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Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick

Vampire (2 page)

BOOK: Vampire
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“They?”

But Jake moved on ahead, and Darcy had no choice but to follow. It was almost like floating through a void, and as she groped along, cool, damp walls slid by beneath her fingertips. As they rounded a curve in the tunnel, Darcy could see a pale glow that seemed to be coming out of nowhere.

“Tableaus,” Jake explained, leading her forward again. “Each character has his own little setup to really show him off. Each exhibit is set back in an alcove on its own little stage, so what you've got is a whole series of different scenes, like stills from horror movies. Here. The Mummy. Looks real, doesn't he?”

Jake stopped, pointing at a swaddled figure in the eerie light, its arms extended, dragging filthy wrappings across the floor.

“And this one.” Jake nudged her on. “Poor Mr. Hyde.”

Darcy peered in at the laboratory and the grotesquely transformed face of Dr. Jekyll. Before she could comment, Jake tugged her forward again.

“This one's my favorite. You
do
believe in vampires, don't you?”

As he pushed her to the guardrail, Darcy felt her skin crawl. There was the infamous Count Dracula, red lips curled back, fangs poised over the slender white neck of his female victim, who had fainted into his arms. In the very back of the alcove, practically hidden in shadows, rested a coffin with its lid raised, the red satin lining scattered with clods of earth which had spilled out onto the floor and run together in pools of shiny red blood.

Darcy turned away, strangely unsettled by the coffin. “How many exhibits are there?”

“Twenty-five in all. But I'm adding some.”

“I never realized there were so many villains.”

In the half light Jake's smile seemed masklike. “You'd be surprised.”

Drawing a deep breath, Darcy continued on, stopping at each scene, shuddering at all the gory details. The Wolfman in his final agonies. Frankenstein's monster ripping his restraints, lumbering up from the operating table. The hideous Creature surfacing from the swampy waters of the Black Lagoon. Jack the Ripper fleeing the gaslit alleyways of London. Witches … ghouls … murderers … monsters … the depraved and hopelessly wicked … Darcy saw them all, not wanting to look but compelled somehow, fascinated by the very wickedness that so repelled her. As they stood before the last exhibit, Jake moved his arms in an all-encompassing gesture.

“Like I said. My family.”

Darcy shut her eyes, trying to force all the grisly scenes from her mind. “Well, at least your family's not dull.”

He nodded slowly and leaned into the spotlight, the greenish glow going over his face so that his eyes and skin became one. Instinctively Darcy moved back.

“You don't want to go past here,” Jake said, indicating a barricade of sawhorses at this end of the tunnel. “Those are the new exhibits we're putting together. Off-limits to the customers. Too easy for someone to get hurt. Or to hide.” He cast her a sidelong glance and straightened. “Come on.”

“Where are we going now?”

“To work.”

“But I thought you were closed.”

“Not here. At the Club.” He led her back the way they'd come. “It's a few blocks from here. I manage the place, so we probably won't be seeing much of each other.”

“But—I thought—” Darcy broke off as they reached the lobby. The outside door was open, and two people were trying to close it against a gust of rain.

“Jake!” A girl spun around, frizzy red hair plastered to her freckled cheeks, glasses perched on the end of her upturned nose, lips painted as red as her hair. “Wait till you hear what happened. It's not safe to go anywhere anymore.”

Beside her a boy was wringing water from his wet T-shirt onto the floor. “Hey, Jake, how's it going?” As he lifted his eyes, he noticed Darcy and broke off abruptly, running one hand through his combed-back hair. His eyes crinkled up as he smiled. “Oh, sorry. Hi. You must be Darcy.”

“Hi.” Darcy smiled back, feeling awkward as the girl turned and held her in a long, deliberate stare. It wasn't friendly.

“Darcy”—Jake brought a towel from the office and tossed it to the bedraggled pair—“Liz … Kyle. Friends of mine.”

“Nice to meet you.” Darcy smiled again, uncomfortably. Liz was still staring, and there was an odd set to her lips that looked suspiciously like a sneer. Kyle reached out and shook Darcy's hand.

“Jake told us you were coming to visit your aunt, but I forgot it was today.”

