Lots of love,
Shelter Me (Part 2) Playlist
Bangs - Brick + Mortar
Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
Voices Drifting - The Holidays
Full Circle - Half Moon Run
Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N' Roses
Shelter Me: Part 2
Jackson was a few yards ahead of him, reaching out. His wide blue eyes terrified. Trey could feel the pound of his heart on his tongue. If he could only reach Jackson before the Haitians caught up to them, they could both flee to safety. He raced through the warehouse, using his vampire muscle and speed. Arms outstretched, almost to his best friend, Trey knew the thugs at his back were closing in.
He was losing time. The minute he thought it and focused back on Jackson, his best friend was yards away again. “Jackson!” Trey screamed. He ran harder, hoping he could get there in time.
Blood started to pool onto the walkway from the aisles on each side. Trey’s boots sunk into the liquid, slowing him down. The wet slap and squish of each footfall sent chills up his spine. “Hold on, Jack, I’m coming!”
He saw Jackson look to the left. His best friend shrieked. Jackson’s mouth opened so wide Trey thought his jaw would detach. His fangs, the fangs of a pathetic human-turned vamp glistened in the light of the swinging caged lamps above. Boxes shook on the shelves in the warehouse. The entire place looked like it would collapse at any moment.
Trey screamed, running as fast as he could. His body was about to give. He extended his arm one more time; his fingers stretched, begging for contact with Jackson. He couldn’t get to him, no matter how fast he ran. Jackson always moved away, always out of reach.
As Trey continued to scream in fear, the Haitians second in command, Pierre, moved in behind Jackson, followed by the most dangerous dealers in the city.
“Jack, behind you!”
Trey keened as Pierre took Jackson’s head in one clean slice. He narrowed his midnight eyes. “You’re next, traitor.”
Trey fell to his knees, landing in inches of thick red blood; Jackson’s blood. “No!”
Jackson’s lifeless eyes stared off into the distance. His head came to a stop inches from Trey’s knees. “No!”
Trey gasped awake. His arms flailed, hands grappling at dirty yellow tile. His leg kicked out at the metal door in front of him. Trey started to hyperventilate until he realized he wasn’t being locked up or buried alive. Stilling over the toilet seat, he studied the walls of the bathroom stall. Phone numbers and crude messages scribbled in permanent marker. Doodles and trademark ‘I was here’ notes covered the toilet paper dispenser and trash receptacle.
“Jackson,” he murmured, rubbing his face. Tears pricked Trey’s eyes. Fresh grief wormed through his chest along with a slicing zing of hunger that refused to go away. He’d had half a grilled cheese last night, courtesy of a delicatessen worker throwing out trash in Midtown. Then he’d hopped on the R, got on the N, and five subway stations later, he made it to the Prince St Station in SoHo with a maxed out MetroCard. Therefore his hunger wasn’t for food. It was for blood.
Trey hadn’t fed in over a week, since he’d been on the run from the Haitians. His body was starting to give over to his baser need. Soon enough, if he didn’t feed he wouldn’t be able to control himself. In fact, he wasn’t sure he could control himself now. He could hear their human heartbeats through thick concrete walls. Their scent overpowered the restroom, lingering from recent visits. Their taste coated his tongue, but it wasn’t enough.
Humans were driving him crazy.
Trey ground his teeth together, commanding his fangs to stay in his gums. He had to get out of the restroom before his eyes started to swirl on their own and his fangs refused to listen anymore. They throbbed in his mouth, more sensitive than his dick after a powerful orgasm. He’d even tried to cop a tube of human gum numbing agent from the drugstore, but good lot that did him. It only left a funny taste in his mouth, and more anxiety stirring his gut that he’d get caught stealing. Even as a dealer he never stole. He had morals; as much morals as a criminal could have.
Sensing he was alone, Trey unlocked his stall and went to the sink. He used some paper towels to wash his face and neck, then reached under his hoodie to wash under his arms. The rank smell, other than the scent of the bathroom itself, was coming from him. He’d never been one to care about his appearance or smell before, but that was because he’d had access to a shower and a washer and dryer. The thought had never occurred to him one day he’d be desperately trying to clean himself with a paper towel in a subway restroom.
Fifteen years ago, at the ripe age of twenty, after he’d been unwillingly turned, maybe he would have given it a thought. But then he’d hooked up with the Haitians and been given a steady income dealing Rush. After he became one of them, Trey tried to let those early years wash away. He didn’t have any reason to question the stability of his life, his shared apartment with Jackson, his relationships, his trust, or where his next meal would come from.
Now he was left stranded on his own with nowhere to turn, being chased by the most dangerous criminals in the city for something he didn’t do. He’d thought about getting on a bus and leaving the city with the last of his cash, but he didn’t know anything about life away from New York. Were there vamps outside the city? Would they accept him if he changed who he was, or would they find out his real name and what he’d done? It didn’t matter if he left or stayed. They would eventually kill him. Either the Royals would be tipped off to his identity and execute him for being a dealer, or Pierre’s thugs would slaughter him.
His situation was precarious at best. He had no way of testing a human to see if they had Rush in their system to feed. He’d left his Nick back at the apartment along with everything he owned. He’d tossed his cell phone so they couldn’t trace him. He couldn’t use his Smart Wallet anyway. They’d find him in a heartbeat if he paid with credit. He had twenty-eight dollars and some change in his pocket to keep him afloat. He had a backpack with a change of underwear, a small Second City phonebook, a bottle of water, and a notebook he jotted things in from time to time when he was dealing. That was all he had.
Looking up at the digital marquee above the mirror, Trey noted the date, September 21,, 2032. He’d been on the run for exactly one week, seven days of hell. His lip trembled, but he put a stop to it, splashing water on his face one last time. He took a drink by cupping his hands, then turned off the faucet. It was almost lunchtime according the stream of information above. The platform would be crowded. It was time to go topside. Trey could slip out unnoticed in the crowd. He opened the door, immediately thrown into human chaos.
Prince Street Station had held up over the years. The most recent remodel continuing a vintage spirit with white and black marble, slate, and steel pieces as backgrounds for the narrow platforms. The historical Prince Street tile mosaic still welcomed passengers on either side of the train and tiny black silhouettes of New Yorkers depicted in motion dotted the mosaic every few feet, keeping the heart of the city alive in a small, artful way. But the track pit was still the same as every other subway station. Cold iron and steel trailed into the dark recesses of the underground, making passengers anxious for their next ride.
The one good thing about the subway, other than the crowd where Trey could disappear, was dealers usually didn’t take it. The reason for that sat a few yards away as Trey melted into the platform mob. While speakers above directed passengers to their destination and gave the time and delays, Trey stood still, studying the police-manned security terminal that had been implemented some ten years ago.
