Faith, the See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Vampire Slayer Exotic Dancer
by Mike Dewar
See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Wesley still looked much the worse for wear after I dropped him off at Halo, but that didn’t seem to deter the crowd of nouveax-riches who surrounded him the second he opened the car door.
“ Price, old man, good to see you! Quite a party last night, what?”
“ Hey Wes-ster! How yo doin’!”
“ Ah, Wesley, wonderful to see you again! You look simply adorable in that outfit!”
The voices nattered away in my ears as I guided the car to a parking space, the receiver crackling merrily. As much as it galled me to admit it, despite all my cop training, Wesley was better at this whole mingling with-the-rich-thing than I would have been. It was probably something to do with breeding. And the accent. A lot of it was the accent.
“ Wes, you old stud you!” I heard as the car’s engine spluttered into silence and I settled back in my seat.
“ Hey, honey, shake that booty!”
I really hoped that was said to Faith.
Her sharp retort confirmed it, and a few seconds later, the thud of fist on flesh stopped another salacious comment before it even got started.
“ You shouldn’t have done that!” Sandy gasped, her voice sounding about equal parts shocked and amused.
“ Hell, he was a jerk. Now he’s a concussed jerk. No biggie,” Faith said easily.
“ I wish I could do that…” Sandy said wistfully. “Some of the guys, they get drunk and make trouble, you know. It would be nice to have something more on my side than a can of mace.”
“ Relax. Any guy comes along with his brain between his legs and I’ll lobotomise him.” Faith laughed and I heard Sandy’s hesitant giggle under the boisterous sound.
Faith and Sandy seemed to be really hitting it off, and I was kinda glad about that. Faith didn’t really have much contact with anyone besides me and Wes, in a non-Slaying capacity, that is. It was nice that she had found someone to talk to. Not that they were about to start braiding each other’s hair or anything, but it was nice.
As the two young women continued to banter, I tucked a pretty wicked-looking machete under my jacket and slapped my moronic hat on. I carefully rubbed the rear-view mirror with my sleeve and checked out the smudged image. Yup, I looked just like any other respectable servant boy of the rich and famous. Of course, my lack of sleep and lingering bruises made me look like a respectable zombie servant boy, but I figured it was the best I was going to get.
I shoved the receiver into my pocket and checked the machete one more time.
I’d tried guile, I’d tried directness, now I was just going for plain old-fashioned sneaky. And if anyone spotted me, I’d chop their bloody heads off.
Maybe I was still feeling a little bit testy about the hat.
The same unlocked door I had used in the daytime proved to be equally insecure at night. I crept down Halo’s back passages, carefully avoiding contact with passing employees. When there was nowhere to duck and hide, I just brazened it out and strode along openly.
“ Hey, how’d you do that little hip move?” Faith asked curiously from the vicinity of my trousers. From the numerous distinctly feminine sounds around her, I guessed she was back in the dressing rooms.
“ It’s easy,” Sandy responded modestly. “You just shimmy a little, like this.”
“ Like this?” Several interesting wobbly noises came from the receiver. I clapped a hand over it and kept walking, ignoring the stares of those passing by.
I should have known Faith and Sandy would have more interesting bonding activities than braiding hair. I turned down a deserted passageway that I recognised from earlier and carefully began to count the doors.
A loud explosion of laughter made me jump half a foot in the air.
“ And so she said, “I’ve never seen one of those before!”" my trousers commented loudly, chuckling to themselves.
“ Yes. Very…amusing,” Wesley said weakly. “Especially the bit about the cross-dressing nun.”
I went back to the beginning of the passage and began counting doors again.
“ Come on Price, you’ve got room for another one in there, old chap!” my trousers bawled.
Faith said casually, “Yeah, I’ve got a boyfriend. He’s a cutie, but he can be so…stiff sometimes.” I heard someone murmur something. “No, not that kind of stiff!” she laughed.
I flushed. On second thought, why couldn’t she have stuck to hair-braiding?
“ Oh yeah, Doyle does have endurance, I’ll give him that, and he’s quite the nummy-treat, but he’s just so boring!”
Boring? Boring? If the noises Faith made in our bed were the sounds of boredom, then I doubted I could survive if she ever got worked up! Boring! What was that supposed to mean?
“ What do you mean?” Sandy asked. I could have kissed her.
