“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.”
“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.”
“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.”