New to the story? S’okay–go here.
Kit knocked on the door of the tiny brick duplex. The last rays of sunset had just ceased glinting off the fetid tiny swimming pool in the complex. A light clicked on in a neighboring apartment, illuminating the University of Seabingen beach towel used as a curtain. She shifted her weight. Too early to be polite, but she didn’t know where Chong spent his nights and had to catch him before he left. Her hands crinkled the brown paper bag. She knocked again, and saw an eye appear in the peep hole. The eye narrowed.
“You again?” Chong opened the door. He had hair buzzed short on the sides with a flop of black bangs over his forehead. He had a faded orange tee shirt with some kind of cartoon character, pajama bottoms, and fuzzy slippers. Chong rubbed his eyes and yawned, showing his fangs. “I emailed you the addresses.”
“I know. Thank you. I want to talk to you.” She folded the top of the paper bag over again. “May I come in?”
Chong yawned and rubbed his eyes, a gesture that made him look human. He was only a few years old, after all, one of the youngest vampires in the Guild. He turned back inside and waved for her to follow him.
The apartment looked about 500 square feet, but it had enough furniture to comfortably fill three times that amount of space. A wall of bookcases covered what was probably the apartment’s only window. Bunk beds took up half the livingroom/bedroom/entrance. On the bottom bunk, a young human with a ponytail hunched over a laptop.
“That’s my brother, Jun,” Chong said.
Jun glanced up and flicked a shy smile, then went back to his laptop. Chong led them into a back room not much bigger than a closet, and slid the door shut. A small table, piled high with books and papers, had two mismatched plastic chairs at it. A clothesline extended across the short end of the room, and Chong brushed aside the hanging shirts and pants with the ease of someone opening a curtain. Kit slid along the padded vinyl bench along the wall. Her abdomen touched the edge of the formica table.
“Alright, you’re here, you can have some breakfast.” Chong ladled rice porridge into two bowls, setting one down for himself and one for Kit. He slid open the door a handspan and called out something to Jun. Jun replied back in Chinese. “More for us then. Have some tea.”
Kit poured herself a cup of grassy-looking tea into a tiny chipped cup. She took a spoonful of the porridge and blew on it, then carefully took a hot bite. Chong ignored the heat. He slurped half of it into his mouth.
“I brought you something.” She set the paper bag with the Cafe Ishmael logo on the table. “As thanks for your help.”
“Is that coffee?” Chong reached into the paper bag and brought out her gift. He grinned. “Nice.” Using his fangs, he tore open a corner of the bag and poured the blood into the hot porridge. The blood turned black and curdled. Kit felt her stomach turn, but couldn’t look away. She tried to sip her tea, but it still burned her.
“My sire thinks this is disgusting.” Chong used chopsticks to shovel more rice porridge and human blood into his mouth. By the time Kit’s tea cooled from boiling to merely scalding, Chong had finished his porridge, and slurped the rest of the blood from the bag.
“Delicious,” he said, licking a smear of blood from his lip. “Your veins?”
Kit shook her head.
Chong poured himself more tea. “Because of that Fain thing?”
“You knew about that?”
Chong laughed. “Everyone knows about that. There was a betting pool on whether or not he was gonna kill you.”
“Did you lose money?”
“I don’t gamble anymore. I’m a reformed man.” Chong gestured to the apartment with his chipped teacup. “All my money goes to my lavish lifestyle.”
Kit laughed politely.
Chong set the teacup on the table and steepled his hands. He looked directly at her, a stony smile. She pressed her lips together, trying to find the words she’d practiced outside. Find your own allies, Holzhausen had said.
“I’m forming a squad. To get the kids back. I want you on it.”
“Me?” Chong smiled, a half smile that looked well rehearsed. “What makes you think I can help you? I’m just a student.”
“Because of who you were as a human.”
Chong’s smile faltered, briefly, came back. “I’m sure you’re misinformed.”
“You were in a gang that had tendrils snaking all up and down the west coast. China. All over Southeast Asia. Drug smuggling. Human smuggling. Laundering.”
