Luke reached up from the backseat of Pablo’s pickup and patted Delilah on the shoulder. “It’s time.”
“Remind me why Pablo can’t drop us at the front door?” Delilah folded her arms across her chest, looking mildly disgruntled.
Pablo shook his head. “I’m not particularly interested in having my pickup and its license plate recorded by any nosy bouncers or security cameras. We’re trying to keep this anti-vamp operation of ours under wraps. They don’t need to know Clark Kent is really Pablo Sandoval.”
“He’s right,” Luke agreed.
“Yeah, but it’s raining, and I don’t want to walk through it,” Delilah replied, her tone laden with annoyance and just a hint of a pout.
“It’s just a good Oregon drizzle. You’ll dry off before you get your drink,” Luke replied.
“I better not have to wait that long for a drink,” Delilah mumbled.
Delilah and Luke popped out of their respective passenger side doors and strode down the block and around the corner leading to the hottest new club in town—Red Velvet Room. They set a pace and bold stride that would have looked cool and dangerous in slow motion. A gust of wind caught the corner of Delilah’s dark red leather three-quarter trench coat and flipped the bottom portion out.
Their cool quickly ended as they queued up with the rest of people waiting to get into the club. Eschewing his normal plain black hoodie, Luke’s hooded jacket was stylish and simple. He coupled it with expensive shoes and designer jeans, hoping the combo would ensure Luke’s entrance—that and a $100 bill he planned to palm to the beefy guy at the door. Delilah, with a few more months of growth on her teeny weenie afro, wore her trench and tall soled, heavy boots and looked like a stylish hero in a 1970s Blaxploitation film. Luke ran his fingers through his slightly curly hair, his hand coming back damp but smelling nicely of product.
“Don’t mess with your hair. You need to look good to get in. The damp is good on the curls, though.” Delilah inspected his hair to ensure everything, waves cresting like whitecaps in a rough sea, remained in order. “OK, you didn’t mess anything up.”
“Thanks.” Luke smirked at her.
“And you’re sure everything is set up?” Delilah asked.
Luke nodded. “Yes. We’re good. You ready with the soundtrack?”
“Yeah, although I don’t see why you asked. They have a DJ, don’t they?”
“They do, but you’ve got better taste…most likely. Besides, when the action goes down, I’m guessing the DJ is going to be MIA when it comes to spinning.” He added the “most likely” to goad her a bit. Delilah always insisted that her taste was impeccable, and certainly better than Pablo’s and Luke’s.
When they got to the front, the musclebound guy gave their IDs a once over then collected their door fee—and Luke’s gratuity—and sent them inside. They made for the empty table near the DJ booth which was situated under one of the speakers dangling from the ceiling, allowing the sound to project over their spot without being louder than they wanted.
“I’ll get the drinks,” Delilah said, casting a glance toward the bar. “He’s serving the women first.”
“Good idea. I don’t want to give him an opportunity to give me too much of a look over if Cassius has nosed around my description. I’ll take a pilsner.” Luke tucked into the booth so he could watch the room.
The bartender gave off strong vampire vibes that pinged Luke’s vampy senses and made his fingers itch to pull the gladius that wasn’t currently on his person. Returning a few minutes later with a couple beers, Delilah set them down and slid into the other side of the booth. The bartender’s gaze had flicked to Delilah a couple times as he’d watched her cross the floor. Luke hoped he was admiring the tall Black woman’s curves and not eying them suspiciously.
Delilah, ostensibly watching the dancing, surveyed the area, getting a feel for the space and obstacles. Luke had shown her pictures he’d taken when the club was empty, but seeing 2D images was different from being in the room. She’d said she wanted to familiarize herself with the layout and fix any danger points in her mind, especially with the dark setting and the flashing lights of a club full of dancers.
“Where’s the other exit?” she asked. “In case we get cut off from the main one?”
“Past the bathrooms. It leads out to the delivery entrance. The door’s locked right now, but I’ll unlock it before we get ready to kick off the party.”
“You still have the keys?” Delilah asked, brows furrowed.
“I paid a lot of money to play janitor so I could get in when they were closed. How do you think I got those pictures?” Luke forced his glance away from the bartender. He couldn’t help it. His mind wanted him to focus on the only vampire threat in the room.
“Luke. Quit staring at the bartender,” Delilah hissed when his gaze swung back toward the bar. “You’re going to draw attention.”
“Sorry. He’s the only vamp here, and being in his presence is like nails on a chalkboard.” He shifted in the booth so he could focus on something else.
Delilah rewarded Luke with a smile. “Any chance your old pal Cassius will show up?”
Luke shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s not really the reason we’re here.”
Delilah sighed and slumped into the booth. “I know, it’s just…”
“I understand. We both owe him a lot of pain, and when the time’s right, we’ll deliver it without hesitation.”
“It’s just… I’m tired of waiting.” Delilah drew back the curtain in her eyes she hid the pain behind.
Luke empathized with her. “I know. I really do. I’ll do everything in my power to help you take him out, but tonight’s not the night. We’re just not ready yet.”
Delilah clenched her jaw and nodded curtly. She’d agreed with this assessment before, but it clearly galled her. Luke wasn’t sure how Delilah’s father had been involved with vampires. She’d refused to share any details other than she’d walked in on Cassius committing the deed. When she’d attacked him, he’d ripped out a bunch of her locs, necessitating the big chop and the short afro she now sported. Luke hoped Cassius didn’t show up tonight, afraid Delilah would forget their mission and jeopardize their lives.