After a successful human terrorist explosion left almost a hundred victims dead, while they’d been commuting underground, the NYPD was pushed to spread their forces thin, and patrol every subway entrance and exit. Now passengers made a mandatory walk through a full body scanner before they were allowed to go up or down the platform. NYC refused to be victim of another attack. The next person who tried to fuck with their city was in for a rude awakening.
Dealers packed weapons and drugs, which didn’t bode well for them when faced with a full body scanner, thus making it impossible for them to use any subway line as a means of transportation. The security also ensured Trey’s safety. If only for the night while he slept in the bathroom, even though he had to swipe the janitor who came by to clean the place. He’d left the older man unscathed, and sent him on his merry way in a daze. It’d taken every bit of control not to rip his throat out. Trey had been too hungry to attempt a clean feed. He’d have murdered the poor bastard and he knew it.
Trey approached the scanner, averting his eyes from two NYPD officers. His heart pounded. His mouth went dry from nerves and hunger. He wanted to plug his nose. He could smell the blood inside them all. Their life essence called to him. He clamped his mouth shut until a burn seared across his gums from grinding so hard. Trey kept his hood up and his hands in his pockets.
“Don’t have all day, kid.” The officer wriggled his nose, fighting off Trey’s stench. “Go ahead, you’re holding up the line.”
“Sorry, Officer.” Trey kept his gaze down and put one foot on the scanner’s rubber mat. He did a sidelong glance at a woman doing the same from the other direction. Their eyes met. She was vampire, but of the Royal variety. Her designer duds and her level of power gave her away. She turned her nose in the air, proceeding onto the platform to catch her ride, leaving her distaste for him to roll over Trey like a cloud of smoke.
Trey realized he was just standing there, watching her walk away. He wished she would have smiled at the very least. It wouldn’t hurt so much to be different if she had. He wondered what he’d ever done to her and her kind to make them so bitter towards the little people, besides the fact he’d been a dealer of Rush up until a week ago. But what they didn’t know was he hadn’t had a choice when he started. The Royals hadn’t been there to save him from this life. It was ironic to Trey how their queen preached tolerance and acceptance. Why did so few of them listen? Why did so few of them give a shit about those like him?
“Get on with it. Keep moving. You’re clear to go.” The officer waved on a human behind Trey.
Trey started up the stairs to the street. At the lowest point of his life, crawling out of the dark hole in the ground like a rat, he created a visor with his hand and greeted the sun for the first time in almost twenty-four hours. He squinted, scanning the area for anyone he recognized, anyone who touched him as dangerous. SoHo was different than Midtown. The vibe was casual and cozy. It would be strange to see dealers lurking in the open daylight in a place like this, with so many humans out to lunch or shopping, in lazy crowds that roamed around casually.
People sat on their fire escapes, having a lunchtime smoke or people watching. Humans and vampires sifted through racks of clothes behind large picture windows across the street. The smell of a food truck across the street made Trey’s gut twist. The smell of human made him suffer. He had to get away from it. He had to get to the nearest clinic, no matter how many others had turned him down due to his lack of identification, proof of former employment, or residence. It wasn’t fair to Trey. The shelters were such a catch twenty-two. If he was homeless, how was he supposed to provide proof of residence or employment, or identification for that matter?
He needed safety on the other side of a secure shelter. He had to get in despite his prior failures. The only way to freedom was to be approved by the last clinic on his list, located right here in SoHo.
A cab sat on the corner next the subway stairs. A sign on the back window caught Trey’s eye: first ride is free. Trey looked around to make sure no one else was gunning for the cab before he approached. He knocked on the passenger window, startling the driver. The window rolled down and the cabbie smiled.
It was as if heaven had opened up, blasting Trey with a bit of hope when he looked at the young driver. The man was pretty with his perfectly styled hair, and very much the model type Trey had seen traipsing in and out of the alleys late at night. The club kids. The secret addicts. The ones who lived on a constant high because they couldn’t eat. The rich brats. The fuck-ups who wanted to forget. Trey could tell their story with just a simple look. He’d been dealing to them for years.
“Hi! Need a ride?”
Trey leaned back, thrown off by the cabbie’s joyful demeanor. Nope. Not a club kid, he thought. Not a club kid at all. “Is—is that free ride legit? I don’t have a lot of money. I can tip you, though. I promise.” Trey stuffed his hands in his pockets. His hope ran away, replaced with hatred for his shortcomings. He’d lowered himself to beg for the second time this week.
“Of course, it’s not a problem. I can take you wherever you need to go. I mean, not super far because it’s a freebie, but you know?”
The blond man nodded. “Get in the back. Where to?”
Hesitantly, Trey got in the backseat. “The SCS complex? I can try and find the address, I have a phone book.”
“That’s so weird. I just took someone there a few hours ago.” The cabbie turned in his seat. “It seems to be hopping over there today. I’m Fletcher by the way, and you are?”
“Uh…I’m…” Trey panicked. He didn’t think he’d have to small talk with a pure stranger. Most cabbies kept quiet, unless they were the kind that liked to sing along to the radio.
Fletcher winked. “It’s cool. No worries. I’ll call you Gavin. I like that name.”
Trey tilted his head. “Huh?”
“Don’t worry about it, just a thing I do.” Fletcher cranked the music, laughing to himself. “To the SCS Complex we go.” He tapped his steering wheel and merged into traffic.
Greg walked from his shower down the hall, dripping wet with a towel wrapped around his hips. Joy Division drifted through his top floor apartment, courtesy of his sound system speakers. He tapped his foot, swiping his glass of juice from the breakfast bar. Usually before a date, or going out where he knew there would be a possibility of running into single men, Greg would have a shot of something hard to relax his nerves. But not tonight, something told him not to.
He took his juice out to the back terrace. Something unusual and not normally found within the city, a gated courtyard attached to the first floor for the lower level residents to enjoy. There was a fountain in the middle, nothing special, but serene all the same. A couple of benches, a built-in grill and some strung up lights made the place comfortable. Greg leaned on the railing, checking out the other buildings backing up to their courtyard.
From across the way he could hear a couple going at it. A young girl, nothing but a waif was hanging a few towels out to dry before she got ready to go out. The sparkly mini dress gave her away. Some guy down on the first floor of the next building was singing at the top of his lungs. A plump man in a stupid hat was chasing his French bulldog across the strip of adjoining grass space.
Greg snorted, finishing off his juice. The other Royals didn’t know what they were missing. Real city life had nothing to do with tented fashion shows and white on white décor spaces, or driving a pricey car they used once or twice a month. They only had cars because they could buy them and they like to buy things, expensive things to show off their wealth. To Greg, city life was about being a part of the heart of the city; being one of them; smiling at your neighbor because you different but part of the same circle only New Yorkers understood.
He hoped like hell his date tonight saw the bigger picture. If that lady from the vamp dating service set him up with some Upper East Side nose turner Greg was planning to make a run for it. Giving his mystery date the benefit of the doubt, Greg went to make himself presentable. He squabbled silently over choice number one, green cotton shirt and a blazer. Or choice two, The Cure t-shirt and a leather jacket he’d bought at a thrift shop last week. Either way he was wearing jeans and boots. His date could suck it if he had a problem with it. He rather hoped his date would suck it because Greg was getting anxious for some body-to-body action.
