Mercy Bound #2
I was in the upstairs bathroom listening to my Dead Milkmen mixed tape, brushing my teeth and shaking my ass to the beat of Punk Rock Girl when I got The Call. Not by the Lord or anything like that. I’ve got nothing against the big G or religion in general, but I’ve never really taken to it for the same reasons I’ve never taken to learning magic from my aunt. An aversion to adhering to authority, a foxhole mentality when it comes to prayer, and a nasty habit of asking silly questions such as, “Yeah, yeah, faith and all that, but how is it possible to fit all those animals onto one tiny boat?” made me a poor choice in acolytes.
Nor was this particular call courtesy of Ma Belle, though a heads up would have been appreciated. It would have been nice to get a little warning before the gut-churning feeling in my stomach and the twinge in my legs tugged me away from my bathroom sink before I had the chance to spit out my toothpaste or change out of my PJ’s and grungy pink fuzzy slippers. That and the fact that I knew where that tugging feeling was pulling me set my minty fresh teeth on edge.
Not that I would have accepted the phone call. I had been avoiding him for weeks now.
Which is probably why he hasn’t bothered this time, I thought with only a mild case of guilt as I rushed out of the bathroom.
The “call”, for lack of a better word, had come from Adam Worth. Adam—or Woogie Bear, as I like to call him since it irritates him to no end—is a persnickety century year old vampire with a stick so far up his ass, I’m amazed he doesn’t stake himself every time he sits down. He’s also the persnickety vampire I was thrice bound to by blood a couple months past, a blood bond that had saved him from being decapitated by an angry werewolf and had kept me from being sexually assaulted.
Don’t ask. It’s a long story.
Unfortunately for me, it also meant that he could compel me to come to him from any distance, whenever he wanted, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it short of chaining myself down. Even then, I’d probably find a way to chew through the chains if my Aunt Lolita is to be believed.
“The least he could do is pick me up himself,” I muttered bitterly as my feet pounded down the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. On my way down, I spotted Lulu and Pedro who were on their way up, both eyeing my face with queer expressions.
The family homestead had been converted into a boarding house by Aunt Lottie years ago and the two were boarders in good standing. Lulu in particular was her longest running tenant as well as a member of Aunt Lottie’s coven and her best friend. Pedro was what I liked to call a “document expert” or the guy you go to if you need papers in a hurry, no questions asked. You know, like a green card or a fake ID. Pedro was the best of the best—at least, he claimed he was, and like most people, he was blissfully unaware of the existence of vampires and witches—real witches, not the religious stuff—so I couldn’t just come out and say, “Hey guys! I’m on my way to meet my vampire lord and master. Be a couple of dears and let Aunt Lottie know I won’t be back ‘till the morrow.”
“You goin’ rabid little girl?” Lulu called out to me in her thick Yat accent.
Grimacing, I wiped the ring of toothpaste from my lips with the back of my hand and said without stopping, “Tell Aunt Lottie I’m going to see Adam.”
Lulu frowned, but didn’t try to stop me. She was well aware of my bond and knew from experience what stopping me would get her. Last time it was a busted lip and some bruises, and that was when I was only once bound. I imagined this time I’d throw her down the stairs, breaking every bone in her body. Well, maybe. Lulu had a little extra…padding that might help break her fall. A few hundred pounds of padding. Regardless, I was grateful she hadn’t tried to get in my way.
“Girl must really be in love with that boy if she’s hightailing it to see him without getting dressed first,” I heard Pedro say with a chuckle as I made my way down to the kitchen where the keys to my clunky yellow Vespa were hanging on the wall near the door.
If I had known this was going to happen, I would have kept a fire spell charm on my keychain. I so wanted to burn Adam’s undead ass for this.
The Vespa was waiting for me in the driveway next to Aunt Lottie’s hippy mobile, a ’67 Volkswagen microbus. In this cold weather, it would have been nice if I could have taken the van instead, but I had no idea where Lottie’s keys were and my itchy feet weren’t going to give me time to search for them. I climbed on the Vespa, teeth chattering in the cold night air, and sighed in despondency as I noticed the gas gage was distressingly low. I barely had enough gas to get from Epiphany to New Orleans, much less make a round trip. My personal finances were deep in the crapper since my last job at Popeyes had ended after a disastrous exploding turkey incident nearly a week ago.
