Timeline: March 25th, 2008
The girl had come in around mid-afternoon, sat down at a table and had lunch. She wore a black dress with a sheer red underskirt that showed off a splash of bold color. It had an adjustable waist (tightened nicely) and short sleeves. The dress was lovely, but didn’t look like it had been new for a while. She also had a pair of long but worn black gloves with the fingers cut out of them set on the table next to her. Her long hair had loose, natural curls in it and she wore it simply, letting it spill about her shoulders. Fingernails were painted black and her makeup had a bold, goth look to it with full lips painted red and eyes traced with black eyeliner.
She had long ago finished the lunch, consisting of a burger and a salad with a coke, followed by a glass of cheap red wine which she had ben nursing for about an hour now. She had paid her bill already, but had used fistfuls of various change and wadded bills. Rey wasn’t sure at all that she’d be getting a tip.
There was a beat-up old laptop she had out. There wasn’t any Internet access in the bar that Rey knew of, but she apparently was doing some kind of work on it as she occasionally sampled her wine. There were a couple books, too. One appeared to be some kind of paperback fiction, judging by the colors on the cover, perhaps a horror or dark fantasy book. The title was concealed since it was face down. Another book looked like an old journal, but yet it was printed, not hand-written. There were strange wood-cut images in there that the girl seemed to be studying as well as lots of text squeezed together across the oversize pages.
There was nobody else in the bar right now, and she hadn’t seen the young woman around before. Rey thought she’d see what she could learn about the newcomer. “Working on a paper?” she asked with a friendly smile.
She looked around. There wasn’t anyone else in the bar but Rey. “Oh not really. I was working up an ad for ebay. I’m selling some art pieces for a friend.” She glanced at the books at on the table. “And doing some light reading,” she said with a slightly mischievous smile.
Rey grinned. “Your idea of light reading is a lot like mine. Who’s the artist you’re helping?”
“A local, actually,” replied the girl. “But I’ve gotten the impression she prefers to remain anonymous for now.” She closed her laptop and turned toward Rey. She extended a hand. “My name’s Jesse.”
“I’m Rey.” Rey took Jesse’s hand and shook it. “A local, huh. Is it Ann-Marie?” It was just a guess, but Ann-Marie was the only artist she knew of that might not want her name widely known. And Rey really hoped that it wasn’t. While the pack may have accepted the vampire, deep down, Rey simply didn’t trust her.
Jesse nodded with surprise. “You know her?”
Rey hoped the dismay she felt hadn’t shown on her face or in her eyes. “Yeah, I do,” she said, keeping her voice light and friendly. “She comes in here once in a while. We’ve got some mutual friends, and her current boyfriend and my boyfriend are best friends.”
Jesse didn’t appear to notice Rey’s distress over the news. “Oh, she has a boyfriend?” She wore a big grin. “I thought she was such a solitary artist type. Hey, maybe I’ll get to meet him!
“But honestly,” she continued, “I don’t know Ann-Marie too well yet. But I’m getting there. We’ve talked on and off for about a week now. She offered me a job earning commission on the sale of her paintings. Or rather… I guess I sort of volunteered to do it and she accepted.” Jesse grinned. “I’m not shy. Want to sit down?”
“Well, calling him her boyfriend sounds a lot better than fuckbuddy,” Rey said with a slight smile as she joined Jesse at the table. “It’s probably none of my business, and I know we just met, but be careful around Ann-Marie, okay?”
Hamilton, the woman I’m talking to. Can you see anything interesting about her? she asked her familiar.
No, came the quick reply, but her shoes sure do smell interesting! It was a good bet he had snuck under the table and was even now getting a nose-full.
Jesse couldn’t suppress a laugh. “Fuckbuddy? Okay, so maybe that’s why he hasn’t been around when she and I meet up. But what do you mean about being careful around Ann-Marie?” she asked curiously.
Interesting? In what way?
Mmmm, the cat spirit was murmuring purred satisfaction. Feet smell and leather….
Rey paused, trying to figure out the best way to explain it without sounding like a loony. “Let’s just say I know some stuff about her, and it’s not safe for people like us to hang around her too much.”