Well, he thought, the lady did say to be myself. He went with his band T, getting dressed quickly. The hair situation was another story. He thought his hair looked fine right out of the shower with a bit of help from his towel, but what would his date think? Greg pulled out the small puck of hair product Quin had given to him not long ago. He rolled his eyes thinking of what Quin would say if he was there.
Probably something along the lines of: you’re not doing it right. Greg smiled and sniffed the gel contents cautiously. His vampire senses were more acute than a human’s. He had to be careful with most colognes and fragrant body products as it was. Like he already knew he would, Greg coughed at the odor stuck in his nostrils. “Fucking strong,” he muttered.
He looked at the puck, looked at the mirror, then back to the gel again. “I hate you, Quin.”
Within minutes he was staring at himself in the mirror, not very happy. Sticky hair product coated his fingertips against the counter. The bathroom smelled like a fruit basket smothered in Drakkar Noir. “I look like a boy band backup dancer. Fuck.”
Greg rubbed the towel over his head again, hoping it would help. After a few tries he gave up, going with the flow, or rather going on a date with his hair looking absolutely nuts. He’d wanted unique. Unique he got; the kind of unique that didn’t reflect his personality in the least. He scrammed around the apartment, gathering his things and turning off the stereo. He locked up and took the old, sliding gate elevator down to the first floor where the hallway to Spring Street awaited.
The walk to Your Move was quicker at night. Local bars and eateries were busy, but no so much that Greg could be irritated with all the sidewalk traffic like he was with the day crowd. He took his time, pacing outside the restaurant until he felt comfortable going inside. Your Move was one long, narrow room. Two rows of tables stretched along both walls with an open walkway between. Each table consisted of a touch screen where diners could play digital board games with each other, hence the name of the place.
Greg waited at the hostess stand, but not for long. Once he gave his name to the tatted up hostess, he was led to a table at the back. Seconds later he stood in front of his table, looking down at his date. No way had he wasted time on hair for this. This had to be a joke, he thought.
Fletcher’s mouth opened in surprise. His eyes crinkled with a smile. “Shut the hell up. You’re my date?” He laughed out loud. “Single my ass.”
“How did you even…” Greg’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. He looked to the hostess for help. She’d left him high and dry, already back at her stand. How the hell had Fletcher snagged a date with a vamp dating service?
“I know, Greg.” Fletcher crossed his arms, nodding his head at the empty chair. He laughed quietly. His bright blue eyes eyed Greg up and down.
“You know what exactly?” Greg stayed standing, trying to keep his voice down in the crowded restaurant.
Fletcher leaned forward, happy as a clam. “And I think you know what I am now. Not yet technically, but soon I hope.”
Greg’s scowl deepened. “I don’t know what you think you know, but you’re fucked in the head if you think this is a real date. I’m calling that crazy bitch right now.” He tried to pull out his phone, but found Fletcher’s hand on his. The blond was already standing next to him.
“My parents are vamp,” Fletcher whispered in his ear. “I haven’t turned yet. I was just fucking with you earlier about the SCS Complex. Only vamps work there. Duh. And I like to watch you guys come up with excuses when I prod because it’s funny. I hope you can forgive me long enough for a game of Monopoly. That’s my favorite.” Fletcher slid back into the booth portion of the table.
Greg’s head spun. He sat down; if he didn’t, he’d end up on his ass with that kind of revelation. “Okay.”
“Monopoly. A beer. Some food. That’s it. You’re not my—I would know by now if you were.” Greg tapped the table screen, choosing a new game. Fletcher’s puppy dog stare caught his attention. “What?” He snarled.
Fletcher put his chin in his hand, sighing wistfully. “I wish you were. You’re cute. You have a job. And the waiting around for my future hubby sucks donkey balls. Every relationship between now and then will only be a waste of time. Neither of us can really be involved with another person, even if we think we’re in love. I know I’m young, not even…” Fletcher leaned in, “turned yet, but I hope I don’t have to wait too long. How long have you been waiting? What’s your story?” Fletcher’s eyebrows lifted with interest. His boyish grin caught Greg off guard.
Settling in for an awkward night, Greg exhaled and ordered two beers and a basket of fries for the table from the waitress at the next table. All the while he held up a finger to Fletcher who was the walking talking definition of hyperactive, fidgeting in his seat like he knew a unicorn was about to walk through the front door. When the waitress left, Greg faced his new companion. He didn’t really feel like getting cozy with Fletcher, much less laying out his life story for the kid, but he didn’t have a good enough excuse to ditch him. That would be a dick move; one Greg wouldn’t live down since he’d already done Fletcher wrong once before.
“I was born in 1978. My parents came to the states when I was four.” He shrugged.
Fletcher motioned his hand in a circle. Apparently that wasn’t good enough. “From where?”
“Lisbon, Portugal. I don’t remember much about that time. I understand a few words in Portugese because my parents are fluent and my mother was born there. Yeah, I know, I’m the only redhead from Portugal.” Greg smiled, letting go of his reservations. Fletcher was hooked from the first word. He craved some history of his race, no matter how small or uninteresting. “I can remember my dad taking me to watch the ships go by on the River Tagus.”
“Tagus River? Never heard of it.” Fletcher shrugged. “Tagus sounds like something I don’t want to eat.”
“Good grief. You wouldn’t of heard of Tagus River because it’s called the River Tagus.” Greg accepted his beer from the waitress. “Thanks.”
Something like a giggle escaped Fletcher. His cheeks flushed. He ignored the waitress completely. “Silly me, I’ve never been to Europe. I wouldn’t know they say things backwards.”
Greg almost choked on his fry. He swallowed and laughed. “Confession? I wouldn’t know that either if I hadn’t been there. You’re off the hook this time.”
“That’s good. I was starting to worry you didn’t like me.” The cabbie’s hands fidgeted on the table. “So, your parents sound pretty cultured. They’re Royal, right?”
Shifting in his seat, Greg hunkered over the table. “Yes.”
Fletcher’s mouth formed a little circle before he shook his head. “Is that a bad thing? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, no, uh…I don’t see eye to eye with them is all. We’re not exactly a happy little family.” Greg blew out a slow exhale. “My dad is the manager of SoHo and Tribeca.”
“Your dad is Flynn Courtenay?” Fletcher’s smile dropped. “Oh.”
Greg scrutinized Fletcher with his eyes. “Oh? What does that mean?”
“I just know who he is. That’s all.” Fletcher chugged his beer, rather eager to stop talking about it.
Greg squinted, his fingers wrapping around the edge of the table. “What did my dad do to you? I’ve seen that look so many times I don’t have enough fingers to count every instance.”