The plan had been to celebrate my first paycheck by buying and cooking a turkey for Lolita and the rest of her coven. I owed the girls a lot of groveling for the bumps and bruises I had inflicted upon them the last time Adam had come a callin’. Especially Minnie. A few simple mea culpas wouldn’t cut it with her what with the fact that I had thrown her through a window. Her mother Olive was good enough to inform me that she had only needed seven stitches and that the wound was healing nicely, but Minnie had taken to avoiding me ever since. If Aunt Lottie held a coven meeting at our house, Minnie didn’t bother to show. If they held it at Olive’s place and I tagged along, Minnie would find an excuse to leave early. I needed to make things right between us. I figured if I cooked for everyone she’d have to come over if only to prove that such a miraculous event was possible.
My conciliatory meal hadn’t gone as expected though. The fact that I didn’t know the first thing about cooking was a strike against me, I know, but seriously, how was I to know you shouldn’t stick a whole turkey into a deep fryer without defrosting it first? You’d think those things would come with warning labels or something.
If I made it to New Orleans without the Vespa conking out or running dry, mien liege was going to have to foot the bill for the return trip. Forced to rely on Adam’s generosity, I might never make it back home.
That’s what was really worrying me as the moped miraculously started up on the third try. It was the reason I had been avoiding New Orleans since New Years, the reason I had been dodging Adam’s phone calls. The last time I had gone to the city for a simple job interview, I was stuck there for three days, got mixed up in a vampire power struggle that ended with me getting blood bound to the grumpiest vampire ever, not to mention, all the beatings and various rape attempts I experienced in between. I realize New Orleans is supposed to be the city that care forgot, but Jesus jumping Christ!
I puttered through traffic on US-90, freezing my ass off because I had left my coat at home in my haste. Traffic was heavy, but not as bad as it could have been seeing as it was Mardi Gras season. That changed once I got to Bridge City. No parades were scheduled for the night, but traffic was backed up due to an accident on the Huey P. Long Bridge forcing me to take the Westbank Expressway to the Crescent City Connection. I could have just waited for the accident to clear. The Huey P. is a narrow two lane nightmare on the best of days and the accident would have made it worse. I’d probably never make it to my destination, which wouldn’t have been such a bad deal if it weren’t for the uncomfortable feeling in my gut that refused to be ignored and the fact that it had to be 40 degrees out, not counting the wind chill factor.
As I drove down the Expressway with the bitter cold wind whipping through my hair and stinging my eyes, I debated over whether or not to allow myself to get side-swiped by another car. Maybe the compulsion to find Adam would go away if I were out cold and snuggling safely on a gurney in the back of a warm ambulance. Making Adam feel guilty over compelling me without warning me first had a certain appeal. It would cause him to worry over how Lolita was going to take it when she found out which was also a plus. He was terrified of Aunt Lottie, and for good reason. Apparently, the woman had some major joojoo working for her because so was everyone else in the greater New Orleans area. She was also famous for hating anything with fangs and an allergy to sunlight, could do a fire summing spell without the use of charms, and had excellent aim—a fact Adam was uncomfortably aware of.
In the end, I decided against it. Not because the accident might kill me. I knew it wouldn’t kill me. I’m a death oracle. A fated death oracle. I can touch someone and see the most likely way that person will die on any given day. It’s a nifty talent to have when you want to make sure your friends and loved ones don’t end up taking that one bus that’s going to be smashed like an accordion in a ten car pile-up or go to the bank the same day it’s about to be held up by gun-happy bank robbers. The tradeoff in my case is that I can’t change my own death. That’s where the fated part comes in. I know how and when I’m going to die, and nothing I do will ever change it. Well, not unless I want it to come sooner. But I’ve been there, done that, and was never going to do it again, especially since I had so little time left as it is. And if you knew just how bad my death was going to be, you’d understand why getting splattered all over the Expressway held no fear for me, even if it could kill me.
There was no chance of my existence being ended on US-90, but that didn’t mean the accident wouldn’t get someone else killed. I’d just as soon die with a clear conscience. Defeated, I accepted my fate and drove across the Crescent City Connection, passing the tollbooth for which I had no money and would now owe a considerable fine I couldn’t even begin to pay. Thank you so much Adam.
My body was on autopilot. I didn’t know where my destination would take me; whether I would end up at Adam’s PI firm, Rogue Investigations, or his maker Horatio’s Garden District mansion or his nightclub in the quarter. I had been to both the Amaranthus—Horatio’s club—as well as the mansion, but had never set foot in Adam’s place of business. I didn’t care where I ended up, just so long as I didn’t have to stay there. And if Horatio wasn’t there, that would be good too. I had no patience for him tonight. I sure as hell didn’t want him leering at me while I stood before him, braless, in a thin white cami that showed just how cold I was, and a pair of purple drawstring sweat pants that had one or two holes located in the worst possible places.