“ Oh, just pure vanilla, all the time. It would be nice if the boy had some kinks or something, ya know? Some dirty little fantasy or two. But no, he’s just into the good wholesome old-fashioned stuff. He doesn’t even use any toys.” Toys? I’d never considered Faith a vestigial virgin, but this was starting to get disturbing. I pressed the receiver to my ear, and was rewarded by a burst of static.
Once I finished massaging my aching eardrum, I heard Faith say, “Damn, all this yakking is making me hungry! Anybody want to treat us to something greasy and fattening?”
“ I’ll get it,” Sandy said helpfully. “Just don’t tell anymore stories until I get back!” she added hastily.
“ Sure thing, girlfriend,” Faith said cheerfully.
Eventually, distractions aside, I was able to count the correct number of doors and turn into the passage I was looking for. I inspected the small brass plaque on the door before me.
Perry Harper, Assistant Manager
It looked pretty fancy for a place like this, more like something from a law firm or big corporation. Then again, some of the lawyers I’d met would probably fit right in at Halo.
I tried the handle and it rattled in an unsatisfactory way. I allowed myself a secret smile as I pulled a small black case from my jacket pocket and flipped it open.
A neat set of lockpicks glistened in the electric lights. Kate had shown me how to pick locks during a few slightly less-than-kosher searches of felons’ houses. Not the most respectable skill for a cop, I know, but it came in damn handy.
I selected a lockpick and rolled it between my fingers, studying the lock speculatively. Then I inserted it like Kate had shown me and twisted slowly.
There was a sharp snap as the tip of the pick broke off and jammed the lock.
Screw it, I decided and shifted to demon. With a nerve-achingly loud crack, I forced the lock and then glanced around, convinced someone had heard and was about to leap out and grab this spiky intruder.
Nothing. No one.
I breathed out and let the demon go with the air, pushing the door open and flicking the light on. The office was clean and tidy, obsessively so. The pencils on his desk were even ordered by length, for God’s sake! Disturbing as that was, it wasn’t necessarily demonic, though. I closed the office door and took the thrice-damned hat off. It landed with a soft thump on Harper’s desk, as I crossed the room to check out the filing cabinet in the corner. It was locked too.
I didn’t even bother with the picks this time. The cabinet screeched as I yanked it open, my green fingers leaving indentations on the metal handle. I pushed the demon away again, and began to poke through the files.
Yadda, yadda, expenses…yadda, yadda, gross profit…
Half-jokingly, I checked under ‘D’ for demon. Unsurprisingly, no joy there. What the hell had I thought I could look for? A hand-written confession: ‘I am a demon. I feel very bad about it’? What?
What I found was a very concise and accurate copy of the post-mortem results on Peg, last name Durbane. How the hell had Harper got this? The body had only been found yesterday, so the detectives had probably only received the PM results themselves a few hours ago. Kate was right; the Harpers did have connections.
The file didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. The subject’s approximate age was well over 100, and she appeared to have died from a shock-induced heart attack. Mind you, at that age sneezing can cause a heart attack.
The sound of footsteps outside the door abruptly ended my musings. The door swung open and I leapt across the desk, clearing it easily and crashing into the newcomer. I slammed him up against the wall as I kicked the door shut with my foot.
“ Hi, ‘Perry’,” I purred, tightening my grip on his designer jacket lapels. “Whatcha doin’ here?” I glanced down at his hands. “With a crowbar, no less.”
“ I work here,” he rasped, his eyes moving to the door.
“ You’d never make it,” I told him easily. “I’m faster than I look. And why exactly are you visitin’ your own office late at night with a large crowbar, 'Perry'?”
“ My father locked me out,” he said sullenly. “Said I was stirring up trouble, poking my nose where it didn’t belong.”
I was pretty confident he wasn’t the demon by now. Shock always drove my demon to the surface, and if my surprise attack hadn’t made him change, my guess was he didn’t have another form to change to. Of course, he was still a creep, but I wasn’t in machete territory. Bit of a shame, really.
“ You were investigatin’ the disappearances,” I said, lowering my hands
“ Yes,” he said, adjusting his tie. Recognition flickered in his eyes. “Hey, you’re that PI from yesterday!”
“ The very same,” I admitted.
