I pulled the Baby Eagle from my back holster and pointed it at Gianna as she approached. I didn’t make a big show of it, keeping the gun tucked in by my tummy, but I didn’t make much effort to hide it, either. No point in worrying about spooking the regulars. Most of them would have their own ordnance close to hand anyway. I saw Gianna’s gaze flick from my face to the gun barrel back to my face, saw her eyes harden and just the slightest wrinkle appear between them in her forehead, as those perfect pursed lips twitched into a condescending smile.

Yeah, okay. Not impressed by guns. That’s okay. She’d be impressed plenty by the dragonsbreath ammo, if it came to that.

“Alice. Dear.” She paused by the bar stool. Her voice was chilled, like church bells on a winter morning. “You’re looking … well.” She studied me with the unblinking stare of a desert snake, but made her lips form a brittle, rehearsed smile.

“Thanks,” I nodded at the unoccupied bar stool next to me. Gianna glanced down at the stool and considered it, like she was toting up her chances of catching something if she sat on it, then hooked the leg of the stool with the toe of her incredibly expensive shoe and pulled it out. She swept her skirt under her with one hand as she sat, crossing her legs at the knee. She did it all in one easy swoop of motion, graceful and thoughtless.

“Is that necessary?” There was a little more life in her voice now. She was forcing it there, trying to put me at ease. As I watched, her dead eyes warmed up a bit, her smile becoming a little more natural. She was exerting herself. I felt my monkey hind brain reacting to her effort, and caught myself feeling a little embarrassed over the gun. The shadow, though, didn’t like the taste of her. Microfine filaments of shadow tasted her in the smoky gloom, sampling the flavors that clung to her skin and the scents that wafted off her. Blood and jasmine, rotten meat and lavender. We noticed she still had some flecks of meat under her fingernails.

“Yup.” I drew the word out, lifting my beer for a drink to brace myself. Vamps exude charisma. It’s really good people-bait, and it quite literally lets them get away with murder. Good thing I’m not technically people.

Gianna sniffed, and glanced towards Honey, who was leaning against the bar and watching with an avid grin. “And Lupe, you cheap slut. What are you doing here?”

“I go by Honey, these days.” Honey’s smile lost some humor, her gaze cooling. “And I own this bar.”

“Aren’t you whoring for Gustavo down on Eight Mile?” Gianna put her eyebrows up as if surprised. I did, too. “I never forget a face, Lupe. Especially not one I’ve seen in a trucker’s crotch. You had more eyes then, though.”

I hadn’t known Honey had worked for the deAngelos. Explained a lot, though. Like how she’d first built an immunity to the Tesla Effect, and found out that the world had a lot more in it than was immediately apparent.

“I haven’t worked there for six years, now, no.” She pushed the mug of blood towards Gianna. “Thirsty, you dried-up old hag?”

“Quite, thank you. But don’t kid yourself, Lupe. If I offered you enough money right now, you’d have your tongue in my gash before the change stopped jingling.” She raised the mug in a salute. “Once a whore, always a whore.”

Honey opened her mouth to retort and I shot her a sharp look to shut her up. I could tell by the daggers in her eye that whatever she was about to say was going to be pretty ugly, and it wasn’t beyond Gianna to reach out and snap Honey’s neck for the insolence. Honey met my look, then turned away to polish a glass and get her temper under control.

“Spics, eh?” Gianna tipped the mug back and slurped down half of it, throat convulsing as she guzzled the blood. She put the mug down. “It’s why they make such good whores,” she pointed out with a casual disregard that spoke volumes about the era she hailed from. The last time Gianna’s heart had been beating, it was 1924. “That hot bloodedness. Not like this swill. It tastes dead when it’s cold.” She still polished off the rest of it, though. I watched Honey’s back stiffen and wondered if Honey still kept that old shotgun behind the counter. I might find out if I let Gianna make another comment like that.

Gianna plunked her empty mug down on the counter, and wiped at the crimson smears on her face. “Another.”

Honey grinned. “That’ll be three hundred dollars for the first one, you cow. My name is Honey, and I don’t work for you lot anymore.”

Gianna sniffed, but was paying more attention to sucking her fingers dry. “Of course, Honey. Start me a tab.”

“If you want to finish that up, we can go get Benny –” I took the chance to cut in while Honey poured another drink for Gianna.

“Yes. Benny.” Gianna shifted to give me her full attention. “Tell me, Alice dear, what did you do to him?”

The fragment of shadow I’d left outside in the trunk conveyed the sounds of tools at the lock. Men’s voices, muffled through the metal. A sudden crackle and a strong scent of ozone let me know the Barracuda’s security enchantments were working nicely. I decided not to mention it just yet.

“See, now, that’s what I’m pissy about, Gianna.” I tipped my own bottle back, tightening my finger on the trigger. I knew I could get a shot off fast enough if I had to. Bloodsuckers could be freaky-fast, but that actually worked in my favor. If she reached out and touched me gently she’d be able to touch me just fine, but if she came in too fast, she’d trigger my shield belt. It’d stop her cold, briefly, but long enough for one shot. One shot was all I’d need. “It’s the accusations. It hurts my feelings.”