Chong kept the painted on smile, shrugged briefly. Was he pleased? Proud? Irritated? Even young vampires could be hard to read. She realized she was biting her nails into her palms and forced herself to lay her hands on the table.
“They say you were good at making evidence disappear. People. Money. Even a cargo container.”
“And what?” Chong asked. “You’re asking me to make someone disappear?”
“Hmm.” Chong leaned back, stretching his arms over the back of his chair. “Maybe I don’t do that anymore. Maybe I have a human family. Brother. Parents. Grandparents. Cousins. Maybe I don’t want to get involved in anything illegal.”
“You had a human family before,” Kit said. “That didn’t stop you.”
Chong looked away. He rotated the teacup idly with his finger. Kit watched the movement but couldn’t read it. She waited.
“Who else is on your squad?”
“Nguyen,” she said.
Chong raised his eyebrows. She’d hoped that Nguyen’s involvement would sway him. Not that Nguyen had agreed, per se, but he sort of owed her a favor, so it wasn’t too much of a long shot to promise.
“Huh. Who else?”
Chong rolled his eyes. “He barely has his fangs in.”
“He comes with Nguyen. Eastwick’s sire wants him to gain experience.” Eastwick was one of the few vampires in the Guild whom Kit would consider a friend. He played video games with Fenwick, and had come over a couple of times to watch a movie and drink beer. Nguyen probably wouldn’t mind if he came along.
She’d gone over the list in her mind, over and over again. Fain? Tough, and respectable, but she didn’t trust him. Norwicki would help, but she wasn’t handy with a gun. Who else could help? Lee? Chambers? Emory?
“Waterson,” she said. She didn’t have Waterson. She hardly knew Waterson, but if Waterson knew that Chong was on board, she’d agree.
“Sounds good.” Chong nodded. “But a squad needs at least five.”
“You’d have me. That makes five.” Or six, if Fenwick came along. But she didn’t want to bring Fenwick. She wanted him at home, safe, where he wouldn’t do anything dangerous or see anything he felt compelled to blab to the police about.
“You have Nguyen for reconnaissance, Waterson for tactics, me for cleanup, Eastwick for fetching snacks or whatever. Who’s going to get us into the building? If it’s owned, we’re all going to be real edgy going in there.”
“Ownership spell,” she said.
“Ownership spell,” Chong said, flatly. “How exactly does that work?”
“Simple witchcraft,” she said. Her tutor on witchcraft had given her the suggestion years ago, as a hypothetical “how would you do this?” but she’d never had cause to use it. She thought it would work. She knew. She knew it would work. Yes. “It’s a way of claiming a territory as my own. Just, a little crude, is all.”
“Simple and crude,” Chong said, smiling. “Okay. I’m curious. What about the house? Do you have a layout?”
“Well, see, that’s where I still need a little help. I don’t know yet. It’s a house in Kansas, owned by someone whose last name is Klo.”
Chong looked skeptical, and his face darkened, but he brought out his laptop. He typed away furiously, occasionally shaking his head. Kit waited as patiently as she could, though the tea grew ice cold in the cups and the night ticked on. Finally Chong flipped his laptop around to show her.
“Got it narrowed down to six possible addresses. Six, Melbourne, scattered all over the state. Plus one in Kansas City. I emailed you what I have.” Chong shook his head. “But you can’t have the squad drive all over Kansas. You need to know for sure where they are.”
“I know.” She peered at the screen. The maps all showed houses, farm houses, one condo, which probably wasn’t where they were held, but what if it was? How could she be sure. “I may have to go check them out.”
“I wouldn’t. You’ll spook them. You want to strike hard and fast. You need another lead.”
“Yeah,” she said. But she didn’t have any more leads. “I’ll get more information.”
“Good luck,” Chong said, leaning back and lacing his hands behind his head. “Cause if you can’t narrow it down to one, we won’t go.”
Like the book, but short on cash? New chapter next week!