Jack watched the police car leave with Talia in the backseat. There was no way that she could be involved. No way. However, his stomach flipped over and his heart lurched as he saw her face, her unabashed sadness at having lost her friend. He wanted to follow them, to find her and comfort her, but he knew he was better off staying put and getting more information on what happened to Alec.
He had known something was up when Alec didn’t respond to his texts. Normally Alec was quick to pop off a response, but there had been since early the night before. Arriving at the faire grounds, he could smell the scent of blood in the air, metallic and fresh. He immediately rushed to the police line to confront the officers. Naturally, they didn’t know anything, but when he saw Talia, he knew it was Alec. He had guessed as much, but seeing her in the police car confirmed it.
Such a damn shame, another life wasted…
Who would have done this? Kill a vampire? The idea was pretty bizarre. It was highly uncommon for any mundanes to kill them. When it did happen, it was typically an interspecies killing, due to some miscommunication of some kind or a perceived slight. He’d known of some witches who were engaged in rogue killings before, but nothing against the vampire community. There were also the SpellCasters, but they were known for practically vaporizing their victims into nothing. Demons would have left a mess. Something like this, though… He’d never seen this before.
Jack’s eyesight showed him the killing up close, despite the police barrier. Alec was strung up from one ankle, his other leg bent at the knee so it crossed over his straight leg. His arms were folded across his chest, and his eyes were closed. His face was peaceful, almost bearing a hint of a smile. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have thought Alec was resting in a very unique position, perhaps a play on mythic vampire lore.
But this was definitely murder. Alec’s head had been practically severed from his body, hanging on only by mere strands of flesh. The spine had been cut cleanly through, and a knife handle protruded from his back, obvious to the eye when his hanging body turned in the breeze. That same breeze wafted in his direction and Jack had to cover his mouth, the stench of decaying vampire flesh turning his stomach. He turned away, and that was when he saw her, diminutive in the patrol car.
Now he was left trying to determine what happened to Alec and why they had taken Talia into custody.
Before he could establish anything, he had to take care of some things. He was due in the studio today with the band. With the death of Alec, he had to let them know what happened and that their participation in the festival was at risk. And despite the atrocities in front of him, he still had his day job to do as well.
Hurrying from the scene, Jack headed to the local coffee shop, We’re So Baked, and ordered some lattes, his own with a triple shot of espresso. He grabbed a couple pastries and dashed back to his truck. Putting the coffees in the cup holder, he shifted into gear and drove to his tattoo studio.
Standing outside under the awning was his partner, Willa Redmond. Her long, bubble gum purple waves were loose and hanging over her shoulders, her rich, chocolate brown eyes following his truck as he parked across the street. She was leaning against the brick face, her brown tank top tight against her chest while her blue jeans hung loose on her hips, her skin covered in vibrant ink. When he walked up with the coffee and pastries, she pushed away from the brick, stepping forward with her brown boots. Cooing like a little dove, she quickly took hold of a cup, wrapping her hands around it to warm them. Her fingers were decorated in sterling silver rings, tigers eye, and runic artwork, some of which Jack had put there.
“Oh you’re a lifesaver, Soro.”
“Glad I could help.”
“Yum.” Willa took a cautious sip from the cup and sighed. “Nectar of the gods, bring me to life.”
“At least give it a minute to kick in.”
“Oh I will. Two or three anyway.”
As Jack unlocked the door to the shop, he glanced at her. “I’m going to have to leave early today. I have studio time with the band later.”
“Sure thing, no problem.”
“Also, I may be out tomorrow.”
“Something’s come up. A friend passed away.”
Willa stopped mid-sip. “Oh that’s shitty. I’m so sorry, dude.”
They walked inside together. “Thanks. I need to find out where to pay my respects.”
“Anything I can do to help? Do you need anything from me? I mean, consider the shop taken care of, of course…”
“I know you’ll hold things down here. That’s really all I need.” Jack looked around the shop. “Actually, I think I’ll just head out now, if you’re cool?”
“And if you were planning on setting up the flyers for the festival, let’s hold off on that just yet. I want to confirm it’s not going to be interrupted by this.”
“Was your friend involved in it?”
“They were the organizer.”
“Oh damn.” Willa put her cup down and reached out, grabbing Jack and bringing him into a big hug. When she pulled back, she put on a smile for him. “I’ll take care of things here. No worries. You go do what you need to.”
Jack nodded. As he headed back out the door, Willa called after him, “Say hi to the boys for me!”
* * *
Len Dedham was being a notorious shit.