He still had trust issues, even though he considered both Delilah and Pablo to be friends. He’d lived and hunted by himself for decades before they forced their way into his life. Though he was glad to have their help, he had a lot of his own issues to work through. Forcing his eyes off the bartender again, he got up and went to the bathroom. When he returned, he shifted the conversation to non-business topics while they waited until it was Luke’s turn to chastise Delilah.
“You’re going to put a crick in your neck periscoping around like that. Also, you’re drawing attention.” Luke indicated the bar with his eyes. He wasn’t sure if the vamp bartender was eyeing her because he was attracted to her, or if she’d genuinely caught his attention with her nervous surveillance of the club.
Delilah took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcibly relaxing her shoulders. Slumping in her seat, she tried to put on a more casual pose. “Sorry.”
“No worries. There’s no guarantee he’ll be here tonight. Owners don’t always show up, and he’s not the reason for tonight’s visit. And if he does, it’ll probably be under heavy escort. When we go after him, I want to control the engagement so it ends in our favor.”
He gave Delilah an understanding smile. “I know it’s hard but be patient. He’s not going anywhere. He’s too entrenched in his and his masters’ plans. They’ve put a lot of work into this city. Somehow, the vampires are involved with the disappearance of the mayor. Why else would he be working for the city commissioner? He’ll go down, and we’ll be the ones to do it. I promise.”
He tried to pour all his confidence and affection for Delilah into his gaze. She met his eyes, then nodded, relaxing visibly. She settled into her seat and began bobbing her head along to the rhythm of the DJ’s song selection and beats.
“I’m surprised you actually approve of the DJ.”
Delilah shrugged. “He’s not bad.”
“Better than you?” Luke raised an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth in a smirk.
Delilah rolled her eyes at him. “As if. Another round?”
Luke checked his phone to see what time it was. “Yeah, we should be good for another.” Delilah started getting up when Luke halted her. “Never mind, I see a server coming around.”
He paid for their drinks with cash, then waited until she was gone before resuming their conversation.
“When do you want to start this party?” Delilah asked.
“When there are enough guests of honor to make it worth our while. They probably won’t be out until late.”
“Why are we here so early then?”
Luke shrugged. “I wanted to make sure we got in. Plus I wanted to ensure we controlled the timing from start to finish. We choose when we engage, not just where. We’re here to make a statement to the vampires. We need to make some noise. The bigger the crowd at the club, the more effect this mission will have.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea? Just the two of us?” Delilah looked nervous as she leaned across the table.
He swept his eyes around them quickly to ensure no one was close enough to overhear. “That’s all we’ll need for this. We’re not here to clear it out, just to make it harder for Cassius and his ilk to hunt. He needs to know he can’t hide from me, even if it’s in plain sight. We make a mess for him, then clear out. This place gets a bad reputation, and the fangers have to figure out a new way to get easy prey. It’s what I’ve been doing by myself, so two people is more than enough.”
Delilah nodded, though it seemed less than enthusiastic. Over the couple of hours they’d been hanging out, the club had filled up with rich twenty and thirty-somethings from the Pearl District eager to be seen and the crowd from the ‘burbs eager to say they got into the Red Velvet Room. It was a potent cocktail of affluence and gullibility.
As the floor filled, the lights dimmed, replaced with red mood lighting that matched the bar’s name. When the affluent and expendable reached a critical mass, more vampires joined them, targeting the former for longer term parasitism and exploiting the latter for a quick snack. Luke, his body vibrating with the tension of being so near too many vampires, was ready to move.
“OK, it’s about time. You have the play list ready?”
“Yeah.” She pulled out an old MP3 player they’d picked up in a thrift shop. Jamaal, the North Portland Pack’s head of tech, had formatted it to ensure it wasn’t traceable. “I put the songs you requested in with the rest of the play list. There’s some old school stuff in that list. You’ve got interesting taste. Where’d that come from?”
“I had cable in the ‘80s and ‘90s and watched a lot of MTV, especially ‘Yo, MTV Raps.’ The internet didn’t really exist at the time, so I went to a lot of matinées. Pop culture kept me distracted, especially Black pop culture—Friday, Boyz n the Hood, House Party, stuff like that. I didn’t really have any friends to speak of, and I was sliding into isolation more and more. Exploring this new entertainment kept me going outside the door to do more than just look for vampires.” He shrugged, giving a clinical assessment of his more recent past. “Plus I had to do what I could to blend in when I went hunting where the youth of the day gathered. Had to look the part.”
Delilah raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Did it actually work? Did you blend in? I mean…” She held up her hand and gestured toward him.
Luke shook his head, chuckling. “Yes and no. I didn’t really blend in well with the kids. I looked like someone’s dad or a narc.”
Delilah let loose a loud laugh before tamping it down to avoid attracting attention.
“But at least I was on the scene when a fanger showed up.”
Delilah looked delighted at the thought of Luke trying to blend in as an ‘80s hip-hop enthusiast. “Please tell me you have photos of you in an old school Adidas tracksuit?”
Luke winked at her. “Maybe sometime I’ll show them to you, if you’re nice to me.”
Delilah rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him.
“It’s time to put on my dancing shoes.” Luke shifted to get out of the booth.
“Yeah. I’m going to dance.”
Delilah snorted but tried to wipe the smirk off her face when she saw Luke’s serious face. “You’re going to dance? You? Pardon me, but you don’t seem the type.”
“You’ll see…” He gave her a knowing smile.
“This ought to be good.”
