Authors: Glenn Bullion
She turned to glance behind her, and was a second away from putting the car in reverse when the smartphone inside her purse rang.
Victoria froze instantly.
Not many people had her number, and the ones that did had it for a reason.
She cherished her close group of friends, and did her best not to let them go to voicemail.
Her eyes narrowed in confusion as she glanced at the caller ID.
It was Tony, a mortal friend of hers.
He owned several clubs throughout Baltimore, of which Victoria owned a small percentage.
She'd known his family for several generations.
"Tony?" she greeted.
His voice was deep and authoritative.
She often joked with him about becoming a voice actor.
"It's been a while."
was a matter of perspective.
It had been six months, a half of a year.
A year was a very important measurement of time for a mortal.
To Victoria, six months was nothing.
How are you?"
"Pretty good, but actually, I could use a little help," he said, pausing.
She could sense his confusion on the other end.
"Are you talking outside?"
Victoria laughed as she flipped her long hair over her shoulder and settled in her seat.
Tony was one of the few mortals that knew what she was.
But he didn't know the secret she kept close, that the sun no longer threatened her.
"Of course not," she said.
"What's going on?
Is everything okay?
There's no problem with sending my check out this month, is there?"
It was Tony's turn to chuckle.
They never discussed finances.
He didn't know much about Victoria's personal life, but knew she certainly didn't depend on the money he sent her.
"No, money is okay.
At least for now.
Look, I don't want to talk about this over the phone."
She leaned forward.
You're freaking me out a little here."
"I'm sorry, just…can you come to the club tonight?"
"Which one?" she said, smiling slightly.
"You have a few."
"You know the one.
Don't worry, I'll have you home before bedtime."
She did have plans.
"Is this important?" she asked directly.
"I've got something I have to do, and there's a trip coming up I need to pack for."
It's not a waste of time."
She let out a sigh.
The truth was she was being selfish.
She could squeeze Tony into her night.
But that would mean the
time she thought she had was gone.
It surprised her how much she was looking forward to taking in a movie during the day, possibly nursing from a juicy vein in the back row.
But Tony was a good man, and didn't ask for help often.
Another benefit of being a vampire was that as long as Victoria avoided fire she had many more days to come.
"Okay," she said.
"I'll see you tonight."
I owe you one."
Victoria hung up and shook her head.
Not only did existing in the sunlight open a whole new world for her, it let her do more chores for people.
Still, life was good, and with what was on her plate, it looked to be an interesting day.
Victoria drove past the movie theater, casting it a sad glance, and continued on to downtown Baltimore.
She drove past Camden Yards, bringing back some rather interesting memories, and navigated the maze of one-way streets that made up most of the city.
The mortals that knew of the existence of the supernatural always found it hard to believe that Baltimore had a vampire underworld.
But the truth was quite simple.
Vampires were everywhere.
Mortals would always have the sheer numbers.
It was humanity's world, as it should have been.
Vampires and werewolves, despite a smaller population, had a presence in every large city.
Even the suburbs and rural areas had their share.
The witches came last, and for good reason.
The supernatural balance was always at work.
Witches wielded the most power, and were fewer in number.
Victoria had only met a handful in her lifetime, and killed all of them except one.
She drove fast, enjoying the wind in her hair, until she reached Baltimore's outskirts.
Her destination finally appeared ahead on the right.
A Holiday Inn Express.
Nothing fancy or exotic about it.
The parking lot was half full, and Victoria parked near the back, away from everyone else.
A sigh escaped as she opened the glove compartment and reached for pages of notes.
Some had been taken by investigators she'd hired, but most were written by her own hand over the past week.
She wished she had more time to properly plan her little chore.
But she was telling Tony the truth when she said she had to pack for a trip.
She was leaving the country for a while, and didn't want to leave any loose ends.
Pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head, she briefly flipped through the pages.
for the day was Thomas Sanders.
Whether that was his real name or not, Victoria could only guess.
His routine was simple.
He went out at night, and stayed in during the day.
His favorite places were the bars and clubs throughout Fells Point.
Thomas must have fancied himself a real lady's man.
A new woman every night, although he did take a break one evening to enjoy a soccer game at a sports bar.
Victoria took a deep breath, and gathered several photos as she slid out of the car.
Quick and easy, that's what she was hoping for.
Maybe a simple ten minute conversation, some humility and an apology.
She'd be on her way, and Thomas could resume whatever life he'd carved out for himself.
She tried to hold onto her optimism, but the problem was she'd lived too long.
Quick and easy
never seemed to be an option for her.
The lobby was mostly empty, with only a man vacuuming the floor and a young woman with a look of boredom behind the front desk.
Victoria flashed both of them a smile as she headed toward the elevator.
