December 15 2:39 PM
The dogs next door woke me up. No pets are allowed in my building, but right next door to my side of the complex there's a house with a great big yard and two great dane dogs to fill it up. Usually I sleep with earplugs in. Earplugs are possibly the most important tool that any graveyard shift worker can possess, earplugs and good heavy drapes. My windows are covered with tinfoil from the inside (classy, I know) and I buy earplugs by the case.
For once, I was grateful to the dogs. I hadn't set my alarm clock, and I had no illusions about my fate if I was still in this apartment when darkness fell. If he knew where I worked, he knew where I lived, which meant I had four hours to get out of dodge, and way too much to do before then.
I rolled to the edge of bed, sat up, and tentatively put my feet on the ground. My soles were scraped up badly, you wouldn't think that walking on snow would be so scratchy, but the snow had hidden all sorts of sharp rocks and tree branches. I groaned when I stood up. My entire body was stiff and sore, and my feet throbbed to a degree that was almost intolerable. I reminded myself to be glad that I still had all of my toes.
First order of business had to be a shower, which I made as quick as possible. A soak would have been nice, but there was just no time for it. I dried off, smeared ointment on my feet, applied bandages where necessary, slicked my hair with some defrizzing goop and slicked it back into an orderly french braid.
I own two types of clothing: loungewear and business clothing, the latter of which is comprised mostly of skirt suits and button-down shirts. All of my jeans and t-shirt type stuff had been phased out years ago, because I always either at home or at work. Well, I go grocery shopping and make trips to the DMV like any other normal person, but usually I just go after work. Why bother changing? So a suit it was. This time I chose one I didn't often wear because the jacket was just a little too big and getting things tailored is too expensive.
A shoulder holster went on between the crisp white shirt and the somber black suit. My father had given me the Glock .29 five years ago, after I'd moved out on my own. He thought that since I'm such a gutless weenie, I should have some means of protecting myself. Well, being a gutless weenie, carrying a gun around makes my stomach turn, but I had accepted the gift, taken the time to learn to use it, and kept my concealed carry permit valid and renewed as needed. These things I did mostly to placate him. But I hadn't been to a shooting range in at least a year (the sound of gunshots, even through earplugs, makes my heart go ricka ticka tick, 20 million beats per minute), and I had never been more than an indifferent shot. I almost changed my mind and put the whole mess away. I didn't have any silver or blessed ammo (you have to have all kinds of special permits for those rounds, and it's pricey stuff, so generally only law enforcement types and registered bounty hunters bother with it) and I wasn't sure regular rounds would do anything to a vampire. When I slid the loaded gun into the holster, I felt marginally safer, but carrying a gun also made me jumpy and nervy. I wasn't sure the tradeoff was worth it, but I tossed an extra magazine in my purse anyway.
I got my small rolling suitcase out of the closet and packed more or less at random. In went a change of undies, a nice sweater that sort of matched the skirt of my suit, pajamas. In the bathroom, I added my makeup bag and zipped in shut. I tossed my passport into my battered handbag. I had never used my passport before, but now it was my only valid form of ID. My stomach was roiling with anxiety, and I thought I might throw up again, but I made myself eat another banana. It helped, so I ate a couple of cookies and drank a glass of water, all hurriedly, with about the same amount of enjoyment as I get from filling up my car.
I was almost out the door when I belatedly noticed the message light blinking on my phone. Irritated by the delay, I punched the play button with my index finger and sat down to zip my knee high, heeled boots up. Boots, at least, had the benefit of not being able to fall off my feet if I was snatched from the parking lot again.