Jesse frowned. “You make it sound like she works for the mob or something.”
Rey shook her head. “No, not the mob,” she said. “Just forget I said anything about it, okay? If I told you, you’d think I was a loony.” Her mouth curved into an embarrassed smile.
Stop sniffing her feet. Geez, when did you develop a foot fetish?
Whenever I feel like it, the cat answered honestly and with humor.
Jesse gave her a puzzled look. “You’re really worried, aren’t you? But it’s okay. I’m an open person. If there’s something on your mind, you aren’t going to scare me off just because it sounds weird. I mean, look at me; I’m not exactly a model of conformity.” She gave Rey a big, friendly grin.
I don’t ever remember you sniffing my feet like that. Rey teased, and her unease at the conversation leaked into her mental voice.
Rey couldn’t help but return the smile, at least a little bit. “Do you believe in the supernatural? Like ghosts and stuff?”
She nodded emphatically. “Definitely.” She wiggled her fingers to draw Rey’s attention to them. She saw there that the decorative silver rings bore images of a skull, a zombie head, and another was in the shape of a snake curled around her finger.
“Well, now I’m pretty sure Ann-Marie doesn’t know that I know, but she’s a vampire.” There. She’d said it.
Jesse cocked her head to the side. “What makes you say that?” she asked cautiously. She wasn’t quite so good at hiding her feelings as Rey was. Rey sensed that she wasn’t surprised because she already knew but was probably fishing around for how many people knew that.
“Because I’m not your average bar waitress,” Rey said. “And don’t worry. I figure about a dozen people in Eldon Well know what she is, and I doubt they’re going to out her.” She shifted in her chair. “I normally wouldn’t have said anything, but I like you, and I don’t want to see you get hurt. A vampire back in New York turned the guy I loved there into a ghoul, a slave addicted to her blood and fanatically loyal, and then was going to do the same thing to me – or worse.” Rey didn’t bother to hide the loss she still felt. “If it hadn’t been for two friends, god only knows where I’d be right now.”
Jesse blinked, trying to absorb all the information Rey had just told her. “Wait. Ghoul? A slave addicted to her blood? You mean your… your guy actually drank her blood? In today’s age that’s very unhealthy. Why would he do that? Was he… uh, not well? I’ve never heard of a person being addicted to blood before.”
“A human who drinks the blood of a vampire gets supernatural powers for as long as they drink it,” Rey said, “or at least I think that’s how it works. It’s addictive, like some kind of super crack. And Frank didn’t do it willingly. She forced him to do it. Vampires pick out people who they take a fancy to, or have skills they think would be useful, or just because they can; those who have no family, those who won’t be missed, and then just take them. Vampires don’t care about humans. We’re just tools or food to them.
“Of course, Ann-Marie will deny it. And she’ll probably spin some story about how wonderful being her servant would be. Make it all glamorous, but it’s still nothing but slavery.” Rey frown and made a small rude noise. “I guess it’s kind of obvious I have issues about vampires. Not all vampires are completely evil, though, but I still don’t trust them completely. I mean, how can you really trust something that doesn’t have a soul?”
“Everything has a soul,” Jesse said. “Even the dead. And it sounds like you have a pretty generalized view of them — not that your opinion is wrong. I wouldn’t know that. But the thing that stands out to me is that, if Ann-Marie was really like that, doing that to people, and so many people know about her then I don’t see how folks would let her get away with it. Or are all the people you mentioned also vampires?”
“Vampires may have souls, but it sure as heck isn’t a part of them anymore. They’ve got this big, gaping void where their souls should be. Some just hide it better than others,” Rey said. “Ann-Marie’s like that. She’s good at passing for human. She’s the only vampire I know of here in Eldon Well. She’s probably making sure she’s on her best behavior.” She leaned back in her chair. “I will have to admit much of my experience with vampires is bad, and my knowledge of them is sparse. It’s not like you can go out and get books on them from the library.” Rey smiled.
“Yeah, it sure does sound like you’ve had some bad experiences. I haven’t had a boyfriend taken from me like that. But it does sound like you know Ann-Marie pretty well. I have to think you have some friends that are just as interesting as Ann-Marie, though, since you mentioned they know about her. Is there any chance I could meet them?”