He headed to the back of the club toward the restroom. He slid behind a large potted plant and watched for an opportune moment before darting into the back hallway that led to the supply closet and the office. He fished a set of keys out of his pocket, opened the supply closet, stepped in among the brooms and mops, and shut the door behind him. Flipping a mop bucket over, he stood on it, moved the panel from the false ceiling out of the way, and pulled out the large duffel bag he’d planted when he was undercover as the janitor.
His next stop was the manager’s office. He grabbed the gladius and unsheathed it in case someone was in the office watching the cameras. A different key unlocked that door. The office was empty. Either he was lucky, they were overconfident, or they just used the camera to corroborate anything they needed later, relying on security on the floor and at the door to maintain order. Stepping in, he pulled the door shut behind him and locked the door.
He flipped on the security monitor—a nature documentary played from the media device he’d spliced in. He chuckled as the screen panned across a central American jungle. When the vampires checked the security footage, all they’d find on their recording was a nice show about vampire bats. He hoped they watched it all the way through. He’d added an homage video of the Beastie Boys “Sabotage,” although he doubted the fangers would find it as funny as Luke did.
He stripped off his shoes, jacket, and the button down under it and folded them into a neat pile. Opening the duffel, he pulled out his armor padding and drew it on over his undershirt. Next, he wrapped a thin black scarf around his neck to prevent his armor chafing and help cover the shine of steel.
He slipped into the armor and cinched the leather thong tight. He’d already set up the tactical bandoleer in place before they’d packed the armor. All he had to do was sheath the sword and the wooden rudis.
Both sword blades were partially visible in the semi-open scabbards Luke used to ensure quick draws over the shoulder didn’t catch. The one set for his right hand was made of a steel alloy with some silver in it and was covered in crisp engravings, the visible side displaying a rising sun with flickering flames lashing out and down the blade. Its handle was made from dark wood at the pommel and an oval-shaped guard with a bone hilt. The other weapon—the rudis—was a wooden sword shaped like a gladius. The dark brown and intermixed golden tones of Persian ironwood glowed in the dim light of the office, and the silver inlay shimmered when it moved, catching bits of light. A steel-silver alloy rim formed the cutting edge, making it just as deadly, if slightly more fragile looking, as the steel gladius in the other scabbard.
Shaking out the wrinkles in the button-down shirt specially tailored to fit over his armor and swords, he slipped it on and added the custom hooded sport coat, arranging the hood to cover the pommels of the swords. He looked bulky; the armor gave him the physique of a linebacker.
He pulled out the last thing in the duffel, a backpack, and put his pile of clothes in along with the duffel bag after he’d collapsed it down. He didn’t want to leave any evidence, plus he liked the clothes he’d added to his wardrobe with Delilah’s help. He checked his appearance in the floor-length mirror to ensure he’d pass muster on the dance floor, then looked at the clock hanging above the mirror.
It was time. He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep, calming breath. Just a few more minutes until the waiting would end and he could get to the action. Exhaling slowly, he opened his eyes, grabbed the backpack, and headed back to the dance floor.
Peeking out the door to the back hallway, Luke ensured the path was clear for him to duck back into the bar. When no one was looking in his direction, he strode out confidently. If anyone asked, he could feign being lost on the way to the restrooms. He needn’t have worried. People were too interested in their drinks, dancing, and potential hookups to notice one guy not in the right place. He navigated the tightly packed dance floor, his backpack held by the small handle at the top so it dangled unobtrusively near the floor, and found Delilah holding down their booth. He slid his backpack under their table and nodded to Delilah. She unzipped the front pocket of the backpack and pulled out a few sharp, pointed wooden stakes. Keeping her motion hidden, she stashed them inside her coat in one of the pockets contained within.
Delilah grabbed the MP3 player and stood up. Luke posted up in front of the DJ booth, partially blocking the view as Delilah approached the DJ. Luke, leaning casually against the book, stood so he could keep an eye on the DJ while also watching the rest of the club.
“Can I help you with something?” the DJ asked.
“Nice set tonight.”
“Thanks.” The DJ looked Delilah up and down, a smile growing on his face.
Delilah shifted nervously on her feet. “This is quite the club. A great place to look for a meal.”
“I guess…” The DJ didn’t seem to know what Delilah was getting at.
“What can you tell me about the people who run this place?”
The DJ’s eyes darted around a bit, his jaw clenching slightly and a note of terror filtering into his eyes.
“Nothing much. They pay their employees on time.”
“Do you know who, or I guess I should say what, runs this club? The manager? The owner?”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at…”
Delilah opened the right side of her coat, the side facing the dance floor, so only the DJ could see what was inside. She reached over and pulled the stake partially out of its pocket, displaying it to the DJ.
Delilah leaned a little closer to the DJ. “Look. You’re a pretty fair DJ. You know who’s signing your paychecks and what they are. I can see it in your eyes. I’m going to give you a free piece of advice. Get the fuck out of here. Do it quietly. Do it casually. Live to spin another day.”
He nodded lightly but quickly, almost giving a small shiver. His eyes scanned around rapidly as his body tried to shrink in on itself, his breathing shallow and irregular. He finally settled on a course of action which calmed his body a bit.
“OK. I just spin here. I don’t want any of their trouble. Um, can I take my laptop? It’s got everything in it. It’s my livelihood.”
“Sure.” Delilah released the stake and lapel, letting her coat fall back into place. She pulled the MP3 player out of her pocket and thrust it toward him. “Tie this into the house’s soundboard first and transition over to the first track.”
The DJ nodded, plugging Delilah’s MP3 player in. As his song reached its zenith, he patched in the MP3 player seamlessly before he began taking down his laptop and getting ready to leave. The Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” spilled out into the club, exciting the mostly white crowd.