He smirked. “New look for you.” I flushed inwardly. PI’s on TV are always very cool and dramatic, with slick leather clothes on the opposite end of the fashion scale from my current outfit. Real life is annoying like that
I shrugged, hiding my embarrassment. “Part of the whole 007 deal. Now, you wanna explain to me how you could let girls go missin’ from this joint for ten years and not come up with some kind of plan to stop the disappearances? Better security, for one thing.”
Harper had the good grace to look slightly ashamed. “Pop ran the club mostly. He sent me off to business school in Europe, pretty soon after he bought the place. I graduated a year ago and came back, but it took six months before a vacancy opened.” That hadn’t been in Kate’s file. Okay, maybe the guy wasn’t as heartless as I’d thought. I still didn’t like him much though.
I eyed him in sudden understanding. “An’ when you tried to play detective, Daddy shut you down.”
“ Uh-huh,” he said. “After you showed up yesterday, he got convinced I had tipped you off. He practically flayed my skin off in his office and then took away my keys.”
“ Grounded, huh?” I commented ironically. “But what’s with the whole secrecy deal? I would’ve thought the old man would be glad if someone could solve the murders.”
Harper sighed. “ Pop isn’t always a very moral guy. He’s just in it for the money and cops are bad for business. Besides,” he added defensively, “ it wasn’t murders, until you found that body with the same tattoo as Peggie. He could have really believed that they had just run away.” I could tell from his tone that he didn’t believe that crap any more than I did, but I let it go. It’s hard for someone to condemn their own father. Of course, in my case, it had been a lot easier.
“ So what’s your theory on the disappearances?” I asked casually, scooping up my hat and brushing it off.
He folded his hands. “Simple. Time travel.”
I nearly dropped the hat. “Time travel?”
“ Of course. The government has developed it and they’re using the girls as test subjects. They abduct them, carry them to the future and do experiments and then take them back when they’re too old to be useful.” I guess that explained the large stack of Conspiracy X magazines I had found at the back of the filing cabinet.
I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I patted him on the shoulder. “Listen, pal, I’ve got news for you. Time travel has nothin’ to do with it -" I chuckled again and caught a noseful of his strong cologne as I did so. I tried to hold it back, but I sneezed.
Harper stared at me in horror as the spikes raced across my skin. “Hang on, man, just stay…” he turned and lunged for the door, yanking it open. I grabbed for him, tearing his jacket, but he got away. “…calm,” I finished belatedly, staring at the scrap of jacket in my hand.
I waited tensely for the shouting to start, for the bouncers to come running. I could probably take down three or four quite easily, but by then someone would have called the LAPD and then the shit would really hit the fan. I had enough enemies left in the department to make it very certain that I’d be hammered with every inch of legal force the cops could bring to bear. And that would be the end of me, of the firm. Faith and Wes would go on their way, and probably send a postcard or two to my jail cell every now and again.
But no one shouted. No one raised the alarm. Bouncers didn’t charge into the office armed with iron bars.
My demonically-sharp hearing picked a muted groan from just down the passage. I went human again and stepped out of the office. I heard a creaking sound around the corner, but as I stepped towards it, something bumped against my foot.
An old man lay barely meters from the office door, his hair a thick mix of brown and white. As I watched, a clump fell out. His rheumy eyes met mine and he reached out hesitantly, bird-frail bones snapping beneath his skin. I didn’t need to look at the torn trendy jacket he wore to recognise him.
“ Daddy…” he moaned.
His breath rattled in his throat as I clasped his outstretched hand. Then his eyes went blank and his fingers stiffened.
Swallowing tightly, I reached out and closed his eyes. The Umbrosh must have been getting pretty desperate to have risked such an attack, and judging from Harper’s body, I had disturbed it in mid-meal. That meant it would have to feed again, and soon.
With one suspect dead, I now knew exactly which human disguise it was hiding behind.
I still wasn’t that keen about just taking the Umbrosh on solo, so I went looking for back-up. Unfortunately, Faith was in the dressing rooms chatting to her new girlfriends, which were guarded by burly bouncers. Which left me with…
“ Wesley, Wesley Wyndham-Price,” I heard him say smugly over the receiver. “A pleasure to meet you, Clarice. That is a lovely dress you’re wearing, by the way.”