A long silence passed. Fletcher sat his beer on the table, and swirled his finger over the touch screen table. He chose his game piece and flicked his uncertain eyes up to Greg. “He fired my dad from his office. He accused him of suspicious behavior, whatever that means. He took his salary away and left our family kind of ruined.” Fletcher’s lips scrunched together as if he was trying not to cry. “I don’t mean to say anything bad about Flynn because he’s a good manager, but what he did to my dad didn’t make a lot of sense. They’d been friends for years, even though my dad is human-turned. Your dad just cut him off for no reason.”
“Suspicious behavior? What is that crap?” Greg fumed, only cooling down after an icy chug of beer. He was careful not to break the bottle when it hit the table. He checked out the dining room to make sure no one was staring at them.
Fletcher shrugged. “I think Flynn was mad because my dad is good at his job, so good he was offered another job for higher pay in Manhattan by the manager there. My dad wasn’t going to take it. He was happy where he was. He liked working closely with his friends, with your dad. But the minute Flynn heard about the offer he flipped and fired my dad like he was some traitor. I had to quit college because we couldn’t afford it, and applying for student loans when you’re not supposed to be part of the human government system is a no go.
“My dad kind of lost it. He tried to scrape together everything he could so I could have a normal college experience before I turned, but he couldn’t make ends meet on top of the tuition. I decided to drop out. It wasn’t fair for him to give me everything he and my mom had left to live on. It wasn’t like he was getting another job within the SC community anytime soon. Being fired by a manager kind of darkens your prospects. So he took a job as a cabbie and they moved to Brooklyn. I saw how much my dad started to enjoy his new job and I took the last of the tuition money refund to put a down payment on a cab for myself. I’m still making payments, but whatever, I own my own business. How many people can say that at twenty-two?”
Disgruntled, his heart pounding in his chest with anger, Greg reached over the table to touch Fletcher’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Fletcher. He had no right to do that to your family. His job is his life. He thinks he’s right under the Queen sometimes. It goes to his head. Every error or what appears to be an error is unjustifiable in his eyes. He craves perfection and that’s his downfall. Not only did he ruin your family, my father continues to ruin his own family on an everyday basis.”
Fletcher studied their hands touching for a second before he pulled his back under the table. “I take it you weren’t at the SCS on managerial business then?”
Greg barked a laugh. “Managerial business? Yeah. Right. I work there. Actually, I run the shelter with my friend Jaska.”
“I see.” Fletcher’s smile returned. “Jaska wouldn’t happen to be this cute, dark haired, grungy guy, would he? Could’ve showered today, but he was still pretty good looking if you could get past the smell and the greasy hair. Kind of this hipster, street chic thing going on, like one of those male models doing the homeless thing because it’s so fall GQ or something.”
“Uh, I don’t think so. Jaska’s mate keeps him pretty clean. She’s a stickler about hygiene.” Greg inhaled quickly. Something ticked in his heart, sparking interest. It had nothing to do with Jaska. “Who are you talking about?”
“Just this guy I dropped off at the SCS earlier. He was kind of jumpy. Maybe even a little scared. Didn’t have a lot of money on him and I felt bad. Not really a commanding sort of guy the more I think about it. Not someone who ran a shelter, that’s for sure.”
On the other side of the table, Greg’s heart lurched. It was like he was back in high school with Quin. The two of them would scour the lunch room for their shared crush Bobby Calgarini. And when Bobby finally turned their way, sensing someone watching, his blue eyes would fill with heat looking right at them. Yes, it was probably their imagination, but Greg held that stare dear, even if it was just a fantasy.
Those moments always gave Greg the same intense churn in his gut—the feeling of wanting more and being satisfied all at the same time. Childish as the feeling may have been, Greg wasn’t a child anymore and the same feeling returned to his belly. To his dismay his butterflies weren’t for Fletcher, the blond cutie across from him who had a sob story that spoke to his inner caretaker. They were for someone who wasn’t there.
Greg felt lost all the sudden. Why did talking about some smelly customer of Fletcher’s take him for a mental ride? Why did he want to know more? Why the hell was Fletcher staring at him with amusement?
“It’s like you know them, where they’ve been, who they are to you, but you can’t seem to find them. I know.” Fletcher sniffed, and put his hand under his chin, pulling off another endearing smile. “I’ve felt him nearby before. My parents think I’m crazy because I couldn’t possibly know who my mate is before I turn…but I know he was at those apartments across the street. I just know it. It’s why I wanted to be there so badly.”
“You think your mate lives at the place across the street, at my building?” Greg reared back with his mistake. He closed his eyes as his verbal grenade rolled across the table to Fletcher. “Shit. I meant…”
“You own 101 Spring Street?” Fletcher flopped against his seat, mouth hanging open. He folded his arms over his chest and scowled. “No fucking shit.”
Stuffing a fry into his mouth gave Greg the seconds he needed to answer. He chewed, faking a smile for Fletcher. The cabbie’s jaw tensed. His eyes narrowed, a darkness Greg didn’t relish on Fletcher’s sweet face. Fletcher wasn’t letting the question go. His expression claimed he would sit there all night. Or jump the table and beat the living tar out of Greg. One or the other, Greg didn’t fancy either scenario.
“Okay. Yes. I own it, but I didn’t know it was you.”
“Does it matter who I am? Jesus—you were so mean. I would’ve been fine with the rejection bit but your delivery was like a slap in the face. I had to convince myself you were just an asshole and I didn’t do anything wrong because I’m sensitive, okay? But I don’t really have to convince myself anymore. It’s the truth. And here I sat the whole time, thinking you and I could be friends because I don’t have any of those. But oh no, I’d rather be alone then deal with your lies. My mate was there, Greg. He was in your building and I missed him because you were an asshole!”
Other diners looked their way. Greg tensed, leaning in. “Fletcher, calm down.”
“I will not calm down. Do you know how hard my life has been these last three years? Do you?” Fletcher turned away from the crowded end of the restaurant, haunted by their concerned faces. “I’m an only child. I don’t have siblings to talk to. I have parents who are pretty much miserable with their lives because they think they failed me. I live in a room the size of some bitch’s handbag. And I swap boxes of mac n’ cheese with my neighbor so she’ll cut my hair because I can’t afford to get it done professionally. I can’t go out to hang with people my age because I can’t afford the ridiculous cover charges to the clubs. And I’m only sitting here because my mom splurged and paid for a month of this stupid dating service because she knows how lonely I am. She can’t afford that either, Greg. But she knows that no one wants to date a cabbie, so she scrounged. How pathetic is that, Greg?”
“I’m a gay man who believes in love, not lust, unlike most of our race before the turn. I don’t care about my income or my status. I don’t want any of that. It would be nice to just be with someone; someone who wanted to be my friend, someone who thought my nonsense was funny. I just want to…I want someone to hold me up, you know? Someone who wants to sit on the couch and order a movie with me. I want someone to just hold my goddamn hand for once.