As he tried to slide past Delilah, she grabbed his upper arm. “No cops, understand?” She gave it a firm squeeze to emphasize her point and gestured toward Luke with her head. “Or my friend and I will look you up later.”
“Remember, fly casual, got it?”
He nodded again. Delilah let go of his arm and turned to the booth to make sure she could handle the soundboard.
The bartender slid up next to the DJ. “We having a problem here, Freddie?”
“No problem. Just need to grab a bathroom break and my friend here is going to handle a few songs,” the DJ said with a bright smile.
Luke admired the terrified man who could think on his feet even through his fear.
The bartender looked Delilah over, his eyes gleaming as he gave her a lascivious once over. Nodding, he headed back to the bar.
“Quick thinking,” Delilah said. “Head out the back door by the restroom. It’s unlocked.”
The DJ nodded, then walked out a bit quicker than would explicitly be considered casual but would work for someone with a full bladder. Luke caught Delilah’s eye and raised both of his eyebrows while tilting his head. She held up her index finger asking for a minute. She was searching for something in the MP3 player. A wicked grin spread across her face. She must have found what she was looking for. She looked up and nodded to Luke.
Luke turned toward the dance floor then made his way into the crowd. He could feel the vampires surrounding him, but only had the vaguest of ideas who they might be. He wanted to take a few turns around the dance floor so he could mingle and put faces to fangs. He wasn’t busting out any of his fancy moves; he just wanted to bop across the floor and blend in. A few of the vampires stopped as he passed by, sniffing the air as someone with strange blood wandered by. He kept moving so they couldn’t home in on who had that blood pumping through their veins. The dance floor was crowded and churning enough that it would be hard to figure out who it was—the proverbial needle in the hemoglobin haystack.
Delilah, satisfied that her playlist was under control, pulled out a pair of leather gloves and put them on. She grabbed the MP3 player and wiped it and the soundboard down, removing her fingerprints, before heading out to the dance floor to do an inspection pass of her own. From where Luke watched, it looked like she was adjusting knobs on the sound board. The booth around the corner hid much of what she was doing from mid chest down.
Luke could sense the presence of vampires, pinpointing them within the vibrating crowd. It was one of his powers, one of the tools Mithras had given him to aid him in his mission. Somehow, Delilah could sense vampires as well, although not as precisely as Luke. However, considering she was a normal human, she shouldn’t be able to sense them at all.
Neither Luke nor Delilah knew how, they’d discussed it, but for whatever reason, she could, so they used it to their advantage. Together they danced through the crowd, splitting up to cover more ground, mentally marking the faces of the vamps they needed to remember, although when the action went down, they’d be first in line for a staking, trying to protect their territory and punish the violators of its sanctity.
Luke was about to find Delilah and kick off the stab-o-rama when Full Force’s “Ain’t My Type of Hype” started playing. Luke looked around for Delilah, finding her dancing her way toward him, a grin and a question on her face. Luke chuckled and shook his head before making eye contact and nodding once. She pointed to herself using both thumbs and mouthed “Kid” before extending both index fingers toward Luke and mouthing “Play.” Luke smiled and nodded.
Luke stepped into a clear space and began the set of dance moves from the House Party dance off scene, his knees popping up as he grooved side to side and crossing his arms across his chest, issuing his challenge to Delilah. She responded by matching his moves, then throwing in some extra spice to her steps before crossing her feet and spinning and stretching her leg back to kick.
Soon, the crowd caught on to what was happening and formed a circle around Luke and Delilah as they exchanged dance moves. They did their best to replicate the moves as best as they could in the tight space until the crowd opened up for them, modifying the parts that required two people and going back and forth. The crowd was clapping and cheering as Luke and Delilah exchanged dance moves until they were about to hit the infamous kick step exchange.
Delilah danced toward Luke and asked, “Join you for the kick step?”
Luke’s smile was her answer. They stepped back across from each other and danced toward each other, kicking their sides of their right shoes together once, dancing back and then toward each other, then locked their ankles and hopped around each other ending on the opposite sides. They danced back and forward again, tapping the side of their shoes together, spinning and tapping the soles of their feet together. Luke was having a blast. It’d been a lot of years since he’d done this, let alone with someone who knew the moves as well as Delilah. They completed the foot tapping sequence and like in the movie, spun out, and started dancing with the crowd that had gathered around.
Delilah, without breaking out of her groove, grabbed her coat back from the stranger who’d held it during their performance. She used a spin move to put the coat back on, the bottom of the trench flaring out as she twirled. When she stopped, she faced Luke with a challenge in her eyes as she grabbed the lapel of her coat and feigned opening it a bit.
A wicked grin split Luke’s face as he nodded.
Still dancing, she reached inside her coat, crisscrossing her arms across her body, and pulled out a stake in each hand. She kept them flat against her wrists and forearms, using her arm to hide them against her body. Luke, deciding to leave it all on the dance floor, busted into the sprinkler, much to the delight of the crowd they’d just wowed with their performance. Luke’s right arm was making the circuit as the sprinkler arm when he switched to his left arm into the extended position. As he continued spraying the crowd with his cheesy dance move, he slid his right hand down into his hood, gripping the hilt of his steel gladius. He made eye contact with Delilah and gave her the barest of nods as he drew his sword.
Once the blade cleared its scabbard, he lunged forward, stabbing the point deep into the chest of a young vampire who’d been watching the dance off. The vamp dissolved into a pile of dark red goo, splattering the people who’d been standing around her. Luke used the Roger Rabbit dance to back away from the mess on the floor as Delilah spun toward one vampire, staking it quickly in the chest before spinning and staking another one with her other stake. Both joined their former friend in a pile of viscous sludge on the dance floor.
