ducked into a roll, and a book slipped from his grasp sliding across the floor. Peter nearly squeezed the trigger, but Tigris followed closely making the shot risky. The intruder snatched the book and scrambled away from the swinging fire extinguisher. Tigris moved like a whirlwind wielding the canister, but the thief sped away and melted into the shadows. Nothing had passed through the front door; the thief had disappeared.

Pointing his gun towards the ceiling, Peter descended the stairs. All Peter could think about was the composition book from Steve Reynolds. That had to be what the thief had taken.

“Vasir,” said Tigris, growling.

“Who?”

“The bird that got away.”

Rushing into the kitchen, Peter went straight to the freezer. He threw the door open and his heart sank.

The canister was gone.

The alarm fell silent.

Kandy-4-Peter 7. Tigris on Vampires

Peter opened his eyes to bright light and winced.

“Peter?” It was Nine, and she sounded worried.

He opened his eyes again finding Nine’s beautiful face full of concern. He tried smiling, but his lip hurt.

“You’re at the hospital, Peter.”

“The restaurant,” he said. It didn’t feel necessary to finish his comment about the accident. More importantly, he didn’t seem like the right moment to mention the intruder, Kandice Knight. Was she really there? Odd that after deciding to look for the woman mentioned as requiring help in the letter from Steve Reynolds, she appeared right there inside the restaurant. Her presence had felt more like a ghost.

“Boris is there,” said Nine. “Richard, too.” Erasing the worry from her face, she smiled in her cute way, the corner of her lips turned up on one side. “Never mind the restaurant, Peter. We need to get you healed.”

“A little banged up, am I?”

Lifting his head from the pillow, he surveyed the damage. His left arm was in a sling and a big white patch covered his shoulder. An ugly hospital shirt draped over him. He still had his underpants on at least. A brown wrap held his right knee tight. His head hurt, but no more throbbing. All he could think about was how many victims of abuse or embarrassing accidents used falling down stairs as an excuse.

“The doctor says you’ll be good to go today, but wants to ask you a few questions first.”

After the physician conducted a game of twenty questions—about the president, day of week, things that only challenged toddlers—there was some finger poking and more stupid questions, and finally he was released into Nine’s care.

Thankfully Nine had the foresight to bring spare clothes, because the hospital staff sliced his shirt and trousers up pretty good. Where she had found them, he didn’t care to ask. Older jeans and a shirt for cleaning, which he must had left in the office. Getting into a hearse in front of the hospital felt awkward. At least he wasn’t climbing into the back.

Nine apologized. It was the only car available at the family funeral home.

By the time he returned to the restaurant, it was evening and Autumn Twilight was serving dinner. And serving smiles along with plenty of hugs. Even Boris gave him a hug, but a crushed arm turned the warm welcome into a sputter of apologies. He could manage on his own, but Richard and Laura helped guide him upstairs and onto the sofa in the break room.

Laura returned with a large plate of dinner straight from the kitchen. Peter felt embarrassed being waited on, but he thanked everyone. It’s not everyday a person falls down stairs—twice it seemed, but he didn’t want to correct anyone.

“Do you have someone to stay with you?” asked Nine. “Tara?”

“I don’t want my sister pestering me.”

“Well, the doctor says someone has to stay with you for a day to make sure you’re head stays in good shape.”

“Are you asking to spend the night with me?”

A grin, and she blushed. “How about we make a quiet little party of it?”

Richard, Laura, and Tiger agreed to stay after closing. Listening to music from someone’s phone connected to the big speakers on the stage, they played cards at one of the tables and chatted. Laura hated biology class, and Richard studied engineering at Roseland University. According to Laura, Beth had a child in advanced placement class, a regular little genius. Crank had earned his nickname due to his younger brother having trouble pronouncing Croening, which made complete sense. In one hour of card playing, Peter learned more about his staff than he did in two weeks working with them. He also learned the trick to reciting the alphabet backwards through visualization, which Laura performed at a staggering rate.

After the music ended, after Richard and Laura had departed, Peter found himself sitting in near darkness. The lamp behind the bar provided illumination along with green glow from two exit sign. Sitting on the opposite side of the table, Tigris—completely nude—hugged her knees to her chest and gazed in the direction of the stage.