“And I hear all these stories about vamps going centuries without their mate, knowing they can’t just fall for someone, yet they dive into sex without a thought until they find their chosen one. And I had him, Greg. I was this close, this close to having someone be in my bed who loved me.” Fletcher squeezed his thumb and forefinger together until only a small space remained. “I would have had the man that filled the space in here.” He patted his chest. “I need that so much. I’m starting to lose it by myself.”
Greg pouted, uncharacteristically putting his guilt on the table. All of it. “I’m sorry, Fletcher. I really am. I didn’t know the circumstances but that doesn’t excuse the way I treated you. Also, you’re not crazy. I can’t say I’ve felt this way before, about my mate that is, but I understand now. I think. I mean, if I’d felt him nearby…nothing would have stopped me from trying to get to him. I’m so sorry I took away your chance to meet him. I really am, Fletcher.”
Fletcher showed his eyes by turning Greg’s way. “Ah hah! You felt it, didn’t you? Bet you feel shitty now.”
Greg palmed his forehead, hunkering over the table. “I don’t know. I felt something when you were talking about that guy a few minutes ago. Maybe just a fluke.” Greg groaned. “We’re something aren’t we? Two guys down on their luck.”
“Yeah,” Fletcher murmured. “I almost had him, though. I know I did.”
“Hey.” Greg pushed the fries over the table like a peace offering. “Maybe I can check through my tenant files and see what turns up. You could come over one night and look. Maybe something will stick with you.”
“You’d do that for me?” Fletcher’s mouth opened. His eyes were hopeful.
“It’s the least I can do. One of us should be happy.” Greg shrugged.
Fletcher grinned. “Or both of us. If I see Gavin again I’ll call you. I’m going to need your number though.”
“Gavin? You know his name?” Greg slapped his hands on the table.
“Well, that’s not his real name. It’s the name I gave him. He was pretty tight-lipped on personal info, so…”
Forehead to the table, Greg exhaled. “You’ll be the death of me, Fletcher.”
“I still need your number. We should get together this week. Not a date, of course. Um, but those files you were talking about…”
Greg raised his hand at the waitress, his face still plastered to the table. “I’m going to need another beer first, my friend.”
When Greg peeked up at Fletcher, the cabbie smiled wide. “Friend?”
Greg grunted, “Sure.”
We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister blasted from Greg’s phone as Fletcher drove him to his car located in a private garage two blocks away.
“What is that noise?” Fletcher glanced at the rearview mirror.
“That is my dad’s ringtone. It’s not noise. It’s rock.” Greg beamed. He held up a finger to Fletcher and answered the call. “Dad?”
“Good, I’m glad you’re still up.” Awkward pause.
Greg closed his eyes, weary already. “It’s only nine, Dad. The night is still young for most of us.”
“Was that a dig at my age, Gregory? I didn’t call you to fight.”
Here we go. Greg sank in his seat. “I didn’t pick up the phone to fight, either. What did you need, Dad?”
“Do I need a reason to call my son?” Flynn’s voice sounded off. His bark wasn’t at full capacity, laced with concern.
Putting a hand to his face, Greg said, “No Dad. How was your day?”
“I didn’t call to talk about my day. I called to talk about a situation I feel you need to know of.”
“Then what’s with the attitude? And how special should I feel, gaining insider knowledge from the holy one?”
“Gregory, cut the shit. You’re the one who didn’t want to be a manager, so be grateful I’m providing you with this intelligence.”
Greg snarled. “Intelligence? Jesus, you’re not the FBI, Dad.”
“No, but I am the Manager of this territory which is just as crucial to the city as the human government. Stop bickering with me like the teenager you choose to act like and listen for once.”
“What do you want from me?” Greg braced a hand against the window as Fletcher pulled into the garage.
“I want a son who gives a shit—that’s what I want. Listen to me, Gregory. I may not agree with your career choice, but I have reason not to. Those people you willingly let into your life, those so called rehabilitated creatures? They aren’t always able to change. Statistics show half of them relapse into their old lives in the criminal underground because it’s easier than becoming an upstanding citizen under scrutiny from the rest of us.”
Greg gawked. “You just admitted that you’re the reason they relapse, Dad. I can’t believe this shit. You know what? Don’t call me again until you can grasp the meaning of being humble. Money and power aren’t everything in this world.”
“Gregory! Don’t you hang up on me! I just came home from viewing a bloody fucking display of Haitian violence on my own turf. Seven pure-blooded Haitians, two humans, and a human-turned dealer are dead four blocks from where my son lives. Don’t you tell me I have no cause to feel the way I do. I worry about you, as is my job and my right as your father!
“You choose to refuse my legacy? Fine. But don’t you insinuate I have no right to contradict your carefree lifestyle and the way in which you house those hoodlum night-crawlers. Some of them need a place to gain their footing. Great. Well done. Give yourself a pat on the fucking back of humanity. But some of those wandering individuals want nothing more than blood. They want nothing more than to manipulate you and your good nature to fill their bellies and infiltrate our section of the city for the dealers. You know this. I know this. You can’t help everyone, Gregory!”
Greg’s face was scarlet from holding his breath. He was afraid to let his lungs deflate because of the scream he held inside. His hand was sweaty and unyielding around his phone. His other hand was fisted on his knee, ready to punch a hole through the car door.
Greg refused to utter a word, yet still he held onto the phone. His rage froze him to the core.
“Gregory, I’m sorry. It’s been a very long night and you would worry had you seen what I have. I know you’re a capable member of our race. You’re strong and you carry my blood in your veins but I worry how open you are with those running the streets. I realize you feel it’s your calling to help. It’s admirable. Really, it is. However, I wish you would use more Guards at the shelter or set in place a deal with the Guardians. Hell, Nanette’s father is a Guardian. He would—”
“Screw that. Why should I care about dead Haitians and dealers? Don’t we want them dead,” Greg snapped back.
“There’s more, I’m afraid,” Flynn trailed off. “We have a dealer in captivity.”
“Captivity—it’s not a zoo!”
“He’s behind bars. There! Are you happy?”
The cab came to a stop. Fletcher parked near the back of the first level after Greg slapped the Plexiglas. Fletcher turned in his seat to watch Greg for moral support. Tension flooded the cab like a wet heat, blanketing them both. Greg locked eyes with Fletcher’s.
“Depends on what you say next, Dad.”
Flynn sighed, releasing his short temper. “The dealer, upon begging for his worthless life happened to reveal a bit of unsettling information. It seems the Haitians have been on the hunt for a certain individual for a week now. They were in the process of asking the usual dealers if they’d seen this man when they were accosted by our Guards. The one with the picture on his phone was the first to run. He took off in their car, leaving the others to their deaths at the hands of our men. One of our own was killed, Gregory.