Beep. "Vivi, it's me." My sister's voice, of course. Nobody else would dare call me that. I detest nicknames. "I'm sorry to call so early, though I guess you're at work anyway, but I just had a bad feeling, like maybe you needed me?" She laughed ruefully. "I know you don't, you never do. I'm just being silly. But call me back anyway, I'll feel better if you do." Click, beep. "Ms. Hyatt, this is Nicole calling from Dr. Evan's office. We had you scheduled for a 10:00 AM appointment, but it looks like we missed you today." Her voice was cheerful and unaccusing. I hit my forehead with the palm of my hand, feeling like a dolt. How could I have forgotten? Well, I guess kidnapping will do that to just about anyone. "The doctor can see you during his lunch hour tomorrow, 12:00, or you can reschedule at a more convenient time. Let us know. 555-3517." Click, beep. Gavin's voice, now, sounding frantic. "Violet, I heard you had a rough night, but I really need you to come in early today. Let me know when you can get here." I groaned, incredulous. He was going to be super-duper upset when he found out that I wasn't coming in at all.
My sister, at least, deserved an immediate call back. Without my cell phone, I didn't have any of her numbers, so I dialed Directory Assistance and asked to be connected to Dorsey & Carroll Law Office in Reno, Nevada. My sister is a lawyer. Since I chose not to go to school, she had double the college fund to play with, but she made good use of it. Honestly, I can't complain; she 'lends' me money all the time and never asks me to pay any of it back.
The receptionist picked up on the first ring. "Thank you for calling Dorsey & Carroll, how may I direct your call?"
"Rosalind Carroll, please." Yes, my sister is a Rose, and I'm a Violet. My parents thought they were being really cute, damn them.
"Mrs. Carroll is in a meeting right now. May I take a message?"
"Yeah, sure. Just tell her that Violet ca--"
"Hold, please." The hold music was on before I could even finish, and Rose picked up about three seconds later.
"Violet, are you OK? You haven't been answering either of your phones. I've been worried sick!"
"Must not have been an important meeting," I remarked, sidestepping the question.
Rose sounded irate. Once she started having kids, she'd treated me like I was her child rather than her completely grown-up sister. It was both endearing and irritating. "There wasn't a meeting, I just didn't feel like talking to anyone. And you're not okay, obviously. What happened?"
I was silent. How do you tell your sister that you hardly ever talk to (except to borrow money) about the kind of night I'd had? "I guess you could say I've had a rough day. Or night. Whatever."
Again, I thought, what can I say? Apparently my silence was worrisome. Rose said, "Do you need me to come up? Did you..." Her voice faltered, and I suddenly knew exactly what she thought had happened to me. "Are you in the hospital? Or did you get bad news?"
"No, no. Not that, not yet." My throat closed up, and my eyes started burning. Rose and I are eight years apart in age, but we might as well have been twins. There's always been a strong sympathy between us. We don't talk much-- she's busy, a partner in a law firm, a wife and a mother, and I'm a frigid emotional eunuch, but there's a deep, deep bond there. "I haven't had an echo lately, but I'm okay." A little lie couldn't hurt. "I wish you could come up, but I don't think that's a good idea." Not with a pissed off Prime vamp with a grudge after me. Maybe he didn't know about my family, but I didn't want them in the line of fire if I could help it.
"Could you come down here? Christmas is slow at the hotel, right? They can spare you. I'll have Joe pull some strings, try to get you a plane out as soon as we can. You don't sound like you should be alone right now." Joe is Rose's husband, one of the nicest guys in the world, and ironically, I see him far more often than I see her. He's a captain for PanWest Air, and he stays at the Grand Park Lovington when he's in town, which is about once a month. He always takes me out to dinner at nice restaurants and tries to hook me up with the younger and better-looking of the various copilots he works with.
I couldn't have asked for a better offer at that moment. Indeed, it hadn't even occurred to me that Joe could get me out of the state. People leave Alaska in droves in December, which makes spontaneous plane tickets unattainable. Usually these things have to be planned well in advance. "That would be great," I said, and meant it.
"Okay, okay, I'll call him. Are you going to answer your cell if I call you?" She sounded accusatory again. Reflexively, I defended myself.
"My phone was stolen. I'm heading to UltraFone to get a new one, but it may be a couple of hours."
"Yeah. Along with my wallet," I replied, annoyed.
"Are you going to be able to get onto a plane?"
"Well, I have my passport for ID."
"Hmm. Well, that's good." Rose paused. "You can tell me everything when you get here."