“Come around the Blood & Brew often enough and you’ll get to meet most of them.” Rey smiled. “Are you allergic to cats?”
“Good. You can meet one of my friends right now,” Rey said. Hamilton, jump up into my lap, please. I’d like you to meet Jesse, whose feet you find so fascinating.
He hopped up there and peeked over the top of the table at Jesse. “Merrow?”
Jesse laughed. “Oh, he’s perfect! A black cat.”
Of course I’m perfect, Hamilton agreed. Does she have no idea how much time I spend to make my fur so soft and shiny? By the way, Rey, do you suppose there is any particular reason she is reading what appears to be a book on Vodoun written in French?
Rey chuckled. “He thanks you for the compliment.” She scratched his favorite spot and smiled at the very loud purr. “Are you a practitioner of Voudon?” she asked, watching Jesse’s face to see what her reaction to the question would be.
“Yup. You must read French,” she remarked.
Rey nodded. “Speak it pretty well too. Learned it growing up. My mom thought it was elegant and would make me a lady.” She snorted. “She hated it when I spoke like this,” Rey said, deliberately giving her accent free reign.
Jesse switched to French. [“I don’t speak much fluently. I learn from me Aunt Milli, but can read goodder than speaky it. And plus I can read French menus and pronounce the items. Handy for that.”] She grinned.
[“If you’d like,”] Rey replied in the same language, [“I could help you get better at it. I don’t have many opportunities to speak French. And then we can pretend we’re in a bistro in Paris and talk about all the cute guys walking by.”]
Jesse laughed. “That would be great! Plus the girls really think you’re exotic if you’re pretty and you seem European.” Her hand touched Rey’s for a moment as Jesse caught her eye.
A squeak was emitted as someone opened the front door. Rey recognized the light shine off of Ramiel’s pale hair as he stepped into the bar. Tonight he was adorned in a long sleeve black fishnet shirt, black leather jeans and black boots. His hair was down and he looked like he was in a good mood. Ramiel stopped briefly at the bar to get a drink, his usual.
Jesse looked a little nervous at the new guy’s presence at her table. “Um… a friend of yours?”
“Can I help myself then? Or am I being cut off already?” He smiled his woman killer smile — the one so many had fallen for.
“Turn it down a notch, will ya,” Rey said with a laugh, obviously not taken in by that smile. “Jesse, this is Cambion. He’s a really good friend of mine. Almost family, in fact. Cambion, this is my new friend, Jesse.”
Jesse glanced out the front window and saw that the sun was setting, but still ignited the cloudy spring sky. She looked at Ramiel, but deflected his smile by turning her face away from him and back to Rey. “Heh,” she chuckled shortly. “Interesting name. Your parents must have been unusual folks to pick that one.”
She switched to French. [“Is that be his real name? He look more like a Philippe or Raoul or maybe a Marco to me.”] She gave Ramiel a sly look and laughed.
[“No, it’s not his real name, but the one he wants to be called by,”[ Rey replied. [“He likes to push and tease, but will never take things where you don’t want it to go.”]
“Do you know what a Cambion is?” He continued to smile.”I am helping myself then.” He kissed Rey gently on the cheeck and went behind the bar to make himself a rum and coke.
“Yeah,” said the surprisingly scholarly girl. “It’s like in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, that twisted guy — what’s his name? Caliban. He was the son of a that devil witch… I forget her name. Anyway, Shakespeare had it right in that a Cambion is the offspring of an incubus or succubus and a human, but he just sort of dumbed it down to simply ‘devil’ or ‘witch’.”
One thing was sure. Jesse seemed to know her theater — or at least that one play.
He smiled. “Good. You are up on your Shakespeare.” Ramiel returned to the table. “Though I am nothing like Caliban. But I may indeed be a devil.”
“You’re in a very good mood tonight,” Rey said to Ramiel. The devil comment concerned her. Hamilton, can you see anything different about Ramiel tonight?
Sorry, he said apologetically. I never see anything special about humans. Nor is it possible to detect any spirits that might be possessing humans, miss.
“Really?” said wide-eyed Jesse. “What makes you say that?” she asked of Ramiel.
