Home > Dark Dancer (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #3)(2)

Dark Dancer (Rosie O'Grady's Paranormal Bar and Grill #3)(2)
Author: B.R. Kingsolver

The train crossed the river, and I changed trains at the North Bank Station. The train to the university headed west along the river, gradually trailing north, then turned up the hill to its final stop across the street from the university. I disembarked onto Campus Avenue, with the university campus on one side of the street, and bars, restaurants, and boutiques on the other. Trevor and Jolene had once taken me to a restaurant at the west end of the street that had the most incredible view of the northern part of the bay.

But I also had another objective. When I first moved to Westport and people asked me where I went to college, I enjoyed the expressions on their faces when I told them I was a high school dropout. However, I soon figured out that with my lack of formal education, and my reticence to talk about my past, a lot of people assumed I had been a drug addict or a part of some weird cult. The last assumption was too close to the truth for comfort.

One of the day-shift bartenders told me about a test I could take to get a high school equivalency certificate that would allow me to apply to universities. I liked my job but didn’t want to spend the rest of my life pouring drinks and babysitting drunks. Mages, barring accidents, lived a very long time.

My other skills weren’t valued very highly by normal society. What would I put on a resume for useful skills and experience? Decapitation? Assassination? Led assault on a vampire’s mansion? Can punch through the walls of an armored car with my magic? Not the sort of girl that nice men wanted to take home to meet mom, or that respectable organizations wanted to hire.

I walked onto the campus, marveling at being in a place where almost everyone was my age, give or take a few years. In the City of the Illuminati, I was used to practically everyone except the other trainees being either decades or centuries older than I was. Even my friends I met at Rosie’s were all older than me.

I picked up a university catalog at the administration building, then walked over to the restaurant and got a table next to the windows. I paged through the book, trying to imagine spending my time studying the various subjects.

Art History looked like fun, but when I checked on the internet through my phone, I found I would need a PhD to get a good job as an art expert, and I’d probably be thirty before I finished school. A deeper check showed that, for some reason, most of the top jobs in academia, museums, and galleries were held by men, even though more women worked in the field.

The same was true for history, but the pay was barely more than I made as a bartender. Engineering, computers, and chemistry did pay well, but I didn’t want to spend my life in a smelly laboratory or locked up in a basement. Forestry meant I could live out in the middle of nowhere, earning less than a bartender, and with few prospects to meet a man who wasn’t a lumberjack or a pot farmer. I was beginning to wonder if getting an education was really worth it.

Then I hit architecture, and the more I read, the more intrigued I became. Because of my unique magical talents, the Illuminati had given me significant instruction in structural engineering, even if they didn’t call it that. Determining the weak points of a building or a fortress and then either breaking in or bringing it down was a skill they thought might be useful.

I turned to the page on tuition costs. That didn’t just puncture my dreams, it blew a cannonball-sized hole in them. I didn’t make that much money in a year, even if I lived on the street and didn’t eat. The catalog cheerfully told me I could borrow the money, but a quick calculation showed I would have to hit the lottery to have a hope of ever paying it back.

I closed the book and put it in my bag. Jolene had once joked that “sugar daddies” lived in the mansions on the islands out in the bay. I could probably find one if I put an effort into it, even though no one would call me a great beauty. The Illuminati had trained me well in the arts of seduction. I knew how to dress, and my looks probably wouldn’t start to fade for another hundred years or more. However, like bank theft, that was a part of my old life I had vowed to leave behind.

The associate degree program in hospitality management at the community college looked like my best choice. I could afford it and could start taking classes the following summer, assuming the Hunters’ Guild didn’t find me and kill me before my twenty-fourth birthday.

That evening, shortly after the start of my shift, a tall man walked in wearing a long black cloak with a peaked hood. He pulled the hood back to reveal a face that belonged in a romance movie, or maybe he had been the model for Michaelango’s David. Curly brown hair to his collar, full, sensual lips, a straight narrow nose, a strong chin, and piercing blue eyes. A dhampir, owing fealty to the new vampire Master of the City.

“Out!” I shouted, freezing him in his tracks. “You’re not allowed in here.”