"I will," I said, not sure if it was the truth or not.
"I love you, Vivi. Take care of yourself."
"Yeah, I love you too, Rose. Bye."
Getting a new phone was laughably easy; hell, they even gave it to me for free in exchange for renewing my contract for another two years. Suckers. The joke was on them, because even if I made it through today, I was definitely not going to be around two years from now, or so I smugly told myself. Smugness is not generally a feeling one can generate toward the thought of ones own demise, but I managed. They even imported my phonebook from some kind of central database, which I found creepy, but I couldn't argue with the results.
DMV turned out to be a harder nut to crack. The harried clerk told me that I had to have two forms of ID to get a new license, so it looked like I'd be a rebellious illegal driver for a while longer.
My worst moment occurred at the counter of my bank, where the teller informed me that my debit card had been used as credit, overdrawing my account my hundreds of dollars. The charges would be investigated and probably reversed, but that didn't help me now.
Even in daylight, even inside the relative haven of the shopping center, bank or my car, I didn't feel safe. I was anxious and shaky; my heart rate was consistently higher than it should have been. My daily 10mg dose of blood pressure medication hadn't helped: I was at 157/104, and surprised by the lack of veins popping out on my forehead. Other blood is like that, though. Sometimes the meds work great, and sometimes not at all. Today was clearly a not at all day.
Tense, achy, exhausted, and terrified does not do much for me. Even the gun nestled under her arm couldn't make me feel any better. I hadn't heard the goons coming last time, and this time (if there was a this time) would doubtless be the same. I wouldn't even be able to think about drawing in time.
I drove to the hotel, parked in the valet lot because it was closer, and headed inside. I left my purse in the unlockable car. There was nothing left in there worth stealing; my phone and passport were in my jacket pocket. If anyone stole my purse, they'd get tooth floss, a pile of receipts, a battered paperback, and a folding hairbrush. I doubted anyone would be tempted.
I went in through the front door with a cool nod to the bell staff. The bell captain patted me on the shoulder as I walked by. Great, everyone knows everything already even though I haven't been in since The Incident. That's the way it is when you work in a hotel: gossip reigns supreme, and everybody knows everything about everyone. You don't date your co-workers here unless you want to be teased about it til the end of days. And if you do anything untoward with a guest, no matter how discreet you thought you were, everyone will know in a hurry. Yet another reason I had to decline the proposition from the dreamy Selkies in 616. Life is cruel.
Mostly I wondered how it had gotten out so quickly. After a moment of thought, I was willing to bet on security as the culprits. If Detective Vallieres had checked the footage in the security office, they'd have known something was up, and if the detective had let the teeniest little hint drop... well. Ramón might have run his mouth, too; gossip is not confined only to the hotel of its origin, and everyone in Anchorage seemed to know everyone else. It was plausible. If his sister's boyfriend's cousin's friend's mother-in-law worked in housekeeping, and he'd told his sister what he'd overheard from my police interviews, that would have been enough.
But everyone and their cousin knowing that something unpleasant had happened to me didn't change why I was there. I lifted my chin stubbornly and marched towards the front office. Marching was better than limping, which was what I really wanted to do. I wished it wasn't so difficult to ignore the stares and murmurs of my fellow staff members. Their scrutiny followed me along like a heeling dog, not a good feeling at all.
Inside the office, the front desk drones gave me wide-eyed stares and either moved silently out of my way or just said, "Hi, Violet," like nothing was wrong. The latter reaction was much preferable. Meanwhile, everyone who jumped out of my way like I'd had my brain suctioned out and replaced by one compatible with the alien hive overmind during a twisted medical experiment abduction was on my personal shitlist, which was generally pretty short.
Gavin was in his little cubbyhole in the back of the office, and he looked just as frantic as he had the day before. When he saw me come in, a pathetically relieved expression transformed his face. I almost felt about the fact that I was going to disappoint him terribly.
"Violet, am I glad to see you!" His expression turned quizzical. "Where's your nametag?"