“I had to deliver the news to his mate and children only an hour ago. I sat there thinking of my own child and his safety the entire time which led to this very call. There’s a man out there that the Haitians deem dangerous. They want to take him out at all costs, even risking their backs to come to one of the most heavily guarded territories in the city to find him. Doesn’t that strike you with danger, Gregory? Doesn’t that worry you in the least? That a madman more unsettling than the usual psychotics is on the loose in your neighborhood and could very well seek sanctuary under the roof of your shelter?”
Melting into the seat, Greg covered the phone. “I need to deal with this, Fletcher. Thanks for the ride. And don’t pick anyone else up this week. Do you hear me? If you need some cash to get you by stop at the SCS tomorrow and I’ll front it to you. They’re looking for someone dangerous, who might seem nice on the outside but he’s not. Go see Arnie tonight and tell him Greg said to give you a place to stay ASAP. I’ll call you in the morning. Make sure you go straight to Arnie’s, Fletcher. If he has any problems with it tell him to call me, no matter what time it is.”
“What’s going on, Greg?” Fletcher tensed.
“Trust me, okay? Go to Arnie’s in the village. I gave you his information, right?”
“Yes.” Fletcher hands flitted around the console, checking to make sure everything was set. His GPS. His phone. His water bottle. All of Greg’s things were in the back. “Call me, okay? Please.”
“First thing tomorrow I’ll call you. Thanks for tonight, Fletcher. I needed that.” Greg put his hand to the Plexiglas divider. “I’ll see you soon.”
He got out of the cab and went to his car. Greg gave Fletcher a wave, making sure he left first. The little green cab pulled out onto the street and made a final farewell with a flash of taillights. “You still there, Dad?”
“Yes.” Flynn breathed a sigh of relief. “Gregory, the man they’re looking for…his name is Trey. Alert Jaska and keep your phone on. I’ll send you his photo once we track down our missing Haitian. Now that we have almost every Guard in SoHo and Tribeca looking for him it shouldn’t take too long.”
“Got it, and Dad?”
“Thanks for the update. I uh—I appreciate it.” Greg slid into his car, waiting for a snippy response from the man who didn’t work well with emotional crap. It’d probably taken a stiff drink to make Flynn Courtenay admit he was worried for his son to begin with.
“Well, thank you for listening. It makes me happy to know you’ll answer even though you hate me.”
Greg put the keys in the ignition, then paused. His frown hurt his jaw. His heart twisted. “I don’t hate you, Dad.”
“Dislike then. Whatever you feel for me, Gregory, I’m just glad you picked up. I’ll see you at the fundraiser.”
Greg stared at his phone for a second. His dad had never hung up on him before. Usually it was the other way around. Greg wondered if this was what it felt like when his dad stared at the phone on the other end, more than a little dejected.
This wasn’t the time to for Greg to get his head wrapped up in daddy issues. He had to call Jaska and make sure he hadn’t left for the clinic yet. It was Saturday night pickup. Jaska had told him to have fun on his date, that he could handle the dozen new residents and process them himself. No biggie.
Now, it was a big deal. If one of those guys trying to get into their shelter turned out to be this Trey person Jaska could be in danger. Greg dialed quickly, wasting no time. “Jaska,” he rushed, thankful the line connected.
“Hey, man. Don’t tell me the date is done already. You were supposed to—”
“No time to fill you in right now. I just got a call from my dad. We have a situation. Have you left for the clinic yet?”
“No. I just finished cleaning the table. Nan made dinner,” he whispered. “Can you believe it? She cooked and it was actually good.”
“I heard that,” Nanette shouted in the background.
Greg smirked before he cleared his throat. “That’s good, but I didn’t call to chat. We have a rogue on the loose. The Haitians are trying to take his head, and they’re coming into SoHo to do it. So the rogue must be nearby. He might try to get in at the shelter because of the security we have.”
“Just what we need.” Jaska groaned. “Look, I’ll call in one of the Guards to come with me and you enjoy your date. Try and keep this on the down low until we get more details from your dad. I don’t want the residents panicking.”
“Screw that. I’m coming with you, Jaska. The date doesn’t matter. It’s over anyway.” Greg put his phone in the cradle on his dashboard, turning on the speaker, and backed out of his private parking space. “I’m headed to pick up the juice. You meet me at the clinic in half an hour. Don’t go in before me. Don’t alert the staff. If he’s in there we don’t want to tip him off that we know.”
“You’re being ridiculous, Greg. I can handle it. Take a night off, dude.” Jaska huffed. “Let the Haitians deal with him. At least for once they aren’t gunning for one of ours. They’ll get their guy and I doubt a rogue fugitive is going to come running to us for help. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Humans died, Jaska. One of ours died tonight…two blocks from the shelter. I won’t chance your life. I’ll see you at the clinic.” Greg leaned forward and ended the call. Trying his best to maneuver around the slinking crowd of nightwalkers, Greg drove to the underground blood bank to collect a trunk full for the new residents.
They were usually too new or too hungry and disorganized to feed from a human without killing them. So blood bags it was. The bags tasted like shit compared to the real thing. But they did the job, settling the hunger for a day or so until fresh blood could be given. And now it was Greg’s job to look out for his friend; one of many hats he wore, looking out his loved ones.
Trey hugged himself, fidgeting at the clinic front desk. His threadbare coat was too short in the arms, leaving at least six inches of skin exposed to the chill wafting in from the closing double doors. He knew he looked like shit. He knew he smelled too. He had to trade his good coat with one from a bum in an alley because he getting paranoid the Haitians knew what he was wearing. After hiding out all day, and the incident he’d witnessed a few blocks over just a few hours before he was desperate to get into the shelter.
The Manager of SoHo had turned up with an entire team of Guards to access a bunch of dead Haitians and a dealer. A human was dead, maybe two if he saw it right. They now had his name. He’d heard the Manager say it into his cell phone. Trey was now the most wanted man in the city. But he hadn’t done anything wrong. Pierre had betrayed him. It was all a lie and his best friend had died to protect him in the end.
Trey needed somewhere safe to sleep; somewhere away from the dealers after him. And he was starving. Right now, he was fucked.
“Can’t you just give me one? Look lady, I’m desperate here.” He chewed on his lip, watching her glance up at him.
“Sir, I’ve told you twice now, you need to fill out a Second City Insurance form before I distribute a blood testing device. It’s the Queen’s law, enforced by the Prince and his mate, Daniel.” Her rehearsed answer made him wanted to pound his fist.
Trey gripped the desk. His hunger surged. “I’m trying here. I don’t have a place of residence. I don’t have any ID. And I don’t have a place of work. All the shelters are all booked up, too. Please,” he begged. “I—I’m hungry.”
The receptionist frowned compassionately. She glanced over her shoulder, making sure none of her co-workers were within ear shot before looking back to him. “I’m not supposed to do this. I could lose my job.”
