We drove over the river, Arlington Tower disappearing in the mirrors. O’Malley exited from the highway and took us down a lonely road that turned to gravel. Far behind a wall of trees, we emerged in the parking lot of the nightclub St. Cecilia’s, named for the patron saint of music. She pulled into a parking space and we climbed out of the car. I started for the front door.
“Wrong way,” she said. “We go in around back.”
I followed her down the sloping asphalt to the back of the building. Almost completely obscuring a windowless metal door was a huge, scary, black guy with a shaved head, blue jeans, and a black t-shirt stretched tight over his torso and arms.
“Good to see ya, O’Malley,” he said with a deep, booming voice. He opened the door for her.
“Hey, Mathis,” she replied as she stepped inside.
I tried to follow her, but Mathis’ huge hand landed on my chest. He glared down at me.
“Is there a problem?” I asked patiently. I have to be honest; I was terrified. I was tall, but he was one or two inches taller, and with muscle that made him twice as wide. This guy looked like he could break my back over his knee.
“Don’t think I seen you here before,” he said. “And I don’t think I woulda forgot a face like that.”
“That’s Grin,” O’Malley told him, poking her head back out. “Give ‘im a break, aye? This is his first night awake.”
Mathis removed his throat-crushingly large hand and crossed his arms, forcing me to squeeze my way around him. “Welcome to eternity, kid,” he rumbled.
The steel door closed behind me and O’Malley led me down a hallway filled with doors. I could hear a woman’s escalating moans of ecstasy behind one as we passed.
“Okay,” I recapped quietly. “Under a nightclub, big scary bouncer, people getting it on, and two vampires walking in like they own the place. Where the hell are we?”
O’Malley smiled. “What makes ya think they’re ‘getting it on?'”
I grinned. “I’ve heard that sound before.”
“Not everything is as it seems, Grin,” she advised, and opened another door at the end of the hallway. The place beyond looked like a small, intimate bar. It was dimly lit with yellow light, illuminating red velvet couches, polished wood floors, darkly painted walls, and black tables. Electric flames flickered on plastic candles, held in candelabra mounted on the walls. They reminded me of those Halloween decor stores that pop up in October. The place was mostly empty, with a guy sitting at the bar, a man leaning over a woman who was sitting on a couch, and a group of three sitting around a table and playing cards.
“It’s a goth bar,” I said.
“This is lesson two: a vampire haven,” she corrected, and led me on toward the bar. “Every major city has at least one. We can come here to be safe from hunters, sleep during the day, and maybe get a bite to drink. …For a monthly membership fee.” She raised two fingers at the bartender as we approached, and he got started making drinks. “Don’t worry, though. Yours is on me.”
“How long has this place been here?” I asked.
“It started as a speakeasy,” she said as we sat down at the bar. “When prohibition ended, the vampires claimed it.”
The bartender placed two wine glasses of red liquid in front of us, saying, “Here you are, O’Malley and friend.”
“Thanks, Roger,” she said.
He nodded slowly, but he was gawking at me, the way you do when you can’t figure out if what you’re seeing is real.
“Not polite to stare,” I warned.
“Oh… I’m sorry, it’s just…” he said, shaking his head to clear it. “Have you ever read Evil Ernie?”
“That’s a new one…”
“This is Grin,” O’Malley introduced. “It’s his first night.”
“Good to have you, Grin,” he said enthusiastically, and reached out to shake my hand. “We’ve got a few rules here, but I’m sure O’Malley can explain.” He lifted a tray of more dark red drinks and started toward the card players.
“Rules?” I asked, sniffing at the drink. Blood. Knew it.
“When you feed from a donor, you stop when they tell you to stop, and you must never cause unnecessary pain,” she explained, and took a long sip. “It’s possible for us to feed without killing. Donors are mortals who give blood to vampires, either by letting us feed directly from them, or by having it drawn.” She nodded toward the glass in my hand, then at the door behind the bar. “There’s a refrigerator back there where hundreds of pints are stored.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
“How about a six-figure-a-year income?” she asked, smiling. “Obviously, it’s a hard business to get into, because it’s not something the world is supposed to know about.”
“Enough money to keep the donors quiet?”
“Sure, but tell me, if you were employed by someone who could kill you in an instant, would you reveal their secret?”
I nodded in understanding and took a drink. I felt a rush of heat slide from the tip of my tongue, down my throat, to the center of my chest, then down my arms and legs to my fingers and toes.
“Not bad,” I said, and reached for an ashtray on the bar in front of me. I took out the cigarettes I’d swiped.
“I have a few questions for you, now,” O’Malley said. “What’s with those cigarettes? I mean, we sit down and the first thing you do is whip ’em out.”
“When you’ve been a smoker long enough, you don’t even think about it anymore. It just happens.” I lit up and exhaled a long cloud. “What else?”
She turned toward me, putting her elbow on the counter and her chin in her hand. “Who’s the girl you were with that night?” she asked.