“Uhhh … there's been a little change in plans,” Jake broke in quickly. “Looks like I have a houseguest for a while.”

“Oh, great,” Liz snorted, and this time her sneer was unmistakable. “Just what you love most in the world.”

“So what do you think about this place?” Kyle shifted his weight slightly, as if trying to block Darcy from Liz's view. “Pretty great, huh?”

“It's … really fascinating.” Darcy looked down at his hand still holding hers, then up again into his face. His dark hair shone with raindrops. His eyes were deep blue, with laugh lines at their corners, and there was a slight dimple in his chin.

“Just tell him,” Liz said loudly. “Tell him about the murder.”

“Murder?” Darcy looked alarmed, and Kyle released her hand and stepped back. His sleeveless shirt showed leanly muscled biceps, and both knees on his faded jeans were ripped out.

“Murder's nothing new,” Jake said, a faint smile on his face. “Tell me something exciting, Liz.”

“They found a girl in an alley over on Second Street,” Liz went on. “Somebody slit her throat.”

“And we knew her—sort of. She comes—came—into the Club a lot. The one always requesting songs.” Kyle shook his head slowly. “She always came in alone, remember? Brandon always worried about her leaving so late all by herself—”

“Brandon doesn't think
any
girl should be by herself when
he's
around.” Jake glanced slyly at Liz's furious expression and reached for Darcy's suitcase. “I'll take this upstairs. You need the bathroom or anything?”

“I'm fine,” Darcy said.

“Go on and tell him the rest.” Liz nudged Kyle roughly in the side. “About all the blood everywhere. And about the marks.”

Kyle hesitated a moment. “Well … she had these marks on her neck.”

“I guess she would,” Jake said offhandedly, “if her throat was cut.”

“No, that's not what I meant.” Kyle brought one hand slowly to his own neck, frowning. “Here—right over her jugular vein—there were these marks. I mean, they didn't break the skin or anything—it was like someone painted them on.”

“Like his signature.” Jake shrugged. “The murderer signing his name.”

“Like bite marks,” Kyle said solemnly. “You know. Like … a vampire.”

2

Y
ou're not what I expected,” Liz said, studying Darcy with a cool stare.

Darcy moved her hands away from her ears, trying to hear through all the noise. The Club was packed, thick with smoke and dancing couples, laughter, shouting, and blaring music. From their corner booth she had a clear view of the stage where the band was finishing up its set, and as Liz spoke again, Darcy leaned closer, forcing a smile.

“What
did
you expect?”

“Someone more sophisticated, I guess. Not like a little kid who needs a babysitter for the summer. You
are
seventeen, aren't you?” Her lips moved in a mean smile. “But we hardly look the same age, you and I. In fact, Jake seems
much
older than you. I guess because he's so mature.”

“Is he?” Darcy remembered Jake's jersey and sneakers and all the stories her mother had told her through the years. “We're only six years apart. My mother was already twelve when Jake was born.”

“He never talks about you,” Liz said, as if she and Jake had had many conversations. “He never even mentions you.”

“I don't guess he'd have any reason to. He and my mom aren't exactly close.”

“So she dumped you.” Behind her glasses, Liz's eyes looked triumphant.

Darcy met the stare and held it. “Yes. She dumped me. It's not the first time, and it probably won't be the last. As a matter of fact, I'm a
professional
dumpee.”

A flicker of surprise cut across Liz's face. She reached for her glass, twirling her straw slowly. After a moment her eyes lifted again to Darcy's.

“So what do you think about him?”

“Jake?” Darcy hedged. “He's … not quite what I expected.”

“He's wonderful.” Liz's chin lifted. “And we're
very
close.”

“How nice for you.” Darcy forced pleasantness into her tone. “How do you know each other?”

“Kyle knew Jake first—Kyle was coming in here all the time to listen to music. And then Jake hired this band Kyle's in. I don't know how much longer that band's going to stay together. Personality problems in the group. Kyle's such an optimist, but you can bet he'll be the first one replaced—the lead singer wants all
his
buddies in the group, even though none of them are any good.” She looked exasperated. “Anyway, Kyle and Jake got to be good friends, and that's how I got my job at the Dungeon. I kind of run the place. Jake spends so much time here at the Club, he doesn't really have time for that stupid horror show of his.”