“But, I just wanted…”

“Out! You’re banned!” I grabbed the magic-infused, sawed-off baseball bat from under the bar and started around the bar to meet him. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several of our regulars stand, ready to help me enforce my order. Drawing on ley line energy, I directed that energy to push the dhampir back out the door.

He stumbled backward. Casting a glance at the sign with Rosie’s Rules on it, he said, “But, why?”

“Why? Why? How fucking stupid are you? Kidnapping a customer and giving her to a vampire? You know why that isn’t on the list? Because simple common sense says that it’s socially unacceptable, and normal people don’t do things like that!” I was furious, standing in front of him, shaking the bat in his face. “Consider this your one and only warning. You try to come in here again, I’ll kneecap you and dance on your face!”

He turned and lurched out the door. I heard clapping from the crowd.

“Damn!” I was so mad I smacked the wall with the bat, knocking a hole in it the size of my head.

“Woops! Crap!”

Behind me, the bar erupted with laughter.

I whirled around, my face feeling like it was on fire. “Anyone have a magical way of fixing that?” I asked.

That was greeted with more laughter.

One guy stood up and walked over to me, inspected the hole, and said, “Not magic, but I’ve got stuff out in my truck to do the job. Can’t match the paint, though.” He straightened up. “Trade you tonight’s bar tab?”

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” I said.

He went outside, and after a few minutes, came in with some tools and a piece of sheetrock a bit larger than the hole. Forty minutes later, he packed up his tools and took them back outside. When he came back, I had a beer and a shot waiting for him.

“It can be painted tomorrow,” he said. “You’ll have to ask Sam about the color, though. Might have to paint the whole wall to make sure you get a color match.”

A couple of witches got up from their table and went over to look at the patch. One of them sketched runes around the repair, then they held hands and chanted something in a language that I didn’t know. All evidence of the patch disappeared, and the smooth wall looked just the way it had before I hit it.

With bright smiles, the witches approached the bar. “I don’t suppose we could talk you into a free drink, could we?” one of them asked.

“Is that permanent?”

“Probably good for a couple of hundred years, or until you get pissed off again,” the other witch said.

“I think free drinks would be a brilliant idea,” I replied, and started mixing their favorites.

The bus dropped me off near my apartment building, and before I had gone ten steps, a cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows. I jumped back and pulled power from the ley line.

“Oh, no. Not you again,” I said. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

The dhampir pushed back his hood and said, “I have information for you.”

“Tell Laurent to call me. He has my phone number.”

“My master doesn’t know what I need to tell you. Stephanie’s body was found on the banks of the Potomac River. I just got the call from the Fairfax, Virginia, police today.”

A chill swept through me. I knew the name because Gabriel Laurent had blackmailed me, saying that if I didn’t do his bidding, a dhampir named Stephanie would tell Rudolf Heine, the one member of the Illuminati Council still alive, that I was in Westport.

“And why doesn’t Monsieur Laurent know this?”

“I’m not sure what he will do. I thought you deserved the warning.”

Something wasn’t fitting together. A vampire’s thrall going behind his master’s back? Thinking independently? And this guy owed me nothing. I had never been anything but nasty to him.

“How did she die?”

“The police said she was naked, her wrists and ankles were bound, her throat was cut, and then she was thrown in the river.” That sentence ended almost in a sob. Things were getting weirder. I knew that dhampir were actually human and had emotions, unlike vampires, but he was acting strange.

“Why did the cops call you?”

“Because I am her next of kin. She is—was—my half-sister.”

Well, that was a bit of a shocker. Dhampir usually didn’t have blood relatives, but then again, the guy talking to me was the exception to the common belief that all dhampir were female.

“Laurent told me a month ago that she had been missing for a couple of weeks,” I said. “When do the cops think she died?”

“Recently. They said it appeared she had been tortured. They wanted to know if I knew what she was doing, why someone might want to do that to her.”

A chill crept through my body. That sounded like something Rudolf would do. What I could easily envision him doing to me.

“And what did you tell them?”

“What could I tell them? Rudolf Heine is three hundred years old. He doesn’t exist.” He took a deep breath. “Steph didn’t know the name you’re using, just that the Scorpion was here in Westport. So, he would still have to find you.”

As long as Stephanie’s brother was being so talkative, I decided to ask him a question on a different topic that had been bugging me.

   
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