That night. Damn, it sounded so ominous.
I gulped down the rest of the blood and inhaled hard. “Her name’s Sarah,” I muttered through the smoke. “She was a friend from school.”
“I can’t ever see her again. Not like this.” I took another long, hard drag and huffed it out my nose. “I’d rather just forget her. Now, where the fuck is my headrush?”
“Toxins don’t affect you like they used to, so I’m afraid you can say goodbye to your nicotine high,” she answered.
“Dammit,” I cursed. I sucked down the rest of the cigarette, turning it into one long ash. It didn’t make me dizzy like usual, but it seemed to have a different effect on me. My lungs were full of heat. It was comforting, like drinking hot cocoa on a cold winter day. I exhaled the smoke slowly and the heat died, leaving me perfectly relaxed. “Whoa,” I whispered.
O’Malley nodded knowingly. “See, some things may not feel the same as they did when you were mortal, but they still feel good. Maybe even better.”
“I know that smirk,” she said, interrupting my thoughts. “And, yes. Sex is better than when you were mortal.”
For a moment, I could only stare at her. “Damn, you’re good,” I finally said. “Does mind-reading come with the whole vampire package? Because it hasn’t happened to me yet.”
She laughed musically. “It’s nothing supernatural. I watched you for quite a while. I’ve picked up on a lot of your body language.”
I smirked. “What’s my body language telling you?”
“What happened to your real father?” she asked, ignoring my flirting.
Fine, I admit it: I’m not completely irresistible.
“Died when I was nine. What happened to your family?” I answered and questioned without pause.
“My father and older brother stayed in Ireland. My brother survived, but my father starved. My younger sister died of typhus on the way to America. My older sister died on the job, because only the most dangerous were given to Irish immigrants, if they were given to Irish immigrants at all. My mother died of old age.”
I nodded, committing to memory the first piece of O’Malley’s past. I was sort of surprised she was being so open. She had seemed more like the secretive, mysterious type to me.
“How did you grow up to be such a punk?” she asked.
I laughed. “After my dad died, I just fell into this ‘fuck it’ attitude. I decided I was gonna be who I wanted to be, do what I wanted to do, and no one could stop me. Life is too short not to live.”
Well… it used to be, I thought as I prepared another cigarette.
“Then why were you trying to kill yourself with those things?”
“I picked it up to piss off my stepfather, and I liked it. Nothing suicidal about it. Now… what brought you and your family to America?”
“The Great Famine,” she answered. “In the mid-1800’s.”
“Right. You were all out of beer and potatoes over there,” I jabbed.
“Just potatoes. The Irish always have plenty of beer on hand.”
I smiled, impressed. “Nice one.” I nodded at her, ashing my cigarette. “Your question.”
“What were you planning on doing with your life?”
“I was gonna go to college and get a music degree. Find a job in a recording studio, open my own someday… Definitely start a band.”
I took a drag. So much for all that.
“How did you become a vampire?” I asked.
“That’s kind of a long story,” she began. “After my older sister died, it was just me and my mother here. I quit my job at the factory and turned to the world’s oldest profession.”
“You mean prostitution?”
“A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, aye?” she answered. “Luckily, my career lasted only a few hours. My first customer was Gerard. He took me to his mansion outside Boston. He didn’t know I’d been a virgin until he smelled the blood. Almost bit me then, but he stopped himself and jumped away from me.”
She laughed a little, remembering. It was a dark story, but she spoke fondly of this Gerard guy. I smiled.
“In fact, he leapt from the bed clear to the other side of the room!” she continued. “Then he explained to me what he was and why he had really brought me to his mansion. He wanted to make me a vampire. He told me all about the powers I’d have and how I could use them to get revenge. Of course, I accepted.”
I stared at the growing ashes on my cigarette. Her story was a lot more epic than mine. I moved in on this guy’s girlfriend, so he cut my face in half and slashed my throat. Then this vampire showed up and turned me. The end. What a joke.
“What do you plan to do now that you’re a vampire?” she asked me.
I opened my mouth to reply, but then I realized I had no clue. What do you do for hundreds of years, anyway? I wondered. Doesn’t the world get boring after a while?
Guess I’ll have plenty of time to work on getting that band together…
“I’m not sure,” I answered finally. “I know I’m gonna get my revenge, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
Oh yeah, I thought with relish. I’ll get my fucking revenge. I’m gonna go Johnny Gruesome on their asses.
“What are you doing with your eternal life?” I asked.
“I’m a paid assassin,” she said nonchalantly, and laughed at the way I gawked. “C’mere, it’s like this,” she explained. “Say I meet a man who’s found out his wife is cheating on him. I offer to make the other man disappear, for a price. Some of ’em refuse and I walk away, but some of ’em accept. If he agrees, he gives me some information. I tell him not to pay me until he sees the obituary. The target is found dead, no wounds, body drained of blood, but none spilled at the scene. My client gives a plain, sealed envelope with about ten thousand dollars in it to Mathis, who gives it to me.”