The shock of the sudden assault stunned the onlookers until someone finally pieced together what had happened and started screaming. More people joined in as the crowd backed away from the violence, some shoving their way toward the exit.
Leaping into action, the vampires began crowd control, glamouring people and taking any cell phones from people trying to record. In a matter of moments, the fangers cleared the room so they could deal with the intruders.
Luke, grinning at their audaciousness, kept up his dancing, rotated his sword to a reverse grip, and switched into the running man. A vampire used the chaos of the evacuation and darted through the crowd, aiming a punch at Luke’s stomach. The vamp’s fist plowed into Luke’s stomach, the steel plating wrapped around Luke’s torso stopping it. He was knocked back and released a small exhalation of air. Even wearing armor, the vampire’s punch packed some force. Hissing, the vamp staggered back a step, clutching his fist. He’d probably broken several bones. Given time and the blood of some victims, he’d heal quickly. His type did.
Luke stepped forward, dragging the blade across the vampire’s throat. Reversing his rotation, he swept the vampire’s legs, knocking it to the ground. Luke plunged his sword into the vampire’s heart, giving it its final death and adding to the growing pile of goo. So far, it appeared that Luke and Delilah had only killed younger vampires, as evident by the liquid nature of their remains. Old ones tended to turn to dry matter in chunks or dust. Senior vampires, more powerful than younger ones, preferred sending in their expendable foot soldiers instead of risking their own vastly extended lives.
Delilah was currently engaged with two vampires, keeping them at bay with her stakes. They were trying to be more patient and create a distraction so one or the other could take advantage and remove her out of the fight. She attacked, causing the nearest vampire to rotate its back toward Luke. Taking the invitation, Luke ended the fanger. Relieved of one opponent, Delilah followed suit and finished hers. Together, they moved to a fresh spot on the dance floor.
Most of the random patrons had fled by this point, although Luke could detect a few humans still milling about, thralls most likely. If they were out with their masters, they were most likely of the voluntary variety, hoping for an eventual slice of immortality. One interceded for their masters and pulled a sizable knife on Delilah.
“You got this one?” Luke asked.
“Please.” Delilah spared enough of a glance toward Luke to show him an annoyed expression. She parried the knife aside and delivered a punch to the woman’s throat before kicking her back into the crowd. The only casualty, besides the thrall’s windpipe, was one of Delilah’s stakes which had stuck around the knife’s blade when it had blocked the cutting edge. Taking advantage of the distraction the thrall had provided, a vamp lunged at Delilah’s unarmed side. She’d anticipated the attack and waited until the last moment before starting her counter. Fully committed, the vampire practically impaled itself on her other stake, which she’d positioned with perfect timing.
The vampire disintegrated, creating a cloud of dust that covered Delilah. Coughing, she backed away. Luke slid up closer to her to provide any protection she might need as she tried to clear her lungs and stop coughing. Delilah wiped the dust off her face and tried patting it off her coat but was failing in the Herculean task. Her coughing finally subsiding, she nodded at Luke, indicating she was good to go.
Luke stepped away, surprised the vampires hadn’t used the distraction of a coughing opponent to attack. Instead, they’d spread out in a crescent, effectively building a wall of undead flesh between Luke and Delilah and the main exit. All the while, DJ Delilah’s mix of hip hop and club beats thumped over the speakers. Taking advantage of a spare moment and a soundtrack, Luke busted out the pendulum.
“Bruh, what are you doing?” Delilah asked.
“It’s a dance club. I’m dancing.”
“Is that what you call it? Those moves are dustier than the vamp I’m wearing.”
Ignoring Delilah’s jibe, he shifted into the cabbage patch, resurrecting the old school dance moves he’d meticulously taught himself back when they were still fresh. While he kept grooving, a small cadre of vampires standing behind their main line were having a conference, periodically glancing toward Luke and Delilah. Some of the front-line vampires had produced weapons, although most hadn’t expected to fight for their lives when they’d come out to dance and find new victims. Luke wasn’t sure why they hadn’t tried swarming them yet, other than the fact that Luke and Delilah had already downed over half a dozen vamps. Plus, everyone there had fresh memories of the carnage Luke had committed only a few months ago. They probably didn’t want to be next in line to die.
Most of the weapons were small knives—switchblades and butterfly knives. One vamp had even produced a stun gun. Luke had no idea what a taser would do against his armor. It blocked physical attacks, but the steel over sweat soaked padding and undershirt might arc over his entire torso, his hoodie allowing the prongs, if it was a distance taser, to stick and pump its electricity into his body.
“Heads up. One of them has a stun gun,” Luke warned Delilah.
Delilah acknowledged him, grunting while planting a stake in a vampire that had gotten too close. The vampire twisted as it dissolved on itself, tangling Delilah’s stake in its suddenly extra loose clothing. “Fuck, that was my last one.”
Stepping in front of Delilah to keep anyone from lunging at her, Luke reached over his shoulder and pulled his rudis, handing it to her.
“Thanks.” Delilah stepped out from behind him.
“Can you hold the line?”
“Yeah.” She oriented herself so that she faced the largest portion of the vamp line, keeping an eye on the entire frontage.
Knowing she was ready and covering his back, Luke feinted toward his left. The line shifted to adjust, a few tangled up with each other. Luke lunged to the side, delivering a vicious slash to the neck of the vamp, removing his head, the taser clattering to the floor. He danced back. Delilah shifted to the side to make room.
“What are they waiting for?” Delilah asked.
“No idea. Not sure I like it.”