“Please,” Trey repeated softly. “I won’t tell anyone. I’m scared of what I’ll do if I…”
“If you didn’t remind me of my own son—God, you look so much like him.” She rubbed her nose and sighed. “There’s a shuttle leaving for the SCS Complex in ten minutes.” She nodded at the lobby full of waiting vamps. “They’ll give you something to take the edge off when they arrive. Clean donors will be provided within a forty-eight hour period upon your registration. I’ll push through some forms to make it happen, but if my boss catches on, I don’t know you. You’ll be on your own to explain. If you incriminate me in any way I’ll be forced to label you a danger and have you locked up with Ferals.”
Taken aback by her kindness and her willingness to ease his suffering, he put his dirty hand on hers. “I won’t forget this.”
She snatched her hand back as the doors behind her opened. “Go. Have a good night, Alex.”
Trey caught on quickly. He pulled his coat tighter around him, then seated himself in the lobby with the other homeless vamps. He was no longer a Trey. He had been forced to become an Alex.
Jaska cut the engine of the fifteen passenger van and waited for Greg to pull up behind him. He radioed inside for a heads up to soothe his nerves. “Missy, spot any trouble tonight?”
The clinic receptionist radioed back, “All good in here. Mostly women and children, one widow, though. She’s a bit emotional. Are you boys out front?”
“I am. I’m just waiting for Greg.” Jaska spotted Greg’s four door Acura pulling up behind him. “Never mind, Missy, he’s here. I’ll bring the bags inside.”
“I’ll notify staff.”
“Thanks, Missy.” Jaska got out, meeting Greg at the trunk of his car. “How was dinner, man? Any luck?” He played off his anxiety with small talk and a boyish smile; the smile that had resolved many a fight with his mate Nanette.
Greg sharply shook his head. “He talked the entire time. I didn’t get a single word in except for hello. I think I’m just going to hang up my hat for now on the whole dating thing. Not all of us are so lucky as to have a built in mate. But he was nice. Friend nice.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Jaska rubbed Greg’s shoulder. “Did you at least…” Jaska grinned at Greg’s scowl. “Never mind. Let’s do this,” his voice hitched a bit
Before Jaska could embarrass himself any more, he hefted the locked trunk from Greg’s car, and went into the clinic with his arms full. Greg followed him in, checking the streets for any stray security issues. He’d already alerted his father to his whereabouts and knew there were Guards perched up and down the street. Seeing nothing out of sorts, Greg went inside.
The moment he stepped foot into the clinic, Greg scented the perfume of the city people; the homeless and destitute. A pungent, garbage-like odor assailed him, yet he had enough respect to keep a straight face. Some of these vamps never had a chance or a dream, not even to shower. From what he could make of the group at least eighty percent of them were human turned, most of them not by force judging from the downtrodden emotions swirling about the room.
“Listen up.” Greg accepted a clipboard from Missy at the front desk. He paused a second to study the short lived intensity in her eyes. It was strange how she didn’t smile tonight. She always smiled. Greg chalked it up to a long night and continued. “This is how it’s going to go. You’ll be transported to the SCS Complex for a temporary stay, with an initial seven day max on your room. If you fail to file the proper paperwork once we arrive, you’ll lose the chance to be placed in our trade program, register your children in our specialized education classes, and also nix your chances of a permanent residence.
“If any of you fail to uphold our rules you will be banned from the shelter and put on a black list—meaning no more shelter. Ever. The rules are as follows. No drugs. No weapons. No fighting, including raising hands to the staff, or each other. No visitors of any kind. You will not be allowed to leave the premises unless authorized by a staff member, and with a staff member. All feedings will be supervised by Jaska,” Greg pointed to Jaska, “or me until you reach an appropriate level of maturity within your program. And last but not least, you will bring no outside materials, blood bags, terrorist paraphernalia as deemed unacceptable by our Queen, or technological devices with you tonight. All personal belongings will be searched and approved before we transport you to the shelter. Are there any questions?”
Every vampire remained still. No one raised a hand, but the nervous twitch of a young, vampire male’s eyes caught Greg’s attention straightaway. As soon as the man lifted his jade stare to Greg, everything else seemed to fade out. Dirty. The stranger was so dirty, accentuating the dark hollows around his cheeks and eyes, but most of all his dark, unruly hair. His hunger seeped into Greg’s heart. Those jade eyes burned with confusion, sadness, and many other things Greg had seen in every new resident. But something about this stranger’s stare struck him deeper. God, he wanted to hug the man right then and there. Unfortunately, and because he was a sane individual who favored his reputation, Greg had a job to do—which didn’t involve hugging a homeless vampire with pretty eyes.
“Uh, Greg?” Jaska kneeled next to the trunk he’d brought with him, peering up at Greg nervously.
Greg cleared his throat, but not before he got a whiff of something the opposite of garbage. And every sweet delicious note wafted off of the green eyed man in the corner.
“Yeah, man, let’s do this,” Greg grunted and went to the door.
He caught his breath with his back turned to the small crowd. He scanned the clipboard roster with desperation for a name to go with the face. Only to realize he’d have to ask the fucking guy what his name was because nothing struck a chord at first glance. One thing Greg was sure of, even without a name, his mystery man was trouble. A whole lot of trouble. He could smell it.
The van was loaded with thirteen vamps, leaving the driver and front passenger seats empty. No one except for staff was allowed to ride in the very front, for obvious safety reasons. This left Greg and Jaska with a large problem. Greg would have to drive the remaining three in his car to the shelter, a dangerous thing to do. Down to the end of the line with only three unseated vamps remaining, Greg faced off with the black sheep of the lot. An emotional basket-case of a female and her teenage daughter huddled together. This was the woman Missy had warned them about. Untrusting as the new females were, they had to let Greg or Jaska pat them down and search their bags if they wanted to go to the shelter. Every time Jaska approached, the women shied away, backing up until she reached a barrier of brick wall with her daughter pulled tight to her chest.
Greg sighed, working the back of his neck with a hand. “Ladies, if you intend to go with us tonight you need to let us do our job. It’s nothing against you. It’s not that we suspect you of anything. And it’s certainly not our intention to make you uncomfortable by touching you, but we still need to check you both out to make sure you’re in compliance with our regulations. Can you let us do that?”
“Mom, I’m hungry for real food and I know you’re starving for that,” the girl finally admitted. She eyed the blood bags in Jaska’s possession. “Just let him do it. Then you can feed and I can eat. Please.”
Vigorously shaking her head, the mother was vehement of her hold on her daughter. “They won’t grope you. You’re not a criminal or their plaything.”
Jaska groaned. “I have a mate, a true mate. Does that help you? I have no reason to seek pleasure elsewhere. Would you allow me to check your daughter over? Then you could see I have no intention of…groping her.” He cringed a little.
“How about you start with their bags,” Greg’s mystery stranger muttered with his head down.
“Good idea.” Jaska nodded appreciatively while Greg’s eyes became slits, glowering at the stranger. “Can we start there?” Jasked asked the ladies.