I scanned the crowd, wishing the bugs had some kind of tracking function on them. I’d already been standing at the door to the main dance floor for five minutes, just trying to pick Wesley’s figure out of the mass. Unfortunately, more than a few men were carrying canes and all of them were wearing elegant suits. A slender arm slipped around my waist.
“ Can I help you with anything... sir?” a breathy voice whispered in my ear. I tried to keep from dissolving into a little puddle of frustrated lust as I turned to the gorgeous blonde and explained that I was just looking for a friend. She shrugged in a business-like fashion, something I found riveting thanks to her skimpy top, and walked off. Inwardly I groaned as I watched her firm buttocks sway as she sauntered up to another potential ‘client’. This was worse than torture.
Of course, Faith would probably go in for some serious torturing herself if I laid more than my eyes on any of these beauties, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t temporarily regret my lack of availability and of a ten-page bank statement.
I finally spotted Wes, off talking to ‘Clarice’ at a booth and sipping brandy. Judging from her relatively-modest clothing, I guessed she wasn’t an employee. She definitely wasn’t a nun either, though.
Wesley appeared to be letting her do most of the talking, a skill I wasn’t aware he possessed. Every now and again, he would smile pleasantly or chuckle in response to one of her comments. Not exactly Casanova, but he was doing pretty well, it seemed. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to see if Wes could revive his asphyxiated love life. Unfortunately for him, that is.
“ Sir!” I said loudly as I hurried towards him.
Wesley looked up and blanched. “Yes…um, Higgins?” Inwardly, I seethed. Next time, Faith would not be allowed to pick my cover name.
“ The test results are back from the hospital, sir,” I said in my best well-meaning voice. “Dr Abrahams called me fifteen minutes ago.”
“ Hospital?” he bleated.
“ Hospital?” Clarice said dubiously, glancing at Wesley.
“ Yes,” I said gravely. “I’m terribly sorry to tell you this, sir, but he says the rash is contagious.”
“ Rash?” Clarice asked sharply.
Wesley smiled pathetically at her. “Um, well, I, we -"
“ Goodbye, Wesley,” she said bluntly, standing up and walking away.
Wesley sighed deeply and took a swig of his drink. “That was really unnecessary, Doyle.”
I shrugged. “I found the demon. Sorry to interrupt the socialisin’, but that is why we’re here, after all.”
He straightened in his chair. “Yes, you’re quite right,” he admitted grudgingly, but made no move to get out of his chair. He reached for his glass and I put my hand over it.
“ I’d like you to stay sober tonight, if you don’t mind, Wes,” I told him firmly.
“ Hilarious,” he responded, his cane clicking on the floor as he rose to his feet. “You’re sure about the Umbrosh?”
“ Well, of a list of two suspects, one of whom is dead, I’d say I can hazard a guess,” I snapped.
“ Just asking,” he said defensively, starting his slow progress towards the exit.
I lingered by the table, Harper’s heavily lined face rising up in my thoughts unpleasantly as I did so. Screw the changing rooms and bouncers, I wanted Faith with me against this demon. But odds were it was already looking for another meal, and every second I wasted waiting in the vain hope she might suddenly appear was another second the Umbrosh could use to stalk its next victim.
I gulped down Wesley’s brandy and walked away from the table, the liquor scorching my insides.
“ Couldn’t you at least have let me get her phone number?” Wesley whined as we left the heat and music behind us.
“ Oh, shut up,” I rasped, my throat still stinging from the brandy.
“ But couldn’t you have said that I was needed outside, or that the car had a flat tire, or something less…less infectious?” he complained as we rounded the corner of the passage.
My scathing reply turned to garbled nonsense on my tongue as I found myself eye to chest with Cecil’s huge, bandaged form. The big man looked down at me and his eyes popped with surprise. “You…”
I smiled sheepishly and then sunk my fist into his gut. As he doubled up, smelly breath gushing from his mouth, I grabbed his already-descending head and smashed it into my knee. Cecil grunted in pain and I brought his face up with both hands and slammed my forehead into it. My ears rung, but Cecil flopped down limply, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“ You were sayin’?” I asked Wes as we carefully stepped over his unconscious form.
“ Uh…nothing significant.” Prudent of him.
Thanks to my various travels through the back passages of the club, it took very little effort to find Harper Senior’s office while still avoiding the main areas of traffic. Cecil’s nose had left rather a large dent in my hat, so passing people without comment was no longer a possibility.