“Fuck your feelings,” Gianna said pleasantly. “What were you even doing with my grandson? He’s married, Alice.”

“I wasn’t ‘with’ your grandson.” I rolled my eyes, catching a glimpse of Gianna in the mirror behind the bar. She had a reflection, of course, but the mirror didn’t pick up the little tricks of perception vamps use to appear human. Her reflection was that of a corpse, her skin waxy and sallow and sagging. Her teeth were yellow and jagged and broken behind her crimson-painted lips, and her eyes were sunken impossibly deep into her face. It left her eyes as pale dead orbs peering out of seemingly hollow sockets. “I just happened to find him.”

“Do you really expect me to believe that?” Her lip curled back in an artful sneer, showing her teeth. Looking straight on, they appeared white and perfect. “Coincidence? You admitted to beating him with a crowbar!”

“I expect you to put your fucking fangs away and use your brain.” I set the beer down harder than I needed to. “Seriously, Gianna, what exactly does it get me to kill Benny? What do I get out of pissing you off?” I lit a cigarette and shifted to glare at Gianna. Just as I did, the mullet-wearing jackass from the pool table shuffled in between us and whistled at Honey.

“Hey sweet thing,” he called. “Get another couple beers over here for my boys?” He leaned on the bar, shifting to look at me. With me sitting and him standing, we just managed to be eye to eye. He looked down my tight tee-shirt and ogled my boobs. “Hel-lo, Red. Fuck me if I’m wrong, but haven’t we met before?” He peered over his sunglasses and waggled an eyebrow at me, which meant he actually had to look at my face for a second.

“Fuck off, redneck,” I snarled, raising my gun and pressing it under his chin. “Girl talk, you understand.” Instead of wetting his pants, he grinned even more, and placed both of his hands high on my thighs, leaning in closer. My shadow coalesced around his ankles, barely noticeable, but coiled and ready to strike. I could taste his pulse through the contact, and it was slow and steady.

“Oh no, a gun,” he drawled, moving his hands up higher and squeezing. “I think I just shit my pants. Any chance I could get into yours?”

“What, did I stutter? I said fuck off.” Not my best retort, but his crudeness threw me. I jabbed him in the throat with my gun to get my point across, and as I did, I caught sight of Gianna’s face, oh-so-carefully blank and nonchalant. She’d gone pale, which, for a vampire, meant she was practically translucent.

“Nah, I don’t mind, sweetness. I like watching your mouth move. Makes me think of things.” He leered at me. His teeth were yellow with tobacco stains and decay, but even from this close I couldn’t smell anything. Not even the beer he’d been drinking.

“Don’t be like that, Red. Let me get your tab, and you, me, and your two hot friends can come back to my place. You three can have fun for awhile. In my bed. I have a big bed.” He paused, one eyebrow up and a big grin on his face. “You know, while I watch.” He nodded back at Gianna. “Then maybe that one can suck me. I mean my dick. Not my blood. She couldn’t handle what I got. The blood, I mean. I’m sure she can handle my dick.”

The thought of doing anything in bed with Gianna made my stomach churn.  I considered shooting him just for successfully grossing me out. “Thanks, but I prefer fucking the living. Go. Away.” I put my cigarette down in one of Honey’s pressed-foil ashtrays and raked my thumbnail along my press-ons. They sparked to life, but the damage they’d suffered caused  a nasty shock to run up my arm as I leaned forward and grabbed his crotch with about ten thousand volts. Maybe a little less, what with the chipping. His heartbeat stopped cold, and he didn’t even so much as blink. What the hell?

“Oh, come on, the pirate chick is alive and I know she’s not as picky as you.” He didn’t even have the common decency to fall down twitching and screaming. And his heart hadn’t restarted, either. He shifted to look at Gianna. “This is how you let your help talk to you?” Gianna’s hands were shaking. Just as I was noticing that, the shadow gave up trying to get a handle on Wonder-Mullet’s scent, and reported with a mental shrug that he just didn’t have one. The shadow also reported that he didn’t have any real body temperature, either. He took up space, but that was it. Nothing of him affected the area around him. She thought it was odd.

Gianna gaped like a fish for a second, finally sputtering out “I –”

He spun around and snatched Gianna by the throat, cutting her off, and hefted her up off the stool, fast as lightning. One second she was answering and the next she was dangling. I jumped in surprise, after the fact. I startled slower than he moved. Bad sign.

It occurred to me that I’d never actually been in a fight with a vampire. I’d killed a few, sure, but that’s not the same thing.

Gianna wasn’t even struggling. She hung there in his grip, hands fisted at her sides, eyes wide, mouth a thin straight line. I glanced around. We had an audience, now. Conversation had died, and most of the bar was watching us from the corners of their eyes.

“What’s your name, Red?” The new vamp asked me, turning to pick up Gianna’s glass while holding Gianna up at the same time. He drained it in one long pour, not even bothering to work his throat muscles. He just opened his mouth and dumped it in, another bad sign. That was something old vampires did, after they’d been dead long enough for muscle habits to quit working. Worse news, his reflection looked just like he did. He was a whole lot better at masking his true nature than Gianna was. Hell, even the shadow hadn’t figured out what he was.