Delilah narrowed her eyes as she looked over the line of vampires. “Well, I hope they get on with it soon.”
Luke scanned the room. “I’m more concerned about police obfuscating our exit.”
“Yeah, I’m not interested in three hots and a cot.”
“Me neither.” Luke hadn’t heard any sirens yet, which also surprised him. His supernaturally enhanced hearing would give him plenty of notice. “If we don’t see some activity soon—”
“The door!” Delilah pointed with the rudis.
The door leading into the club opened, and vampires streamed in. They flared out, adding to the bulwark between Luke and Delilah and the exit. The last man through the door was well-dressed, wearing an overcoat with the collar turned up against the rain and cold outside and a patch cap. The combination of cap and collar obscured his face until he shucked his coat, handing it to one of the vamps standing nearby and looked up toward Luke.
“Well, well, well. Lucius. What am I going to do with you?
Luke rolled his eyes and shook his head. Something slammed into him, knocking him forward. Delilah had lunged toward Cassius. Recovering instantly, he wrapped his left arm around Delilah’s waist as she tried to tear away from his hold and attack Cassius. He lifted her off her feet, barely keeping her contained. He backed up and put some distance between them and the fangers.
“My evening just got more amusing. Your little friend appears distraught.”
Luke grunted in response, trying to keep Delilah from getting away and biting off more trouble than either of them could chew. He didn’t like the current odds. Keeping his voice low, he addressed Delilah, “Control. This isn’t the time. There are too many.”
Either she was too engrossed in her rage or was choosing to ignore Luke. “You killed my father!”
“It’s possible. I’ve probably killed lots of fathers. What makes yours memorable?”
The flippant answer incensed Delilah further. She surged forward, nearly breaking Luke’s grip. He added his other arm, wrapping it around her carefully to avoid cutting her with his sword.
Luke pleaded with her. “Dee, please.” He hoped the nickname her friend used would get through to her.
Cassius narrowed his eyes slightly. “I recognize you. You had more hair then, before I ripped it out. So you’re Oyelakin’s brat. I see you managed to track me down. I’m almost impressed.”
“You keep his name out of your mouth,” Delilah yelled.
A warm drop splashed on Luke’s hand, followed by more. Delilah’s rage was ebbing, or at least its physical manifestation. She finally settled down and stopped fighting, tears falling down her cheeks.
“What am I going to do with you two? You’ve come to my place of business and killed my associates, yet again. I should tear you to pieces, but that’s so messy.” He nodded toward one of his goons who grabbed a couple of vampires and went to the back hall, returning a few moments later with cleaning supplies. “I’m not ready to deal with you yet. Besides, I have a business to run and profits to sink my teeth into.”
Something distracted him briefly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. Checking it, he typed in something with his thumbs, his fingers moving like lightning, fueled by his vampiric speed. Hand moving back toward his pocket, he perked up, arching an ear back toward the exit. A few seconds later, the sounds of sirens drifted over the rainy night sky.
Cassius grinned. “Ah, Good. We’ve delayed them enough. That’s our cue to leave. Let’s leave them to the police, shall we? I’m sure they’d love a hand to match all the fingerprints they’ve collected over the years.”
The crew cleaning the floors had finished and were removing the evidence to the back hallway. Delilah, sensing she was about to lose her opportunity to avenge herself on the creature that had murdered her father, tensed, lightly straining against Luke’s still firm grasp around her middle.
“Not now. It’s escape time,” Luke hissed between clenched teeth.
“I know. I really do, but it’s just not going to happen right now.”
She nodded curtly and stopped pushing against his arm. He didn’t slacken his grip though; he wasn’t interested in engaging in a fight this lopsided.
“Until we meet again, Lucius…” Cassius put his coat back on, then turned and walked out the door, his team of bodyguards following suit. The wall of vampires held their position, allowing their boss to make his exit. After a few more moments, they edged backwards toward the door. Avoiding jamming at the door, they exited in an orderly fashion, tearing away at breakneck sprints as soon as they’d cleared the door and reached the sidewalk outside.
Luke checked that Delilah’s beanie with its fake beard was in place, then made sure the exit was actually clear. The disguise, paired with large sunglasses, would do well enough to obscure their faces if any neighborhood security cameras captured their escape, though he doubted any of them would be working with vampires owning a business so close. They’d likely make sure the anything pointed in the area of their night club had been disabled after a convenient glamour augmented conversation with whoever maintained them.
Delilah nodded. Together pushed the doors open, turned right, and broke into a sprint toward their extraction point.
At the end of the block, he turned the corner when pain exploded across his back and brutally shoved him to the ground. A moment later, he heard the boom of a high caliber gun. He skidded on the sidewalk, the concrete scraping skin off his bare palms. His face burned above his left eye where his brow had landed against the ground and skidded with him.
Delilah slid to a stop and ran back to Luke. “Luke, are you OK? Get up! We got to go…”
Luke could barely make out what she was saying through the fog of shock. “Ger…gerway fro me.” He tried to shove her away from him.
Understanding dawned. She grabbed Luke’s arm and yanked him up and into a stoop leading to a door in the brick wall they were standing next to. Luke feebly assisted her, his legs tripping him as much as shoving his body after her.
“Gun. Sniper.” Luke’s head was clearing a bit.
“Oh, shit!” She began frantically checking Luke for bullet holes and blood. “I…I don’t see any holes or blood. Did you trip?”
“Armor, I think…”
“It’s bulletproof?” She sounded astonished.
“Magic. Like the swords.” He was having trouble forming complete sentences.