"At home." I held up a hand to forestall complaint. "I'm not here to work, Gavin." His face fell. Why did I have to feel so guilty? "I'm leaving town."
"What?!" His voice cracked comically; he sounded like a kid going through puberty. Too bad he also looked like a kid who'd just been told Christmas was cancelled. It should have been funny but mostly it was just pathetic. "You can't just leave without notice. Leave time has to be requested in advance."
"I assume you've heard about my incident?" I inquired delicately. "Everyone else has." Gavin nodded reluctantly. "I don't know exactly what you've been told, but it was worse. Way worse. I don't want to talk about it. But I am leaving even if it means my job, because if I don't it'll mean my life." My phone started going off. Before Gavin could muster any further protest, I said, "I've got to take this," and I ducked out of his office and into the deserted supply closet close by where the general din was less deafening. The area code was Nevada's, so even though the number was unfamiliar, it could only be one person. "Rose?"
"Hey, Vivi," she replied cheerily. Too cheerily; I misliked it. "I have your flight details."
I grabbed an unused yellow notepad from a shelf and a pen from my jacket pocket. I always carry pens on me; you never know when you'll need one. "Alright."
Rose took a deep breath. "Your flight is PWA 74; it's Anchorage to Seattle, with a connected to Reno on PWA 115. PWA is departing at 7:05 AM, so you'll need to be at the airport just after 5:00 AM to check in--"
Are you kidding? "7:05? I thought when you said next flight, you meant something tonight."
"Well there's only so much I can do," she replied testily, all cheerfulness dissipating abruptly. It occurred to me that I sounded ungrateful; after all, she didn't know the magnitude of trouble I had experienced. Why wouldn't 7:00 AM be okay, she no doubt thought. And as she'd said, she'd done her best. "I think you can survive for twelve hours," Rose said.
Such ironic wording! "Yeah. You're right. I'm sorry, I'll be fine. I'm just kind of freaking out here."
"Can't wait to hear an explanation for all this."
"I'll just bet you can't."
"I'll be there to pick you up," Rose said, mollified somewhat. "I'm bringing the kids. They can't wait to see you." My sister has four children. Generally I don't care much for kids, but Rose's are less vile than most I've met.
"Gee, can't wait."
"See you soon," she said, good cheer abruptly restored.
"Yeah, soon. Bye."
I hung up, took a deep breath of my own, and went back into Gavin's office. He was pacing back and forth, and he had a genuine forehead vein popping out for the charming pre-stroke look. When I came back in, he stopped and turned towards me, looking altogether like an unchosen puppy at the pound, one who's about to get a big ol' needle full of imminent doom jabbed into him. Really pathetic. "Violet, please, I'll beg, but please--""Tempting," I said, "but no begging. I'll stay tonight, just tonight, and I need to leave by 4:30. And I need security to escort me to my car when I leave."
"Done," he replied. "Thanks."
"Don't thank me. I won't be in tomorrow," I warned him, "or the day after, for I don't know how long. You'll have to fire me anyway."
"Let me deal with HR. Under the circumstances... maybe they can work something out. Although you did pick the worst week ever," he said, a sour look replacing the dejected one.
Oh, dear. I hung coat up on a peg on the wall. "Next time I'll check to make sure my kidnapping occurs at your convenience." I grabbed the tall, backless stool that we kept for clerks who had injured legs or twisted ankles (or feet abraded from running barefoot from vampires) and couldn't stand up all day. My feet were definitely not up to 10 hours of standing. Gavin glared a little, but he didn't say a word. Maybe the story circulating the hotel included me having lost nearly all of my toes to frostbite, which wasn't true, but it was a rumor I could get behind with enthusiasm. Telling everyone I was short a toe or five would give me all kinds of cred. Brandishing the Glock would give me some serious cred, but it would also get me seriously fired, permit or no permit. Involuntary termination was not my goal, so even though this emergency leave of mine was likely to result in being fired, I intended to behave myself.
Strangely, once I was at the desk I felt better. I say it was strange because I was in less of a mood than usual for dealing with stupid complaints, but not being alone helped. And I was, after all, in my element.
