A pop echoed through the apartment. A gasp and a curse followed. “That’s not right,” Mac growled.
“Oh, please,” Giguhl hissed. “Like anyone’s gonna believe you’re disgusted by a little pussy.”
“The pussy part’s not the problem,” Georgia responded, her tone positively arid. “It’s the double entendre between your legs.”
“Bitch, please,” the demon cat responded, obviously enjoying the banter. “One night with this bad boy and you’ll give up the poon forever.”
Alexis shot me a confused look from the hall. “What the hell are they talking about?”
“Trust me.” I shook my head and shut the door behind me. “You don’t want to know.”
In conclusion,” Adam was saying to Tanith and Orpheus half an hour later, “we now believe the two murders are connected.”
Once again, we were sitting around the conference table in Orpheus’s office. We’d had Alexis start with her findings, which frankly didn’t amount to much. No one at Vein the night of the murder saw a damned thing. She also said when no witnesses turned up, she’d asked Slade if she could see the security footage. Naturally that was a dead end, too, because Slade didn’t allow cameras in the back rooms, to protect his customers’ privacy.
After Alexis finished her report, Adam took the lead on relaying what we’d learned from Mistress Bianca. His observation about the murders being connected grabbed the leaders’ interest big-time.
“They certainly sound connected,” Orpheus said. “Unfortunately, the human’s death also means your trail has dried up.”
“Not necessarily,” I said. “Mistress Bianca told us that she’d been approached by some rough vampire elements about supporting a change in the Black Light District leadership.”
The Despina perked up. “Oh?”
I nodded. “Apparently, Slade’s alliance with the Despina shook up some old resentment among the city’s vamps.”
“Who’s behind the movement to oust Slade?”
Adam looked to me to explain. “Tiny Malone.” I grimaced. “He runs a strip club in Alphabet City. He’s little more than a hustler. Hardly powerful enough to give Slade a direct challenge for power.”
Adam stepped in. “Unless he could work behind the scenes, sowing discontent among the vamp population while also undermining Slade’s authority by making it look like he’s not in control.”
Orpheus nodded. “Sounds like you need to go pay this Malone a visit.”
Ugh. I knew it was inevitable, but the very idea left a bad taste in my mouth. Especially since I knew the minute I walked in his club, Tiny would recognize me.
Alexis had been mostly quiet during the discussion. I assumed she was allowing Adam and me to take the lead, as Orpheus had instructed us to do. But the scowl on her face indicated she was annoyed we’d been the ones to get the new lead. “What exactly is our objective when we approach him?”
I squinted at her, wondering if it was a trick question. “Obviously, we’re going to talk to him to figure out if he’s behind the murders.”
“Talk,” she snorted. “You ask me, we grab him off the street, take him to a remote location, and beat the truth out of him.”
I had to bite my lip to keep from pointing out that, in fact, no one had asked her shit. Next to me, Adam opened his mouth to respond, but the Despina beat him to it. “I concur. Swift, decisive action is the best approach.”
Adam shot them both a disbelieving look. “Pardon me, but at this point all we have to go on is hearsay. If we beat him, he’ll maybe confess but only because he wants the pain to end.”
“There’s no maybe about it,” the Despina said without a trace of concern. “Torturing confessions out of criminals is Alexis’s specialty.”
The vampire cracked her knuckles. “Back in Los Angeles they call me the Iron Maiden.”
I closed my eyes and prayed for patience. When I opened them again, Adam was staring at the females like they’d grown two more heads. “Well, Iron Maiden, it’s common knowledge that you can’t trust confessions from torture victims. And since our goal is to find a killer, not just a random, forced confession, I think we’ll skip the beatings for now.”
Tanith narrowed her eyes at the mancy. “That’s not your decision to make. Orpheus, what do you say?”
“I am committed to finding the murderer as quickly as possible.” He cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, clear signs there was a “but” coming. “However, in this case, I don’t believe we have enough evidence to justify such extreme measures with Mr. Malone.” The Despina stiffened, but he continued. “Sabina, Adam, and Alexis will question Mr. Malone. If they feel that harsher measures are warranted based on that conversation, then I’ll consider your suggestion.”
“With all due respect, High Councilman, you’re making a mistake,” Tanith snapped.