The elder’s office door differed little from the younger’s, except that the handle was perhaps slightly more worn. And, unlike the other one, it turned under my hand. At first, I thought the dark room was deserted, but then I noticed some small red lights hanging in the darkness across the desk. My imagination immediately conjured images of lurking red-eyed monsters and fiends, but I ignored it and flicked the light on.
Wesley and I squinted through the sudden glare and it took me a second or two to figure out what I was looking at. Instead of a normal chair behind the desk like in Junior’s office, a large metal wheeled nightmare gleamed and shone there. Red LED’s on the armrest - the demonic eyes of my imagining - blinked in a distinct pattern, over and over.
And lying, encased in the steel wheelchair like a withered mummy in a metal sarcophagus, was an old man. His tiny frame was so still I was sure he was dead, but the steady flickering of the lights on the chair contradicted me. I noticed other extensions off the wheelchair, an oxygen mask, a yellow-stained catheter, but his face was what held my attention. The features were small and wrinkled, but the dark eyes hidden within the folds of his skin were sharp and aware. And they were looking at us.
“ I see my…appearance…startles you,” he said, in a voice like rasping paper. He smirked as if he was enjoying our shock. “ Can I help you?”
Wesley glanced at me, obviously expecting a response. I wasn’t sure what mine would be. This guy was the total inverse of the creature we were hunting, but then again, it was a perfect disguise…if he was the demon. And if he wasn’t, I was just sitting here staring at an old man while the Umbrosh surveyed Halo like a glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
“ Well?” The paper voice was sharper now.
“ Um…Mr Jacob Harper?” Wesley inquired hoarsely.
“ That’s what it said on the door. You can read, I hope?” the old man sneered. “Something to say, or are you just going to stand their and gawk?”
“ Our apologies,” Wesley said awkwardly, “but your appearance is somewhat…startling.”
“ World War II,” the elder Harper said sardonically. “A mortar shell. Haven’t walked since.” I noticed that his legs were even more twisted and wrecked than the rest of his aged shell, barely even the size of a child’s. “That was a war where men were made,” he continued. “Strong men. Not like that gutless, layabout son of mine.”
“ Your son is dead,” I snapped, more harshly than I intended.
Harper didn’t even twitch an eyelid. “I know.”
With a sick feeling in my stomach, I recalled how the dying young man had called for his daddy. I had thought he meant that his father was the demon, but I suddenly realised that the truth was much worse.
“ You watched him die, didn’t you?” I asked, his throat tight with horror and disgust.
“ And the others,” Harper answered blandly. “Part of the deal.”
“ Deal? You made a deal with a creature like that?” Wesley snarled with an anger that seemed utterly out of place on his bookish face. “What kind of foul, depraved…monster are you?”
Harper regarded him with palpable contempt. “You can make a deal with just about anyone, I’ve always believed. Or anything.”
“ Why?” I asked disbelievingly.
“ Oh, I found out that the creature was hiding in my club quite easily, barely a month after it slipped in,” Harper said derisively. “I decided to employ it. It helped enforce some of my…less than legal transactions, and in return, I gave it a place to stay.”
“ And to feed,” Wes said grimly. “You let it brutally drain the life from innocent girls in your employ just to sustain your own craven criminal acts.”
“ Innocent?” Harper chuckled. “None of those girls was ever ‘innocent’. They were nothing, nobody. It slaughtered them and no one noticed, no one cared. I kept the police off its back, and we were both happy. Besides, it was fun to watch.”
“ Fun?” I asked, feeling my mouth twist with revulsion.
“ I found it…stimulating,” he said with a disturbing casualness that was far worse than any wicked glee could be. “They all walked around, more free than me, able to move and sway and dance while I was stuck in this damned contraption. But in end, they ended up just like me. Dried-up husks, barely twitching.”
I glared at the evil little man, wanting to leap across the desk and strangle him before he could speak another twisted word. I had thought he was the inverse of the demon. But now it seemed they were more alike than I had believed.
“ Her?” Wesley asked suddenly. Harper’s jeering smile slipped. “It’s one of the dancers?”
But the smile resurfaced quickly. “You can’t make me tell.” He chuckled again.
And I heard another chuckle, as if in response to his, from the receiver tuned to Faith’s microphone in my pocket. A familiar, rumbling chuckle.