Every person who I checked in, every complaining pilot who came up to the desk, all of the staff between me and the door were all warm bodies that shielded me from the what-may-comes that darkness held. Plus, I was on a roll: everyone who I helped left the desk happy. It was a good night.
Before Gavin left, I took a break, grabbed some seafood chowder from the big vat in the kitchen, a handful of crackers and a can of soda. I sat in the break room in the basement like I would on any other day, tried to pretend that this was any other day. There was an intact newspaper on the table I sat at. Another Child Missing, the headline loudly proclaimed, and under that, in hardly smaller type, Police Still Silent on Blanchard Disappearances.
I didn't touch it, like if I didn't touch it I wouldn't have to think about it. I didn't want to. If I started, I knew I wouldn't be able to stop; I knew I'd get hung up wondering if I might actually be able to help. I might get hung up wondering what could be worse than vampires, that could be doing this...
I ate my chowder and watched a football game on the muted TV, carefully thinking about nothing at all.
Authori's note: Oooookay, that was long and probably tedious. The next chapter is also long but not so tedious (I think). Should be up in about 3 days. Thank you for reading!
At 9:30, Gavin left so that he could take a nap and be back at 4:30 AM to relieve me. I kept myself busy, tried not to look in the direction of the glass front of the lobby, where darkness could all to easily be seen widening.
It had been the first real day of the convention, so it had been accordingly busy. There was plenty to keep me occupied. The hijinx were less amusing than usual, though; I couldn't even crack a smile at the sight of a Swinker demon with several squares of toilet paper stuck in its slime trail (the mystery of what the wila, Iskra, had tripped in was thus solved). Usually I would have giggled like mad. When Martin came in, he gave me a shoulder squeeze and didn't say a word.
4:30 AM is about as dark as it gets, this close to the winter solstice. Usually, night time is my time; I've never bee one to look at the sun setting and feel dread. Working at night has always suited me for two reasons: being surrounded by too many people makes me uneasy, the hotel is usually deserted between midnight and 6:00, and I love the cool darkness of nighttime. Darkness has always been peaceful and healing to me, but that was before there were vampires.
I was almost sad to see Gavin walk in through the big glass doors. He looked sorry, too. Tired, grumpy, and most of all sorry to be there. He took it all in surprisingly good grace, though; he called security to walk me to my car, sent me off with a small but genuine smile and an equally sincere well-wish. I was grateful that he didn't make a big deal about it. I give him a hard time, but honestly, he's not all bad, just young and self-centered.
On my way to the car, I asked the two security guards if they'd seen anything on the cameras the day before. One said no automatically, and the other thoughtfully said that he hadn't really seen anything but an APD detective had taken the tape away for further analysis.
Kerry Vallieres had been one of the things I'd carefully avoided thinking about. I wondered if I should call him, let him know that I was skipping town. 4:30 AM isn't a good time for most people to get phone calls, though. Maybe later, I thought, from Reno. There had been a lot of maybes cart wheeling through my brain.
Nothing happened on the walk to the parking lot. It was as quiet and peaceful as, say, a graveyard. I opened my car door, sat down in the familiar drivers seat, peering at the gas gauge as I did so. After a moment I turned the key in the ignition and it roared to life. I had an eighth of a tank left after all of my running about earlier, more than enough to get me to the airport. Without cash, I wouldn't be able to put any more gas in, so it would have to do.
I looked at the security guys, standing a few yards back from the car. "Thanks," I said, smiling sheepishly. "I guess I could have done without the escort after all."
"Hey, no problem," the younger of the two said. They turned and started walking away when I closed the door. A light frost had crept up the windshield, nothing I couldn't see around. I set the heaters to defrost anyway, then turned to pull my seatbelt out from its retractor.
I didn't hear anything over the road of the engine; I didn't see anything in the tint-darkened interior. All I registered was a sickly strange smell coming from the cloth that seemed to materialize in front of my mouth and nose, and then I knew nothing else.