They huddled close to each other, trying to squeeze the bulk of two tall people, one of whom was wearing heavy armor, into the alcove so nothing was in the open. Delilah reached into her coat, pulled out her cell phone, and made a call.
“Change of plans. Pick us up…” She looked around to get her bearings. “Just east of Stumptown. Leave the tailgate down.”
She put the phone back. “Hang on, Luke. Pablo is on his way. Can you move quick enough to get to his truck?”
“Yeah. My head’s clearing a bit. It hit the concrete pretty hard.”
Delilah snorted. “Your hard head probably did more damage to the sidewalk than the other way around.”
He weakly held up his hand and pulled his fingers and thumb in, leaving the middle finger up. The sound of wheels screeching as someone took the corner too fast were followed by tires screaming against the pavement as a large vehicle locked up its brakes, sending the smell of burnt rubber into the air.
“That’s Pablo. We’re going into the bed.” She squatted and helped Luke up, lifting under his arms. He stood but wobbled some. “You sure you’re going to make it?”
“My body can handle it. Except for some dinged up knees, my legs are fine. Listen, when we go out, you stay on my right side so my armor is between you and wherever that sniper is. Keep your head down, let me cover your body as best as we can. I have some modicum of protection.”
“Ready?” Delilah asked.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Delilah snaked an arm under his shoulder, around his upper back, and helped him dart out and across the sidewalk. They ducked behind a car just as its rear window exploded into shards followed by another boom.
The passenger side window of Pablo’s truck rolled down, and Pablo yelled out, “Don’t get my truck shot. Hurry up!”
Delilah made eye contact with Luke. They nodded at each other and jumped into the bed of Pablo’s black Toyota Tacoma, grabbing the safety harnesses they’d rigged in the back. Delilah slammed the butt of her fist on the floor of the bed and yelled, “Go!”
Pablo mashed the pedal on the pickup, sending it lurching forward.
Delilah and Luke clung on desperately, trying to avoid being thrown out the back. They heard the distant boom of the sniper rifle. It didn’t appear to have hit anything on the truck, at least that they could see or feel. Pablo screeched around another corner and away from the line of fire of the hidden sniper. He slowed down, balancing escape against drawing the attention of any cops. He was decidedly more on the side of escape than subtlety. But with each passing block and turn, the scales tipped toward blending in.
Luke, judging it to be safe, let go of the harness and crawled to the tailgate. He grabbed the edge of it and pulled back. It tipped up a bit.
Apparently, he felt weaker than he thought. “Delilah, need some help.”
Delilah scooted down next to him and grabbed onto the tailgate. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three!”
Together they pulled back, Luke grunting in pain. The tailgate slammed home. Luke slid to the left and grabbed the latch of the canopy door. Delilah took the right one. Together, they pulled it down and rotated the latches enough to lock it.
Luke grinned weakly. “It’s illegal to ride in the bed of a pickup truck in Oregon.”
Delilah looked at him, one eyebrow quirked up and a smirk across her face. Now that they were on the move and the truck was closed up, the tension of the situation broke. She started to laugh. “Of all the illegal shit we did tonight, that was the thing that was going to undo us?”
He started chuckling too before wincing. “Oh, that hurts. I hope I didn’t break a rib.”
Delilah crawled back to the head of the truck bed and propped herself up in a partially sitting position. “I thought the armor stopped the bullet?”
“I think it did. But it didn’t eat up the force. I still got punched hard. That level of force will do a lot of damage to a body, even with armor. You remember the punishment my body took last winter on the pedestrian bridge…”
Delilah nodded. “Yeah. You took an epic beat down.”
“Took a couple broken ribs out of that too.” Luke reached up and straightened the beard beanie so it was no longer askew after he’d landed on it.
“Come sit up here. It’ll be more comfortable.”
“I think I’ll just lie flat for now.” He groaned as he tried to move.
Delilah scooted around so she was propped up against the side of the bed and canopy. “At least scoot up a bit and rest your head on my leg. It’ll be more comfortable than against the hard truck bed.”
Luke complied, using his feet to shove himself toward Delilah. Once he got close enough, he lifted himself on his elbows and relaxed onto Delilah’s lap. “Thanks, Delilah.”
He looked up at her, making eye contact as she looked down at his face. “Where’d you learn the House Party dance moves? You’re too young.”
“My dad taught me when I was growing up. After Mom died, he wanted to make sure I was in touch with my culture, so we watched a lot of Black movies and listened to Black music. We’d have dance parties in the living room and learn all the moves…”
The last thing Luke saw before he dozed off to the soothing sound of her voice was Delilah smiling softly down at him.
Pablo opened the canopy and dropped the tailgate. “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey! Well, isn’t that precious.”
The jolt and clang of the tailgate flopping down dragged Luke up from the depths of his concussion-addled unconsciousness. Delilah had fallen asleep sometime during Pablo’s long evasion route. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She looked down at Luke whose head was still resting in her lap. “He’s still out. He took a hit to the head and might have a concussion. I’m not sure.”
“Well, Doc is here watching the kid. Also thought it would be a good idea to have medical attention on hand if we needed it, and Luke always seems to need it.”
Delilah, cradling Luke’s head, scooted out from under him and gently set his head down. He tossed and turn a bit, mumbling some words in a language neither Pablo nor Delilah had ever heard. Delilah reached down and gently shook his arm.
“Luke, we’re here. Wake up.”
His eyes fluttered open. “Wuh…where?”
“We’re home, buddy. At least your home,” Pablo added.
Luke extended a hand to Delilah, who gripped his forearm and helped him to a sitting potion. Luke gathered his legs under him and got onto his knees before settling onto his hands and crawling out. He propped himself up against the lowered tailgate. Delilah joined him on the ground. The sun was creeping up in the east, adding a gentle gray to the dark of the night.