The teenage girl, Monica, thrust forward her skinny hand, giving Jaska her well-used pack. What looked to have been a rosy shade of pink at one time, the backpack was now a muddy brown. Only small patches of the original color shown through, amidst speckles of rusty red that smelled of blood, and hand sewn badges she’d most likely found or stolen on the run with her mother. Monica was like any other teenager girl at heart, collecting treasures that made her feel pretty and happy, but unlike most she’d been thrown into a desperate situation when she lost her father, their bread winner and loved one.
She had a hard time letting go of her pack, the only possessions remaining from her previous life. And Jaska knew the pack was to be cherished and handled with care. He gave her a warm smile and patted her still outstretched hand. “Thank you.” He knelt at the blood pack trunk and unzipped the smelly backpack.
He didn’t have the heart to disrespect her with a grimace. The stench of her sparse articles of clothing turned his stomach, more so than any ripe men’s locker room on a hot summer day. Under a pair of shorts and a plastic bag of undergarments, an old soda bottle filled with colorful, aluminum, soda can tabs intrigued him. “Nice collection. You gonna do anything with these?” Jaska put the bottle on the trunk.
Monica rubbed her lips together in contemplation. Her fearful eyes checked Greg out for a second, then she said, “I make necklaces for the other girls my age, but I ran out of string.”
“Not to worry,” Jaska grinned, “plenty of string in the art room. Betty will be thrilled to get another creative type in her classroom.”
“Art room?” Monica looked at her mother and for a fleeting second excitement engulfed her hazel eyes.
Greg nodded. “Art room. Gymnasium. Classrooms. Comfy chairs for television nights full of those crappy vampire shows everyone loves nowadays. I think you might like it. The other teens do.”
“Maybe.” Not used to promises of such a magnitude, Monica shrugged noncommittally as if she was scared it was all a dream. She was just about to relax against her mother when Jaska pulled out a red, spiral bound notebook. “Oh please, no. Don’t read that!”
From behind Jaska, Greg clamped his teeth together as the notebook was flipped open. Tear-stained pages blurred some of the lines. What looked to be crooked, heart-twisting poetry filled almost every available inch of space. What tore Greg up the most was the photograph of a man on the very first page. He looked so much like Monica. Greg knew who the guy was without asking, Monica’s father; Monica’s private thoughts and feelings: Monica’s pain made physical through written words.
Greg plucked the notebook out of Jaska’s hand and shoved it back into the pack so the girl wouldn’t cry. He’d had enough teenage tears for one day. And he was only immune to so much. “Looks good to me. You, Jaska?” Greg wriggled his nose, catching the stranger’s stare out of the corner of his eye. Even though they were outside, in the cool of the night, Greg began to sweat just thinking about those green eyes. Who the fuck was this guy?
Jaska stood up. “The bag is good. If we could search you now…” He looked between Monica and her mother.
“It’s fine. I’ll do it.” Monica flipped her long, greasy hair back to free up her hoodie zipper. She gave Jaska her sweatshirt and held up her arms. “Okay.”
“Monica,” her mother pleaded.
“She’ll be just fine, Gene,” Greg assured.
Jaska’s hands were quick, efficient, and professional as he patted Monica down. In under a minute he stepped back. “She’s good to go. Greg, would you take her to your car? Grab a sandwich from the cargo hold before you do. I’m sure Monica is hungry.”
Gene couldn’t protest her daughter being carted away if they were going to feed her. Her eyes were locked on Greg’s windshield while she endured Jaska’s pat down and her bag being rifled through. A water bottle of rancid blood and a dead, disposable phone were confiscated from her bag, but Gene was too concerned with being at her daughter’s side to give a shit. Once Gene was settled, moaning over a fresh bag of blood in Greg’s backseat, the sound of her lips suckling feverishly at vacuum-sealed plastic, and once the van doors had been locked up tight, Greg and Jaska faced the last of the night’s pickup.
“Last one on the list. Alex, I presume?” Jaska let the sheet fall into place on the clipboard. His expression gave away his suspicion. He cast Greg a sidelong glance. “Could this be him”, Jaska’s eyes asked.
Greg grunted, letting his macho flare out for the stranger to see. If this was Trey, and he very much doubted this guy was wanted by the most wanted, then Greg wanted him to be scared. Very fucking scared.
“That’s me.” Alex swallowed, folding his hands under his arms. He nudged his pack forward with his foot. “You can search my stuff. I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“Why do you say that?” Greg cocked his head. “Is it rigged?”
Alex’s brows furrowed. “Is what rigged?”
“The bag? Explosives?” Jaska’s breathing was sharp. His comfort level had been exceeded at the thought of opening a bag with a countdown inside.
“Jesus. No way, man.” Hands shooting into the air, Alex panicked. His eyes sparkled with fear. He backed up a pace. “It’s just a backpack. All I got.”
“How did you get here, Alex? More importantly, where did you come from?” Greg leaned in, careful not give himself away as he drank in another helping of the stranger’s intoxicating aroma.
“Why are you grilling me? You didn’t do this with anyone else.”
Jaska snagged the bag, putting it on the trunk. “Because your paperwork has gaps in it. No job. Last residence was for three months. No contacts whatsoever. No bills.”
“I’m homeless. I’m sorry I didn’t remember to bring my gas and electric bills along for you. Man,” Alex huffed a strangled sound, “how is it that I’m supposed to get back on my feet when I never had any ground to stand on in the first place? I didn’t have a choice either. I got dumped into this mess just like they did. Some fucker comes along, calls me pretty, mind fucks me into an alley and take a chunk out of my throat. He probably felt some kind of pity or maybe he intended for me to be his personal slave or some shit, but the next thing I know I wake up starving on a barge headed for Long Island. I’ve been through it all since then and it’s none of your fucking business what I had to do to stay alive. So you either search my stuff, pat me down, and give me something to eat or I’ll just leave.”
Alex’s hands shook. He gripped his hair, on the edge of losing himself to his beast. He could feel the burning glow seep into his eyes. A hint of madness tinged them. He could smell the blood in the trunk under Jaska’s hands. Hunger. Heat. His caged heart thumped, almost bursting with pain. “I’m trying here. No one will help me and you’re only pretending to care.”
Alex had to close his eyes and put his arms around his middle, hunching over in hopes of comforting his agony. Every minute that passed was another minute he lost the battle. “I’m trying,” he repeated, but it was barely a whisper.
“Greg?” Alex heard faintly. “Greg, catch him.”
“Alex, can you hear me? Give me one of those bags. He’s going into shock. He wasn’t fucking kidding.”
Alex’s knees hit the ground hard. Hands slipped under his shoulders from behind. Then he wretched water all over the sidewalk in front of the clinic. His body was going to fail before he went feral. Blood and Greg’s scent were the last things he thought of before he succumbed to darkness.
TO BE CONTINUED...