It’s okay, Rey said, giving her familiar an extra scratch between the ears. I didn’t think he was possessed. What he said reminded me of something Ironclaw said to me a couple months ago, about how Ramiel and Lyla have some kind of mark on their souls. I still haven’t been able to figure out what it is. Or how to help them if it’s something bad.
Ramiel wrapped one arm around Rey’s shoulders. But his eyes were for Jesse. “Let us not get into that, right now. I am more interested in you at the moment. What brings you to Eldon Well?”
“Work,” Jesse said. “I came up to interview with Daniel James, but after the interview I decided that secretary work might not really be what I want. I met a local artist named Ann-Marie about a week ago, just before I had to head back home, though, and she gave me a job earning commissions on her art. I’m selling them for her on the Internet. Both originals and prints, too, whatever we can get! I’m not quite set up though. I need some equipment. Scanners, printers, stuff to ship the paintings, things like that.
“What do you do, Cambion?”
“I own a small store here in town.” He took a drink. “So both Anne Marie and Daniel. Wow. Not much I can say to that one.”
Jesse frowned, and worry appeared upon her otherwise quite attractive face. “Um. Is there something wrong with that?”
Rey looked at Ramiel, but remained quiet. She knew his opinion of Daniel, and now she knew what he thought of Ann-Marie, and wondered what had happened to cause it.
He laughed. “That look does nto suit you at all. Smile again, you are so beautiful when you do. As for something wrong, not for me to say. That will be for you to decide.”
Jesse shrugged and said. “I already have. That’s why I’m working for her,” she said simply. She picked up her wine glass but it was empty. She put it back down.
“Would you like more?” He asked as he reached for the glass.
“Want a refill, Jesse?” Rey asked, gently shooing Hamilton out of her lap so she could stand.
They had spoken nearly at the same time. Jesse smiled with the humor. “Gee, I feel so well taken care of. Thanks, but I’m afraid I can’t afford any more.”
In the windows, the last vestiges of sunlight had disappeared. Soon, Jesse knew that Ann-Marie would arrive to meet her.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rey said with a smile. “My treat.” She picked up Jesse’s glass and went to refill it.
Jesse grinned. “Thanks!”
Left momentarily alone with Ramiel, she seemed to be vaguely uncomfortable and so to distract herself, she began to put her books into her shoulder bag. The large one was very old, heavy and featured a very what appeared to be a hand-written title in French.
Ann-Marie stepped into the Blood & Brew and calmly noted Ramiel already seemingly hitting on Jesse. She thought, Won’t he ever stop? She dismissed it and stepped up to the bar to get some wine before joining Jesse.
Rey got Ann-Marie her wine, and got Jesse a fresh glass and filled it with a vintage a bit better than she’d given Ann-Marie. She carried Jesse’s glass back to the table and gave it to her. [“Try not to let him get to you. He’s a lech, but a good guy,”] she said softly in French.
Jesse replied in her broken accent, [“Ooo, a lech, is he?”] she said with a wry look in her eyes. [“This should be fun.”] But Jesse sent her attention toward the newest arrival. “Hi Ann-Marie!”
Ann-Marie silently follows, wondering bemused about this impromptu gathering. “Good evening Jesse, I see you’ve met some of my acquaintances.”
[“Well, maybe lech is too strong a word.”] Rey shot a bemused look at Ramiel. [“He really is a nice guy, though. Did… Would you like me to tell him to back off?”]
Ramiel sat there pretending the speaking in French did not bother him. His brain trying to figure out a way to translate. Damn that I don’t study the Mind Arcanum!
“Naw, it’s cool,” Jesse said in English. “I can handle myself.” She slid her chair a bit closer to the chair Rey was using so there’d be room for Ann-Marie to join them. She said to Ann-Marie, “Yeah. We were just discussing whether Cambion here had a little devil in him.” She smiled.
“Hmm. Perhaps so,” Ann-Marie mused, “May I join you?” she asked.
“Well I don’t see why not.” Ramiel sighed as he realized how much tonight was going to suck. Of course I could always leave. He thought.
Rey reached over under the table to take Ramiel’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Do you need a refill?” she asked him.