“Oh. I didn't know that.” Darcy's eyes went to the stage, where the guys were laying down their instruments, preparing to go on break. “I love this music. Kyle's a really great drummer.”

“One of the best around.” Liz actually smiled. “He has great hands.”

“Is he your boyfriend?”

“Boyfriend?” Liz echoed, then gave a harsh laugh. “He's my brother. Couldn't you tell?”

Darcy shook her head, flustered. “You don't look anything alike.”

“You're right. He's the cute one.” A smile hardened at the corners of her mouth. “But I've got the brains.” For a long moment she stared at the stage, her hands twirling the glass around and around on the tabletop between them.

“That's so horrible about that murder.” It was the first thing that popped into Darcy's mind, and she wished instantly that she'd thought of something else to break the awkward silence.

“Yes.” Liz was looking at her again, her expression thoughtful. “Vampires. What a horrible way to die.”

“But they're not real.” Darcy started to laugh, then felt it stick in her throat as Liz glared at her. “I mean, you don't really believe—”

“I believe in everything,” Liz said shortly. “Look, here comes the rest of the gang. Move over.”

Darcy saw Kyle making his way toward their table, with two more boys following him. Liz bent her head and spoke quickly.

“The guy with the ponytail—that's Brandon. He belongs to me.” The look she gave Darcy held a silent warning. “He and Kyle are best friends. The one trailing behind is Elliott.”

“Why is he wearing sunglasses in here?”

“He always wears them.” Liz nudged her over even farther. “He had a motorcycle wreck last month. He's not all there, so don't be surprised at anything he does. I don't know why Kyle even bothers with him, he's so weird.”

Mildly alarmed, Darcy scooted closer to Liz, making more room in the booth. As the three boys came up to the table, Brandon struck a dramatic pose and grinned down at them with a heart-melting smile.

“Congratulate me, ladies. I got the part.”

“You did?” Liz's voice rose above the noise. “Oh, Brandon, I knew you would!” As Liz reached out for him, Darcy couldn't help noticing the change that came over her. Liz's coldness had totally disappeared, and the beaming smile she gave Brandon transformed her whole face until it was almost pretty. As Brandon continued to smile down at them, Darcy tried to study him without being obvious—coal-black hair pulled back in a queue, black eyes fringed with thick lashes. He could almost be sinister, Darcy thought, with his broad shoulders and dark good looks. And as she stared at him, she suddenly realized he was staring back, and she hurriedly dropped her eyes.

“Sit down,” Liz ordered him. “I want to hear all the details.”

“There's really not much to tell.” Brandon slid easily in beside her. “I just read some lines and stuff. But I think it was my swooping that did it.”

Kyle sat down beside Darcy, laughing. “Didn't you have to bite anyone?”

“Maybe that comes in rehearsals.” Brandon glanced at Darcy then back to Kyle. “So where were
you?
I thought
you
were going to try out—”

“Oh, he chickened out,” Liz said irritably. “As usual.”

Kyle looked embarrassed. “It's not that, it's just—”

“Hey, man, I
know
you could have gotten the part—you were the only competition I was worried about.” Brandon clapped Kyle on the back, but Liz gave a derisive laugh.

“He wouldn't have gotten it, Brandon, quit telling him things like that.”

“I didn't have time.” Kyle shrugged and did a drum roll on the table with his hands. “Anyway, I'd rather be your manager—it's a lot less work.”

“He's just too
shy
.” Brandon gave him a teasing hug. “He couldn't handle all those girls swooning all over him—”

“Come on, cut it out.” Kyle squirmed out of his grasp, embarrassed, and patted the seat. “Sit down, Elliott, and get me out of this.”

“No,” Elliott murmured.

“You're going to be so great.” Liz snuggled up to Brandon's side. “I can't wait to see you in costume.”

“Yeah, I'll swoop even better once I have my cape.” Brandon chuckled, his eyes flicking again to Darcy. “You must be Darcy. Kyle told me you were here. I'm Brandon.” He thrust out his arm across Liz, giving Darcy's hand a firm squeeze. “Do you even know what we're talking about, or do you think we're completely crazy?”

BOOK: Vampire
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