Jack loved the guy, having known Len for over a decade, but Len could be a real pain the ass, especially when he was drinking. Jack had only just gotten Len out of a scrap with the band manager, and now he was walking in on another altercation. Len was wicked pissed and talking shit with the other guys. The band guitarist, Mafioso, looked ready to throw a punch, and at his height, it would land hard and heavy.
Jack stepped in between them and held up his arms. “Whoa. Whoa. Just whoa. Take it easy, guys.” Once he was sure that they had ceased fire, he stepped back. “Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?”
Mafioso’s dark brown eyes never left Len’s face as he scowled. Instead of speaking, he just waved his hand in Len’s direction and walked away to the sound booth, the lighting glinting off his shaved head. That was Mafioso for you: no talk, all hand gestures.
The door shut snugly after him, and Jack glanced back at Len and their drummer, Isaac Whitmoore. Isaac’s long blonde hair hung over his hazel eyes, hiding his previously broken nose that was still healing. He was sitting, watching the altercation and twirling his sticks. When he caught Jack’s gaze, he stopped twirling and simply shrugged. Meanwhile, Len’s short brown hair was haphazard and sticking up at all angles. His normally bright blue eyes were bloodshot and twirling, a clear indication he’d gone overboard with his vodka and a couple of pills. He was rubbing his chin, his fingers sliding through his goatee as if he’d already been hit. Maybe Jack had gotten there too late?
“You okay, man?”
“Mafi sure packs a punch.”
Yup, Jack had been a little too late for the first one. At least he’d been able to save Len from a black eye or a bruised ego. Jack sat down next to him and socked him in the arm.
“It could’ve been a lot worse if Mafioso had really laid into you. You should thank me.”
Len’s jaw dropped as he looked back and forth from Jack to Isaac, the latter of whom just nodded solemnly. “Are you kidding me? One little joke! That’s all I said, and the guy wants to knock my block off.”
“Must’ve been a shitty joke.”
“It was,” replied Isaac, who had resumed twirling his sticks.
“See? Don’t tell shitty jokes to Mafi.” Len groaned at Jack, who stood up in front of him to stare him down. “Now, are you ready to sing? Think you can manage it?”
“Yeah, yeah. I can manage it.” Len began to stand up and fell back into his seat. “Just give me a minute.”
Jack threw his head back and stared at the ceiling, sighing in exasperation with what was growing to be a more common antic by Len. When he brought his head down, he looked over at Isaac, who was just shaking his head. At least the two of them were in agreement.
“Speaking of singing, I’m going to have to confirm the festival is still on.” At his words, Isaac looked up, and Len closed one eye to fix a solid gaze on him.
“Say what now?”
“The organizer – my friend, Alec – has died.”
“Oh shit, man. That sucks. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. But now I’ve gotta find out if the gig is still gonna happen.”
Isaac spoke up. “Can’t that wait? Let the man be buried first?”
“I don’t think burials were his thing.” Vampires were known for cremations. Most of them had lived too long to have that many friends who would show up for a funeral anyway.
“Well then…” Isaac made a wide gesture and stood up, walking over to his 5 piece kit. He sat down on his stool and twirled one of his sticks, then began testing his equipment for sound. Clearly, he was ready to move forward.
Jack looked back at Len and put a hand on his shoulder. “I need you with a clear head.” He peered into Len’s eyes, checking for signs he was chilling out. “Are you cool?”
“Yeah. I’m cool.”
Len got up and moved to the mic, conducting a series of tests while Jack tuned his guitar. Mafioso eventually came back inside and proceeded to tune his strings. After a bit, the guys began to play, and it was like nothing had happened earlier. They were fluid, smooth, and strong. There would need to be some tuning of their performance and confirmation of their set prior to the festival, if it was still taking place, but Jack was sure they would kill it.
* * *
The faire grounds were quiet. It was after dark, and the vendors had closed up and gone home after the customers left. Jack had noticed everything tended to shut down at dusk, which was perfect for him to come back and get a better handle on what happened. He parked his truck and got out, shutting the door quietly to avoid rousing anyone who might be lingering. Walking over to the police tape, he pulled it up so he could maneuver underneath it. Heading over to the tree where Alec had been found, he felt something creep down his back, the sense of something more in the air, and he shivered.
The vibes were bad.
Nothing was left except the yellow tape and a few spray-painted marks on the ground. He could still smell the blood that lingered on the ground. Beyond that, he couldn’t get much else. The scents from the grounds were so convoluted, it was difficult to separate what was part of the scene and what was part of the surroundings. He caught wind of spices, herbs, sweat, and vanilla. None of that sent his senses into overdrive, but he still stored it away in case he ran across that combination again.
Then he heard a sound: faint, behind him, someone breathing. He whirled around and was face to face with her. What was she doing here?
Talia Morgen was mere feet away, watching him.