Thank God I was wearing panties.
At least I knew Adam wouldn’t leer at me. Adam never leered. It was hard enough getting the serious bastard to give at least a half-watt smile.
When I took the O’Keefe exit instead of heading down I-10 East, I knew it wasn’t going to be the club. When I kept straight on O’Keefe, missing the turn onto Howard Ave that would have taken me around Lee Circle and onto St. Charles Avenue, I knew it wouldn’t be Horatio’s mansion either. This didn’t mean the bastard wouldn’t be making an appearance since in all likelihood he was the one who had commanded Adam to call me in the first place. The one good thing about our blood bond is that while Adam can command me to go where ever he wants me to go, he can’t make me perform just any old trick. If he told me to stay, I had to stay, but if he told me to kill the next person I saw, he was shit out of luck. Horatio could make Adam come and go. Horatio could make Adam kill. Horatio could make Adam do anything he wanted because he was Adam’s maker. As much as I hated being permanently tethered to a cranky bastard with fangs, I had to admit that I had the better end of the deal. It was almost enough to make me feel sorry for him.
Or it would have been, if it hadn’t started raining five minutes before I pulled up to the building on Poydras Street, the building, I assumed, where Rogue investigations was located.
I steered the Vespa into a parking garage next to the building, grateful to be out of the downpour. I was able to control my compulsion long enough to pause at the entrance tollbooth where the parking attendant took one look at my bedraggled appearance and did an eye goggling double take. If he tried to stop me, I was going to give the man a beat down, and not just because he was staring at my tits through my now soaking wet cami. I was thinking my Woogie had better be willing to supply the bail money for my assault and battery arrest, when the boom barrier came up and the lucky attendant waved me through.
On the first level, I parked my moped in a spot marked Reserved parking. Rogue Investigations employees only, climbed off, and made my way to a metal door with the words Lobby Entrance written in stark white letters. The lobby was a huge room with a high ceiling, black marble walls, and dark gray slate floor tiles. There were elevators on both sides and a round reception desk in the middle of the room that was not currently occupied by an employee. The building looked closed for the night. There would be no one around to get a load of my bedraggled appearance, which was a relief. At the same time, it left me with the dilemma of not being able to ask anyone for directions. My squelching feet were dragging me towards the nearest elevator faster than I had time to look around for one of those You are here maps you see in malls and office buildings.
Once inside the elevator, I stared at the buttons feeling stupid. Adam could call me to him. He couldn’t psychically send me images of which floor he was on. I sensed it was up. How far up I had no clue. There were twenty-six floors in this building. Checking each floor was going to be exhausting, but if he didn’t send me some hints soon, I was going to have to do it. That or climb the wires in the elevator shaft. I’m not joking. I really would have done that if it came down to it. If this puppy broke down before I made it to my destination I was screwed.
I was contemplating vampiric homicide when the elevator doors slid closed revealing a note with a hand drawn map of the twentieth floor, suite 2010 circled twice, and words neatly printed in red ink that said, Wipe your feet before entering. I scowled at the note. If I could burn things with the force of my hatred, that note would have been ash. And possibly the building and everyone in it too.
I pressed the button for the twentieth floor. Rain water dripped from my hair and clothes, making a puddle on the elevator floor while mind numbing musak serenaded me through invisible speakers. If I couldn’t get The Girl from Ipanema out of my head by the time I made it to his office, I was going to find the pointiest wooden object I could lay my hands on and shove it through Adam’s heart via his ass.
The doors opened to a long hallway lined with glass doors, most of which were doctor’s offices and law firms. All were closed for the night. There was one business with a cartoon computer with an ice bag on its head, a thermometer sticking out of its mouth, and the words KonpyutaNoKosho.com with some Japanese characters written underneath it. Some kind of computer repair shop, I figured. Or it had been. A quick peek inside revealed an empty room without so much as a lick of furniture and a piece of cardboard lying on the floor that had probably fallen from the door. The sign alerted the public that this establishment was no longer in business. This must be one of those failed dot com businesses I had heard about on the news. A couple months ago I had saved a paranoid, tinfoil wearing Y2K nut from busting his head open in his fallout shelter. For some reason KonpyutaNoKosho brought him to mind. The new millennium might not have brought about the coming apocalypse, but it did bring a string of online business bankruptcies the media was calling “The Dot Com bubble”. Maybe Y2K guy wasn’t too far off the mark after all.