Ann-Marie sat down next to Jesse, noting the discomfort in Ramiel’s eyes but not commenting on it.
Jesse said, “So anyway, I’ve got a little bidding war started on your latest piece. I just have camera phone pictures, but people seem to like it! But I was thinking maybe we should get a real camera to get a good shot of your work.”
Ann-Marie was excited. “It seems things are going well. I can reinvest my profits on equipment for you, starting with the camera. We’ll make a list and I’ll keep painting.” She added, “This is beginning to turn out well!”
Ramiel squeezed back gently as Rey touched him. “Can I have a double?” He whispered into her ear.
“Sure thing,” Rey whispered. She brushed her lips across his cheek in a light kiss, and then gave him a saucy wink as she retreated to the bar. A moment later, she returned with a fresh drink for Ramiel, and a drink for herself.
Jesse dug around in her bag until she found a slip of paper, which she then handed to Ann-Marie. “There ya go, boss,” she said with a big grin. The paper had a neatly hand-written list of several choices of camera along with their prices and projected shipping times from various online electronics stores. Each camera also had a list of features, most of which didn’t mean much to vampire. “I wasn’t sure what kind of budget we had to start us out, but any of those cameras will work. The rule of thumb is that the cheaper ones will get us by for a while, but might not as well crafted or long-lasting as the more expensive ones. They have equivalent features.
“But we can talk business later, if you like. We’ll have to go out to the hub to place the order anyway.” Jesse took a sip of her wine and then looked around the table. “Well, I might be here for a while. How do you all like it here in Eldon Well? Any exciting things going on here? Or any interesting places to go?”
“I love it here,” Rey said, and smile and voice overflowing with contentment. “I bought a little cabin just outside of town just before Christmas last year. Things should get busier, though, once tourist season starts. If you’re looking for clubs or stuff like that, though, you’ll have to drive in to Concord.”
“In truth it is not a bad place to be. You can go party in the city and come back to a calmer pace,” Ramiel said as he took a drink. “Thanks by the way, for the drink. He had nothing else to do that night so he hung around.
“I’ve only been here a couple months Jesse, but so far I like it. I’m a fan of the wilderness and nature, it carries over into my work. But we’ll chat about those details and the camera ones later. My friend Lyla and I often go to Concord or even farther to go clubbing, you should join us some time. I’ve seen you in a club before Cambion, but Rey I’m afraid we really don’t know each other well. Do you like nightclubbing?”, asked Ann-Marie.
“I do if there is a goth night, or maybe with something industrial or fetish-style,” Jesse added. “I don’t do a lot of dancing or elbowing for space with yuppies or their suburbanite kids. How about you, Rey?”
Rey shook her head. “Not really my thing.” She shrugged. “I just turned 21 anyway, and I’ve never really had the urge to use my fake id when I had it anyway.”
“I’m like you Jesse, though I do have some respect for techno or even hip-hop for dancing. It needs a great beat, and I don’t care what the song means as long as there is power in it. For dancing that is.” She paused, “You should try it Rey, perhaps you can join us?” She looked to Ramiel, “Of course, if you don’t mind us stealing Lyla or a girl’s night out?”
Ramiel had slid down a little in his seat. “Lyla does whatever she wants to. Not my call. Besides she only goes to clubs for the same reason I do, to get laid.”
Jesse tried to puzzle out the relationship. There was something there between Ramiel and Lyla, so she guessed it was family since he didn’t care if she went out without him. Jesse looked at him, trying to guess at his feelings about it. “Is she your sister?”
“At times.” He said with a smile.”Lover, partner, what have you at others. Why?” He asked. Ramiel was still relaxed and laid back. Not his usual smart-ass.
“Let’s say their relationship is unique for today, but not unprecedented in history. At least how I understand it. But that is their business,” said Ann-Marie to Jesse clearly not wishing to put Ramiel on the spot.”
“Thanks for the invitation,” Rey said, “but I’m really not interested in clubbing. I don’t like crowds, and if I want to get laid, I have Grey.” From the smile on her face, it was pretty obvious Rey thought he did a very good job at it.