“I welcome your participation in this investigation as an ally,” Orpheus replied coolly. “But you would do well to remember that you are in mage territory.”
The air was sucked out of the room. I wanted to pump my fist to support Orpheus’s kick-ass display. But I refrained because at that moment the Despina looked like she was ready to jump across the table and, mage territory or no, show the High Councilman how vampires dealt with public shaming. Not very diplomatic of her, I must say.
However, she seemed to get herself under control quickly. Her nostrils flared as she sucked some air into her lungs and swallowed her pride. “Understood.”
Orpheus acknowledged that with a dignified nod. “I applaud your dedication. Just as I know Sabina and Adam appreciate Alexis’s assistance.”
This was the part where Adam and I were supposed to eagerly nod and make appreciative noises. Only one of us managed to pull that feat off. I was too busy swallowing the bile that always rose when politicians tried to force saccharine platitudes down my gullet. However, no one seemed to notice my discomfort. Except Alexis, who glared at me so hard I think I felt my skin burn.
Needless to say, as we all rose to go find Tiny, I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about the outcome of our upcoming chat.
The Fang Bang squatted between a liquor store and a brick tenement that escaped the 1990s Alphabet City gentrification. The facade of the two-story building was painted black. The only color at all was the red of the tufted vinyl door. The sign out front advertised the business as FB CLUB, MEMBERS ONLY.
Adam, Alexis, and I stood on the sidewalk outside the club discussing the plan. “Red, what can you tell us about the layout?” Adam asked.
“There are two exits—the front door and another at the rear of the hallway next to Tiny’s office. I never went to the second floor, but I assume that in a pinch, we’ll probably find a fire escape or two.”
“Where does the back door lead?” Alexis asked.
“An alley runs along the back of the building.”
She raised a brow. “You’re sure?”
“Positive.” I didn’t mention that I’d escaped into that alley after my last visit to the club. Or that I’d puked my guts out next to the Dumpster after the scent of Tiny’s singed skin made me physically ill. Or that Slade had to come pick me up because I’d been too out of it to make it home on my own.
“So how are we going to play this?” Alexis asked. “Since we’re not ambushing.” Her tone held lingering resentment. I ignored it. She didn’t like not being in charge? Too damned bad.
“What do you think, mancy? Good vamp, bad mage?”
Adam’s lip twitched. “Considering you kicked his ass last time you were here, I’m pretty sure Tiny won’t buy you as the good vamp.”
“Wait a second,” Alexis said. “You mentioned you’d been here before, but not that you fought this guy. Do you really think he’ll tell us anything if you’re there?”
I pursed my lips. I didn’t want to admit that she might be right. But in all honesty, I was expecting Tiny to take one look at me and sic his goons on us. “I’m hoping the three of us can talk some sense into him before he does anything stupid.”
“Or you could stay out here and let the mage and me handle it.”
I was already shaking my head halfway through her sentence. “Hell, no. I’m not freezing my ass off out here while you two get to have all the fun.”
“Sabina,” Adam said. “She may be right. We’re here for answers, not a fight.”
“Adam, this is a vampire club. They’re just as likely to attack when you walk in as they would be if they saw me.”
Adam frowned. “That would be the case in Los Angeles. This is New York. Even a slimeball like Tiny has to understand that pissing off the Hekate Council would be very bad for his health.”
“You must be joking,” I snorted. “Or did you forget the reason we’re here? Tiny is a suspect in the murder of a mage, Adam.”
Alexis raised a hand. “Guys, there’s a simple solution here. I’ll go in alone and find out what I can.”
“Oh, hell no,” Adam snapped. “You’re the one who wanted to kidnap the guy and cut his fingers off.”
She raised a brow. “Not his fingers.”
I rolled my eyes. “Look, like it or not, we’re all going in. Together.”
“Wait,” Adam said. He had that clever little gleam in his eye that always preceded an idea. “Sabina, why don’t we just use a glamour spell on you? Then Tiny won’t recognize you.”
I snapped my fingers. “Perfect!”
“Wait, why does the mancy have to do the spell on you?” she asked. “I thought you were all magical and shit.”
Her tone and her challenging glare tested my already thin patience. “I can’t do every type of spell in existence, Alexis. But I’d be happy to perform a demonstration of one of my specialties if you’d like.”