It was a fast trip to the fourth floor, but never fast enough.
For reasons Victoria would never fathom, she didn't like elevators.
The sensation of rising and falling, and that stop, always made her feel queasy.
She laughed to herself at the thought.
She drank blood to stay alive, and seen and done horrific, terrible things.
But she didn't like elevators.
She'd take the stairs, but always seemed to forget until just before the elevator moved.
The halls of the fourth floor were empty except for a woman pushing a cart full of towels and cleaning supplies, moving door to door.
Victoria read the markers to orient herself.
She'd spent an entire afternoon watching over Thomas two days ago, but from the comfort of her Porsche.
She wasn't familiar with the layout of the inside.
His door had a
Do Not Disturb
sign hanging from the knob.
It didn't surprise her.
The last thing Thomas would want was someone poking through his room during the day.
She closed her eyes and reached out with her ears, listening for a heartbeat.
Sure enough, there it was.
Slow and steady, along with a slight snore.
Victoria adjusted her blouse and shifted her purse on her shoulder.
She'd dressed casual for the day, an old pair of blue jeans and a gray blouse, with closed-toed sandals.
Good enough for a driver's license photo and a quick meeting with Thomas Sanders.
Or whatever the meeting turned in to.
Her fist was an instant away from knocking on the door when she heard something that caught her by surprise.
A feminine moan, followed by what sounded like another heartbeat.
Victoria frowned and leaned closer, nearly putting her ear to the door.
Her senses weren't as strong as that of a werewolf, but she was sure there was another person in Thomas' room.
She shook her head.
No doubt another of Thomas' conquests.
That didn't deter her.
Victoria's message didn't change, regardless of whether he had company or not.
But the door opening a few rooms down stayed her hand once again.
Out walked a little girl, no more than five years old.
She waited patiently in the hallway as her mother, with several bags over each shoulder, emerged behind her, pushing a stroller.
The mother struggled as she went to close the door, with one bag slipping to the ground.
Her daughter sprang into action, anxious to help, while the baby in the stroller cried.
Victoria picked apart the scene with ease.
The bruises on her cheek, the way she favored her left arm, the raw look of hopelessness.
Checking in at a nearby hotel was probably the only escape available to the abused family.
Seeing the family reminded Victoria there were real people in the rooms around Thomas Sanders.
People that could be affected by their upcoming conversation.
"Mommy," the girl said.
"I'll help you."
"It's okay, honey."
The mother paused to catch her breath.
"Just watch your brother for a second."
"I got it," Victoria said.
The mother jumped.
She didn't even hear Victoria approach.
If a vampire wanted to be quiet there wasn't a human ear that could hear them.
"Oh, God, you scared me."
I get that a lot."
The mother placed a hand over her heart as Victoria picked up the loose bag.
The daughter was laughing, despite flinching herself at Victoria's sudden appearance.
The only one that wasn't laughing was the baby, maybe six months old, in the stroller.
Victoria raised an eyebrow at the adorable tiny human.
The baby was completely quiet, which was odd.
Most babies could sense the supernatural around them, and cried in response.
"Thank you so much.
You wouldn't believe how much stuff you need with two children."
She winked at the five-year-old, who giggled in response.
"Where are you headed?
We just need…to get out of here for a little while.
Get some fresh air."
Victoria understood completely, but for her own reasons.
There were times she went stir crazy, hiding from the sun.
She could only imagine what hiding from the world was like when it involved an abusive husband and caring for two children.
She helped the family to the elevator and nodded politely as she stepped back into the hallway.
"Are you going down?" the mother asked.
"Ah, yeah, but I really need to hit the stairs."
The mother and daughter waved and smiled as the doors closed.
Victoria glanced once again at Thomas' room before heading to the stairwell.
The woman sitting behind the lobby desk looked up from her smartphone as the vampire approached.
She quickly tucked the phone away and shifted in her seat.
Victoria tried to stifle a laugh.
Her eyes were sharp as well, and picked up some rather suggestive sexual talk in her text message.
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so—"
Victoria took note of her name tag.
I need to see the manager, please."
Victoria wasn't sure if Rhonda was new, or simply never dealt with a woman that exuded such confidence.
Whichever it was, Rhonda froze.
"Uh, is there a problem with your room?
Maybe I can help you with something?"
"Yes, you can.
You can help me speak with the manager.
Rhonda's cheeks flared as she spun in her chair and reached for a phone at the desk behind her.
She lowered her voice, not that it did any good, and spoke to a man named Richard.
She spoke of an angry woman, demanding his attention.
The myths of vampires having hypnotic powers were very much fictional.
But there was something about a centuries-old being giving orders that mortals tended to notice.
She'd learned how to deal with people.
Some required kindness, compassion, nurturing.
Others required a kick in the ass.