“‘Kay.” Jesse seemed willing enough to let Rey’s answer stand. “Maybe I’ll get to meet Lyla some time, then.” She looked curiously at Ramiel. “So you guys have an open relationship? Does that work?”
He could not help the smile. “As long as we share sometimes, it is perfect.”
A couple things suddenly ran through Rey’s mind, and she looked at Ramiel speculatively. She chuckled, then looked at her glass and took a long drink from it.
Ann-Marie slowly gazed at Ramiel from across the table in such a way that Jesse likely couldn’t see. It was an unmistakable, Don’t even think about it, followed by a slight knowing smile, “You see Cambion here sometimes comes off as fancying himself the ultimate lover. But, he’s humble about it most of the time.” She joked, sipping her wine.
He laughed. “Oh Marie, how you wish to test me. My skills as a lover are best experienced. However you will likely never know.”
Ann-Marie laughed a little, leaving no answer, just a smile.
“I don’t get it, Ramiel,” said Jesse. “What do you mean by ‘share’ sometimes?”
“He means,” Rey said, trying to hide a smile, “that if one brings someone home, the other gets to join them in bed. You know, a threesome. Or a foursome.”
“Well, I know where this conversation is heading,” said Ann-Marie. “They have a very open relationship.”
“Well now that we all know about my relationship, how about you Jesse. How do you like yours?” Ramiel waited for her to answer.
“I don’t. At least not for a while now,” Jesse said. “But if I did, it would probably be a one on one relationship.”
Ann-Marie just sat and observed the conversation, giving a reassuring and approving look to Jesse.
Rey’s face was calm as she continued to drink her cola, but her mind was raging. Where does she get off approving or disapproving of Jesse’s choices? she asked Hamilton.
Perhaps Ann-Marie is taking a parental role toward Jesse? offered the cat. It makes me wonder a bit, miss. Do you suppose Jesse has parents and friends who might miss her? She seems to have come all the way from the big city and just decided not to go back.
I know, and that has me concerned. Rey set her glass down. “What made you decide to stay in Eldon Well, Jesse?”
Jesse thought about that. “A job for one. And,” her voice fell and her face dropped as she stared into her wine, “I don’t have much left back in New York. The Big Apple turned out to be more like a big rotten apple for me.”
Ramiel had a good idea where Rey’s mind was at. He decided to play along with her. “Isn’t your family and friend going to miss you? Or do they even know you are gone?” He asked.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to Jesse,” said Ann-Marie, thinking that Jesse might not be comfortable discussing the past.
“I know,” Jesse said. “It’s okay. My family doesn’t live in New York — they’re in Ohio. I went to NYU Greenwich with my friend Renee to get my degree in anthropology. She wanted to try her luck on Broadway and after I graduated from NYU, I decided to try it, too.” She took a drink of wine.
“Things kind of … soured between Renee and I,” Jesse said.
Rey reached out and gave Jesse’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Eldon Well is a good place to make a new start. You’ve been here for what, a week or so now?” Her smile was warm and friendly. “You’ve already made some friends, right mon amie?”
Ann-Marie said, “Perhaps that is a story for another day? As pleasant as this is, we do have some work to do Jesse. The Blood & Brew is open fairly late, we can come back later if you wish.” Ann-Marie really didn’t like other poking into the past of her employee.
“Hmm, possesive.” Ramiel smiled at Jesse. “I think you are interesting Jesse. If you would like perhaps we could meet for lunch tomorrow? We could go out with Rey and continue our conversation, or find other things to talk about. I can tell I make you a litle uneasy, but then I do have that appeal for some. It is up to you Jesse, the offer is open.”
“Are you buying?” asked the broke girl.
“Of course.” he said with a smile. After that he sat quietly.
“Then you’re on. Here at noon tomorrow.” She smile and put her things away. The big book wouldn’t fit in the bag with her laptop, though. This she carried separately.
“See you tomorrow, Jesse. Ann-Marie,” Rey said with a nod.
Ann-Marie got up to join Jesse, waiting on Rey to say her goodbyes. She smiled pleasantly to the two of them, “Nice chatting with you. Perhaps Rey we can get to know each other better. Cambion, see you later.” She had several things to discuss with Jesse that evening, this conversation for certain.