There in near dim light it was plain as the exit signs over the doors, Tigris’s eyes were iridescent red. Eerie and beautiful, it was like firelight inside her irises, a jagged pattern of reds and oranges. Of course, he already knew about her fangs spotting them whenever she laughed.

“Where’s Nine?”

Peter couldn’t recall what had happened to her. He supposed he had dozed off, but he didn’t feel groggy or have any of the normal waking sensations.

“Body drop,” said Tiger, and wiggled her eyebrows. “My turn for nurse duty.”

Looking around, Peter searched the dining room making sure the two of them were alone. He searched the shadowy space behind the stairs for anything out of the ordinary, an uninvited guest. Kandy Knight, or her ghost, had been on the stairs and sitting behind his desk last night. Satisfied nothing spooky lurked about, he looked Tigris over.

Her knees and arms wrapped around barely covered her small breasts, but he barely gazed at them. Her mouth had his attention. Or more accurately, the fangs he pictured hiding behind her closed lips. Not the costume fangs vampire wannabes wore to clubs.

“You’re not human,” said Peter.

“Nope,” said Tigris. She glanced around the room before meeting his gaze. She smiled and said, “I’m supposed to keep you hydrated.”

“You really don’t like wearing clothes, do you?”

“Sorry,” said Tiger. She stood and walked over to a table where her clothes sat in a pile. “I forget about how uncomfortable I can make people.”

“It’s okay,” said Peter, “but what’s with all the nudity?”

Tiger pulled her skirt on and gazed at the table, staring. Finally, she smiled briefly, and her expression darkened.

“When I was young,” said Tiger. She nervously tugged at the end of her skirt. “Illness had nearly taken me, and my family believed I had died. They had dressed me up in the finest gown, corset and all, and put me in the ground. And I had awakened in that box to the sound of the shovel.”

Her eyes went wild, and she scrunched her skirt in her fist. Rising up, Peter started to go to her, but seeing the anger in her eyes, he paused.

“Buried alive without even a bell to ring,” said Tigris. Twisting her skirt, she gathered it around her waist. “I was so hot, and I wanted out bad. I hated that gown so terribly much. After my rescue, I tore my dress to pieces.”

Peter started to apologize for asking, but seeing the anger in her eyes quieted his thoughts.

“I fucking hated that dress” said Tigris. The darkness fell from her face, and she slapped her hand over her mouth. She released hold of her skirt. “Pardon my language, Boss Peter.”

He couldn’t find any words of comfort. As far as he was concerned, she could wear whatever she wanted for work—bow tie around her bear neck, short skirts, and sleeveless whatever—as long as she was appropriately covered. The rest of the staff would just have to deal with it. No wise words, but he thought he could at least try lighten the mood.

“After hours nudity is fine,” said Peter. He grinned like the devil. “I don’t mind at all.”

Tiger wiggled her finger and said, “But we don’t want to make Nine jealous. She has an eye for you, Boss Peter.”

She walked over to the bar. Even without music, she had a spring in her step and moved like silk in the breeze.

“Are you like a vampire?” He felt silly for asking.

Behind the bar, Tigris stood still, frowning. She seemed to contemplate his question then smiled.

“Is it okay if I have a glass of wine?” she asked.

“Not a problem, Tiger. I should probably pay you for babysitting.”

Tiger returned and set a tall glass of water on the table, a brandy goblet full of red wine on her side. Topless without a care, she sat down and sipped her wine.

“Not a vampire,” said Tigris. She rested an elbow on the table and gazed at Peter. “I’m a person like everyone else.”

“With fangs,” said Peter.

Tigris took another sip of wine and set her glass down. She didn’t appear upset, but she didn’t seem happy, either. Opening wide, she showed him her teeth while she scrunched her face appearing both menacing and strangely adorable.

“Itoril,” said Peter. He didn’t know where the term came from, and he repeated it testing the word. Something he had heard somewhere, he supposed.

“Yep,” said Tiger, “named after the great one, Ithuriel.”

“But you’re not a vampire?”

“Peter, folk like you know about us,” said Tiger, “but there are things we don’t talk about. Do you understand?”

Holding up his hands, Peter apologized.

“I’m not a vampire,” said Tigris. Heated, the tiger in her seemed to be coming out. “I don’t kill people. I don’t drink blood. I’m a good person like you, Boss Peter.”

“No, Tiger, I think you’re the better person.”