“Holy shit, stop for a minute,” I cut in, holding up my hand. “You’re the one that’s been leaving those drained corpses lying around?”
“Not all of them,” she said modestly. “Obviously, I’m not the only vampire in this city. But I suppose in my line of work, my victims do tend to be… high-profile.”
I could say nothing, but I nodded. The media had long since stopped covering those mysterious deaths, probably because of some kind of gag order, but I remembered hearing about them. In obituaries, they always said the victims died of heart failure. I guess that isn’t necessarily lying, because if there’s no blood in your body, your heart tends to fail.
I ran the process over in my head again. O’Malley’s DNA and fingerprints were probably impossible to trace, and no one could figure out how her victims were killed.
“That’s… brilliant,” I finally said.
“The secret to being a vampire is finding out what you’re good at, and discovering your purpose. When I killed all the people responsible for my family’s deaths, I did it in the same way I do now. I got revenge. Now I get revenge for other people.”
I nodded again, wondering what I might end up being good at.
We had finished our drinks and Roger came back with two more. I looked absently at the television on the wall behind the bar, turned to the local news. My eyes widened. The female reporter was standing in my high school’s parking lot!
“Hey, Roger, can you turn that up?” I requested. He reached up and pressed a button a few times, and I could hear what was being said.
“Flowers covered an empty parking space at Findlay Community High School today, where a familiar motorcycle once stood. A motorcycle that was discovered last Saturday morning after a tragic accident where a local teen is confirmed to have died.”
My senior picture appeared on the screen.
“Jacob William Grinley, affectionately nicknamed Grin by Findlay High’s students, was last seen at a classmate’s house party the night prior to the unfortunate discovery. Detective Frank Tanner of the Arlington Police Department is currently investigating the case.”
The shot switched to a surprisingly young man in a casual suit and aviator sunglasses, standing on the hill where I’d driven off. Yellow police tape fluttered in the wind behind him. Down in the corner, I could see a bit of the white cross that was stuck in the ground, and the flowers that piled up around it.
“The motorcycle was found on the side of the road on Lake Drive, having apparently collided with the guardrail,” Tanner said. “Although the victim has not yet been located, there is evidence at the scene that suggests the motorist sustained fatal injuries. The vehicle was registered to Jacob Grinley, who was reported missing shortly before his motorcycle was discovered.”
The reporter was walking through a hallway of the school, stopping in front of my locker that was vandalized with all kinds of little messages and lipstick prints.
“Grinley’s high school classmates and teachers are shocked and deeply grieved by the young man’s untimely death, just two months before he would have graduated with honors.”
Then it switched to the principal.
“I don’t mean this the wrong way, but it’s so much quieter around here without Jake. Things just aren’t the same here. He’d be in my office, sitting in that chair right there, at least once a week. He sort of liked getting into trouble, but he was an excellent student. Worked hard, got near perfect grades. But now, that chair’s empty. The whole building’s sort of empty.”
The reporter was outside the school, in the courtyard.
“On Monday, students gathered in the courtyard of the school in an impromptu support group, where they exchanged memories of their classmate under the flag that waved at half-mast.”
What followed was a series of clips, taken in various parts of the school, of students telling stories and sharing their thoughts about me. And one of them was Nick. He was sitting on the bench by the main doors. Helen was next to him, holding his hand. His eyes were red and puffy behind his glasses. All he said was, “He was my best friend. …He was my only friend.”
I could feel O’Malley looking at me, but I kept my eyes on the TV, trying to ignore the pang of guilt I felt. Nick had tried to stop me. He had told me not to go to the party. When I went, he had tried to get me to leave. When I didn’t leave, he had told me not to do anything stupid. And I’d given him the finger. The very last time he’d seen me alive, I’d been flipping him off. I may have been doing it jokingly, but that was how he was going to remember me—sticking my middle finger in his face while he tried to save my life.
It sucked to see my friend grieving me, but I could handle it. Still, until that segment of the report ended, I gritted my teeth, and my nails dug little, curved trenches in the wooden edge of the bar counter, because I knew if I saw Sarah’s face, even for a moment, the wine glass in front of me was going right through that screen.
The reporter appeared again and I was able to relax.
“To honor his memory, the prom committee has decided to change the theme of the prom to a costume party, citing Grinley’s love for Halloween and horror movies. The graduating class will also be marching in black caps and gowns.
“A service will be held on Friday at six o’clock PM in the Findlay Cemetery, where Grinley’s memorial will be erected next to his father’s.”
My picture returned to the screen.
“A truly tragic story. Jake Grinley, victim of a motorcycle accident, dead at eighteen.”
When I looked away from the television, every pair of eyes in the room was staring at me, every mouth gaping. Except for the quiet music and the TV, it was completely silent.
“What? Ain’t any o’ ya seen a dead guy before?” O’Malley called out, and the room filled with laughter.