“Pablo, get under his other arm. You know the drill,” Delilah said.
The two of them propped Luke up on their shoulders and walked him toward the door.
The door popped open as they approached it, a curvy blonde woman of medium height holding it open.
“How bad is it?” Doctor Maggie Rabinowitz asked, a Polish accent coloring her voice.
“Unknown. He took a shot in the back somewhere from a sniper. I don’t think it penetrated his armor, but he hit the ground hard. Maybe a concussion. Maybe some broken ribs.” Delilah moved out from under Luke’s arm so he could get through the door.
Maggie smiled and shook her head. “He does manage to find new and exciting ways to injure himself, doesn’t he?”
“That’s my pal!” Pablo added, smirking at Luke.
Luke held up his hand, giving the doctor a weak thumbs up.
“Into the kitchen,” the doctor ordered.
As they passed through the entry hall into the living room, Luke spotted his ward Gwendolyn sleeping on the couch.
Following Luke’s gaze, Maggie filled him in. “She was worried about you, so we watched a movie, and she fell asleep. When I tried to move her, she’d stir, so I just let her sleep.”
Luke nodded before regretting the motion. Pablo and Delilah propped Luke up against the counter and began stripping him of his gear. Delilah fetched the armor stand Luke kept upstairs. With jacket, shirt, swords, and armor removed, they guided him into a kitchen chair.
“Is my armor damaged?” Luke asked, trying to twist around to look at it. He groaned in pain.
“Sit straight, dude.” Pablo held up the armor for Luke to inspect. “Doesn’t look like it. It’s a good thing you have divine friends and magic armor.” Pablo set it on the armor stand Delilah had set up.
Luke squinted at the spot where he thought he’d been hit but didn’t see so much as a scratch. “I’m lucky it hit one of the bands and not one of the many weak points.”
“I’m more concerned about your health. Shirt and padding off,” Maggie commanded.
Luke raised his arms and Pablo peeled the padding and undershirt off, tossing them aside. A massive, ugly, purple bruise spread across Luke’s back with the epicenter just below his right shoulder blade. Luke winced as Maggie probed around trying to detect any broken ribs.
“I don’t feel anything obviously broken. Might have gotten lucky with just some hairline fractures. That shoulder’s going to be pretty useless until it heals.” She eyed the various scars splashed across Luke’s torso. Evidence of slashes and stabs and what looked like an arrow wound. “That’s quite the collection of scars you’ve got there.”
A light, sleepy voice came from the doorway to the living room. “Are you OK, Luke?”
Luke turned his head to address Gwen. “I think so, little one. Doc?”
“You’ll live. We’ll get you down to the clinic soon and get an x-ray to be on the safe side. You don’t want a punctured lung,” Maggie said.
“I’m OK. Why don’t you go crawl into your bed. Take Alfred with you.”
Gwen nodded, picked up the giant orange tabby, and headed to the back of the house.
Maggie looked at Pablo and Delilah. “Pablo, get me some water and a washcloth. Delilah, my kit is by the couch. Can you grab it for me?”
Pablo complied, handing the doctor a bowl of water and a clean red dishrag. She dabbed Luke’s forehead, cleaning the road rash from his fall. Delilah returned and opened the kit, spreading it on the table within easy reach for Maggie. She grabbed a small set of forceps and pulled a few small pieces of debris from Luke’s head wound. Satisfied it was clean, she smeared antibacterial ointment on it and covered it with a bandage.
Maggie repeated the process on his hands. “Anywhere else I need to look?”
“Those knees don’t look too good, Doc,” Pablo supplied.
Luke looked down at his knees, seeing the torn jeans and the bloody flesh under, and sighed.
“Better drop your pants,” Maggie said.
Luke extended a hand to Pablo, who helped him stand. He unbuttoned his pants, dropped the zipper, and pushed his pants down, careful to make sure his underwear stayed firmly in place. Not bothering to bend over and take them all the way off, he left them around his ankles, then sat back down.
Maggie had Pablo get another bowl of water and another clean cloth. Carefully dabbing so as not to drive in the debris, she cleaned the torn-up skin on his knees, then picked out pebbles, shards of glass, and a few unidentified pieces. She covered his knees with large bandages and stood up.
“Anything else?” Maggie asked
Luke lifted his arms and looked down at his nearly nude body. “I’m not hiding any wounds in my underpants, so I think that’s it, Doc.” Luke said, using the informal mode of address he’d picked up from Pablo. Maggie didn’t seem to mind.
She nodded. “Well, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to head home. Get some rest. When you wake up, call me and we’ll get those ribs x-rayed. Bring Gwen with you; she’s due for a checkup. Plus, I want to get a blood draw and check her hormone levels, see how the puberty blockers are working.”
Luke caught her hand before she could leave. Looking into her eyes, he said, “Thank you for everything, Doc. Thanks for staying with the kid. I’ll give you a call to get us both down to the clinic.”
Maggie smiled softly. “Oh, no problem. I’m glad she trusts me enough to let me watch her. She’s come a long way from the skittish kid afraid of her own kind.”
“She’s still wary of most werewolves, except for you, Sam, and Pablo,” Delilah said.
“It’s a start, at least. I’ll see you all later.” She squeezed Luke’s hand and released it.
“Good night, Maggie. Well, good morning, I guess,” added Delilah.
“Get some rest, you three. And Luke…”
“Don’t overdo it until you heal. Hairline fractures can still break, and I don’t feel like treating you for a punctured lung.”
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