He was about to mention he had killed in war, but realized it didn’t compare to slaughtering innocent life like he had implied. He had killed soldiers with guns. His knowledge of vampires came from movies, most of them bad flicks. They had taught him that vampires were dangerous, killing whomever, but young women still wanted sex with them. Which seemed rather morbid considering a vampire was supposed to be a spirit reanimating a corpse, or recently dead, anyway.

“Anyway,” said Peter, “I only wish I could dance half as good as you, or had your knowledge behind the bar.”

Blushing, Tiger batted her hand at him.

He still needed a new phone, and he wanted to find out more about Kandice Knight. Tiger seemed happy to help, more than happy, really. The stairs were nearly lost in darkness, but Tiger’s night-vision guided him safely. Taking a chair from the break room, he sat beside his desk while she took control of the computer.

“Tiger, how did you know I knew about your secret?”

She glanced at Peter and back at the screen. “They don’t have your model available anymore.”

“Just pick a phone.”

Tiger clicked the mouse and shot him another quick glance as if she was trying to read him. “Don’t tease,” she said. More mouse clicks. “You knew I was Itoril the moment we met. It’s why I asked about a job.”

It made sense. Why else would a highly skilled bartender and waitress capable of earning massive tips work at a small-time restaurant for an inexperienced owner? It’s also why she worked at Necropolis once a week. That club sells the vampire image where girls like Tiger were simply part of the show. Keeping fangs a secret from guests was one thing, but hiding from co-workers on a nearly daily basis could become a challenge.

“Who else in the restaurant knows?”

“Your phone will arrive on your doorstep Monday,” said Tiger.

“And the car,” said Peter. Leaning over, he spotted the registration on his desk. “That’s it there.”

“The DMV charges seventeen dollars transaction fee to access free public information.” Tiger shook her head. “That’s government for you. Charging for free stuff.”

“Nine?”

“Yep.”

Nine knew about Tiger. Another game of twenty questions didn’t sit well with Peter, so he folded his arms and tried his best to appear intimidating. With a fat lip and bruises, he felt he had a decent chance of pulling it off.

“And Richard,” said Tiger, grinning. “He’s practically human, but he can recognize his own kind.”

“I didn’t know about Richard.”

“Only a single owner,” said Tiger, her eyes on the screen. “Kandice Knight drove that automobile off the lot in nineteen sixty-eight.”

“Of course, she did,” said Peter.

Kandice Knight couldn’t be an elderly woman in her seventies. No, it seemed more likely Kandy was Itoril like Tigris. Could an Itoril become ill? It seemed reasonable. Maybe the serum from Steve Reynolds was some kind of special cure for an Itoril sickness. Of course, none of it explained why he had seen Kandy in the restaurant last night.

A crash downstairs, and the alarm siren screamed.

Time Wraith 5. Girls, Blood, and Rock-and-Roll

Red’s had a cool vibe with powerful speakers, two open stages where the men could get close to the dancers, and cozy sofas along the walls. The waitresses dressed nicely in white blouses glowing beneath black light. Kodiak enjoyed intimidating any man getting too close to a dancer. No touching. And the dancers were beautiful, of course. The ladies seemed to like the manager, Dylan, chatting with him often, and why not? Dylan had the cool biker look including the big grin, and he smiled broadest while telling one of his stories about cruising the open highway. What I enjoyed most about Red’s was how I could forget about the world and let the music penetrate me.

Music was my second addiction.

Standing on the main stage, I played my guitar like my life depended on it. The speakers blasted my sound, and I soaked up the rumble. The beat pounding, music rushed through my core and held me tight.

I made love to the rhythm.

On the other end of the stage, Dylan jammed away on his guitar. A quick study, he picked up my tune before I reached the chorus. When I started crying my song into the mic, more than a few men had forgotten about the pretty nude woman dancing on the other stage. I watched the men watch me, and I poured out my soul for them.

In a dress too small, a dancer climbed onto the stage and grooved with me. Lavender scents tickled my nose. Leaning in close, Miss Lavender sang the second chorus with me. She screamed trying to match my volume. Men were on their feet, several singing along. At the end, Miss Lavender wrapped her arms around and kissed me on the cheek.

I strained to resist a nibble, and relief washed over when Dylan pulled the stripper away.

Classic rock filled the club, and I bounced to the beat.