In the middle of the fight, when my head should've been full of strike counterstrike duck dodge stake, I noticed
him. Standing there under the broken streetlight, leaning against the post, watching us from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
Old white dude down here on our turf, watching us fight- it threw me off for a minute, and that would've been my last mistake,
if Rondell hadn't been there to get my back. That's what the crew is for.
But I was pissed off at this guy for fouling my game, so when the last vamp was dusted I went over to see what his story was.
"Think you're lost, old man," I said, walking up to him, getting just a little too close, letting him know I meant business.
"Guy like you in a place like this, you could get hurt. After dark, around here- we've got things that ain't so nice."
"Yes," he said simply, looking past me, over my shoulder at the crew doing field-bandages back in the empty lot. "I'm aware."
I felt a sudden chill run up my spine. None of my war stories were going to faze this guy. Couldn't tell you how I knew,
but I knew. "What do you want?"
His hand emerged from the pocket of his coat, twenty-dollar bills fanned between his fingers. "Information."
I stared at the cash, licking sweat-salt off my lips. Forty bucks. That'd buy medicine for Alonna's cough, and more bandages,
and maybe some vegetables for the younger kids who were going pale around the eyes. Forty bucks, and all I'd have to do was
lie to some old white dude. Yeah. "Okay. Help you if I can."
He handed over one bill, and I had to smile. Old and white and English, but not stupid. Half up front, half on delivery.
Yeah, okay, I got it. "Have you seen a girl fighting vampires?"
"Seen a bunch of girls fighting vampires." I stuffed the money down into the pocket of my jeans. "Got some on my crew."
Something dark flashed in his eyes and he stood up a little straighter, and for some reason I found myself backing down.
"But that ain't what you meant. Guessing you're looking for some little white suburban chiclet- she English too?"
He relaxed, just a fraction, and to my surprise I did too. Nothing about this guy said "fighter," but I had a feeling. "No.
Not at all. She's...very American. Tiny. Blonde, though I suppose she could've changed that. Her name...no, she would've
changed that too." He fell silent, staring down at the sidewalk. I shifted my weight from foot to foot and ran through the
last few weeks in my head.
"Sorry, man, I ain't seen her." He nodded and held out the other bill. I shrugged. "I didn't help, shouldn't take your
"Take it anyway," he said briefly. "You need it, take it. A gift, not charity."
How'd he see that one coming? One protest was enough for me, anyway. I took the twenty and stood there for a moment. He
just looked at me, real patient, and he looked so tired I almost didn't say it. But a leader can't hide from the tough stuff.
"Look, man, a girl comin' down here and disappearing...she probably ain't gonna be seein' daylight again, you know?"
He smiled, a faint motion that didn't touch his eyes. "Not this girl," he said quietly. "If they'd gotten her, I would know
it. They'd be bragging."
"Somebody special, huh?" He nodded, and I squinted up at where the stars supposedly were. "Well, you got a number I can
call if I see her?"
He opened the bag slung over his shoulder, and somehow I wasn't surprised to see it was full of stakes. He fished out a white
card with a number written on it. "Call collect," he said, handing it over. "Any time, day or night."
I slipped it into my pocket. "You got it. Who'm I asking for?"
"Rupert." He dug into the bag again and came up with a handful of wooden crosses on beaded strings. Rosaries. That would
make the hermanos on the crew happy. He held those out to me too. "You can never have too many."
"Thanks." I wrapped them carefully around my hand and he turned to walk away. "Ain't this the part where you tell me to
quit fighting a fight I can't win, and to better myself and just get the hell out of this neighborhood?"
He glanced back over his shoulder. "No. It's the part where I tell you to take care of your people, and be careful, and watch
your back, because there's a vampire behind you."
I whirled around and held up my handful of rosaries, and the thing shied back, hissing. Something flashed past my head, over
my shoulder, and the vamp crumbled into dust. I heard a soft sigh of satisfaction from behind me.
"Keep the stake," Rupert said. His footsteps vanished into the night before I caught my breath.