That tugging feeling in the pit of my stomach led my squelching feet around a corner, in front of an office with double glass doors, a place mat, and a white rolled up towel lying on the floor. Rogue Investigations was marked across the two doors in simple black letters with an eye symbol etched in the middle. How original, I thought scornfully. Another note with an arrow pointing at the place mat and the towel was taped to the metal handle of the door:
Mercy, don’t forget to wipe your feet and dry off before entering. The carpet has just been cleaned.
Rolling my eyes, I kicked the towel out of my way, pushed the doors open, and walked in without wiping my feet or slowing my stride.
Fuck his carpet.
This business was most definitely not closed as it was filled with office drones buzzing around cubicles, answering phones, filing papers, and doing all that office type stuff you see in the movies. Every single one of those workers eyed me curiously as my wet fuzzy slippers made dark sopping foot prints in the eggshell colored carpet as I walked past. A man with frizzy orange hair and a yellow Hitler mustache had the nerve to laugh at me. The laughter died when he noticed I was on a direct path for his cubical. I don’t know what he was so worried about. It’s not like I was planning to attack him or anything.
He did have a nice collection of sharpened pencils in a cup on his desk, though.
Before I could snatch one, my arm was grabbed by a tall, skinny woman in a no-nonsense grey skirt suit, sensible matching shoes, and a bun so tight and severe it gave her face a permanently surprised look.
“We’ve been expecting you Miss Cross,” she said in a thick German accent. I vaguely wondered if she and frizzy Hitler were related in some way as she deftly steered me away from his desk. “I am Mrs. Messerschmitt.”
“Gesundheit,” I said, craning my neck to peek over each cubicle. Surely Adolph wasn’t the only guy here with wooden writing material.
“I am Mr. Worth’s personal assistant,” she said, with a tight smile as her fingers pinched into the flesh of my arm. “I was informed that you would be stopping by and was given instructions to see you to his office as soon as you arrived.”
I guessed she was a vampire before she even touched me, but once her skin made contact with mine and I had seen her first death, I was certain.
Describing how my gift works is a little like trying to describe the world to a blind deaf-mute. The best way I can think to put it is that life is a little like string. I can see the general length of that life and all the various knots representing the many ways a person might die. Some knots are easier to see than others depending on how likely the death might be. Sometimes, if the person is fated like myself, there’s only one very strong knot—the tricky sort that can never be unraveled.
A vampire’s life line can be pretty damn long, but I can usually spot the newbies too if they touch me. I knew Mrs. Messerschmitt was undead before she took my arm because her life line was long and thin, longer than Adam’s by twenty or thirty years, and like Adam and every other vampire I had met, she had one strong knot in her lifeline, but it wasn’t at the end of her string. It was somewhere towards the beginning.
Vampires have to die to become what they are.
“Do the others know what you are?” I asked under my breath. I sensed there were more than a few mortals in this room. I didn’t know if the word vampire was kosher here. If the breathers weren’t in the know, it wouldn’t be.
The question caused her to pause, but only for a second. She certainly didn’t loosen her vice like grip on my arm. If her fingers left a bruise, Adam wasn’t going to be the only one who needed to worry about missing wooden office supplies.
“Are you asking if I am a vampire?”
Guess the others were in the know. I nodded.
“Mr. Worth is an equal opportunity employer. Here we have vampires, shifters, mages, and ordinary mortals. All are welcome to work here—if they have the proper attitude.”
“How very progressive of him,” I said not quite holding back the contempt in my tone. It didn’t take a genius aptitude to see that last comment had been aimed at me. This was totally unfair since I wasn’t on the company payroll. If I was, I wouldn’t be sweating over gas money.
She was silent for a second before asking me, “How did you know I was…different?”
“I can see your first death,” I said my eyes flicking to her fingers and back at her face in a steely glare, “not to mention, a few others that haven’t come to pass yet. Would you like to know how or are you going to let go of my arm?”
Mrs. Messerschmitt released her hold with all the haste of someone touching a burning hot stove and eyed me as if I had some interesting form of fungus.
“I’ll take that as a no,” I said and pointed in the direction the tugging feeling in my gut was guiding me. “This way, right?”
She nodded, still looking nonplussed, and followed me at a distance down a connecting hallway. At the end of that hallway was a small but comfortable waiting area with plush chairs, potted plants, and a rack filled with glossy magazines. A desk was situated near the back in front of a large wooden door, Mrs. Messerschmitt’s work station, I assumed. Staring at the door, my heart skipped a beat and my palms grew sweaty.
I had found Adam’s lair.