Honey reached under the bar, and the movement caught his attention. “Easy, me hearty,” he drawled. “What do you think you’re doing?”

She produced a small cigarette case, and removed a paper rectangle from inside. “My card,” she said, smiling. She leaned all the way over the bar, almost falling out of her corset in the process, and tucked it into the waistband of his pants. “Call me.”

“Oh, I like you.” Gianna growled a little, and he brought her face down impossibly fast, knocking a chunk of the brass pole off the bartop and removing a section of the wooden surface in the process. “Shut it, cunt.” Looking back at me, he smiled again. “Your name? I won’t ask nice again, Stretch.”

I considered shooting him. He was pretty close, though, and dragon’s breath has an impressive blast radius. I’d be shielded, but it would probably blow me across the bar.

Oh, and kill Honey… and Gianna too, now that I thought about it. Huh. Probably should have pulled the Colt, instead. Then again, it was only loaded with concussive rounds, and I wasn’t sure if that would kill a vamp. You have to do a lot of damage to kill one.

Damn it. I could probably have planned this better.

“Alice,” I said, and polished off my beer. I set the bottle down and picked up my smoke while I holstered the Baby Eagle. He seemed to respond well to chutzpah, so I blew a smoke ring in his face. “And you’d be?”

“Duane.” He relaxed next to me, one elbow on the bar. He glanced around the bar, and patrons shifted in their seats, turning back to their friends and making a point of ignoring us. No one wanted to get involved in whatever mess was going on over here. “You can call me Lord,” he added generously.

I stared at him with big eyes, fighting the urge to burst into laughter. “Lord Duane?” Honey said next to me, and turned her snicker into a cough, making me have to ‘cough’ too. While I composed myself, she held her phone up towards Gianna and snapped a picture. She studied the screen critically, and took another picture.

“Yes. Lord Duane, the Eldest,” he finished, with great modesty. “That’s me. So… my place? I gotta say, I would love to see those titties bouncing in my face.” He stopped, twisted to glance back at Honey. “Actually, I’d rather see her tits bouncing in my face. No offense, hers are bigger. But I’d love to have your ass on-”

I drew the Colt from the small of my back and stuffed the barrel of the gun into his crotch. “These are not ordinary bullets, my Lord.”

He glanced down at the gun, frowning, then glanced up, sniffing the air. He turned to look up at Gianna. “Is this thing a magician?”

She managed to nod, eyes round and afraid. Outside, my car was moving. The shadow fragment conveyed a series of impacts, at first from something hitting the trunk and then from the car hitting several other somethings in retaliation. At least something was going well, I thought.

He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. His hands were rough, and the movement made a rasping sound over his acne scars. “Well, that would explain the taser thing. I thought that was new. Geez, Gianna, haven’t you just been a regular twat?” Dwayne heaved a sigh. “I can’t get one worth having to talk to me, but you’ve got yourself a pet wizard. Wait, did you say ‘Alice?’”

I nodded.

“Black Alice. You’re that con-jobber, aren’t you? The one with the junk shop? You’re the real deal? Shit. Gianna got herself the real deal right under my nose.” He gave her a shake, and I heard something snap in her neck. “How the fuck did you manage that? Don’t bother,” he said, as Gianna tried to mouth an answer. He squeezed, and I heard something crunch, and I wrinkled my nose. That had to be unpleasant. “And what’s this shit with Benny? What am I gonna do about this?” No one answered, and he shook his head, letting Gianna drop. She thudded to the floor, boneless, sprawling with her head at an impossible angle and her skirt fallen up over her hips. Black lace bloomers, by the way. Not surprising. Honey leaned over the bar again for another picture.

“Okay, sexy,” he pointed at me. “Let’s go get the fucker. He’s coming with me.” He glanced down, waving at the gun. “You mind? You’re cramping Little Duane’s style down there.”

I glanced again at Gianna, lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, neck broken and legs akimbo. She was staring up at me, intent, like she was trying to will me to understand something. Don’t kill the Eldest? Save her? Save Benny? What? I decided I didn’t particularly care. I had enough drama to deal with tonight without her share.

“Sure, fine,” I said, and put the Colt away. I could kill this guy a lot easier in the parking lot than I could here. “I’m out back,” I said, gesturing for him to lead the way and flicking my cigarette butt off his chest.

“Back door girl? I like that.”

“I’m not surprised. You seem like the shitty type.” I stood up and towered over him. Lord Duane, even in his boots, was about eight inches shorter than me. Gianna gurgled on the floor. I ignored her.

“I know about magicians. Try anything fancy and I’ll twist your head off,” Duane said, off-hand and still grinning. It wasn’t so much a threat as just him pointing out what he was going to do.

“Doubt you could reach it. You mind? Benny’s stinking up my trunk.”

“After you, hotness.” He grinned up at me, waving me ahead. “I wanna watch your ass wiggle.”

“Oh, for…” I crossed the bar, closely watched by the bar patrons, and stalked out the front door, Duane following with an appreciative whistle.