The Casino, on other hand, looked like a beautiful mirage born of desert heat, sand, and magic. White and so elegant, it nearly floated above the ground of the large lot decorated with fountains, statues, and colored lamps. All that beauty hid a vampire stable. Undead, forever hungry and gripped in the steel vise of navigators' minds, haunted its slim minarets. A casino milking money from the human greed occupied its main floor, and deep inside it, the People brewed their schemes and machination with ruthless precision of a high-tech corporation, interested only in results and profits.
I parked the Jeep in the parking lot and peered at the Casino palace through the windshield. I didn't want to go in. Judging by the surly look on his face, Curran didn't want to go in either.
We opened our doors at the same time and headed toward the Casino.
"We're doing this for the child," Curran said.
"Yes." It was good to remember that. "We're just going to go in and talk to them."
"And not kill anybody," Curran added.
"And not break things."
"Because we don't want a giant bill from the People."
"Yes." Curran's face was grim. "I'm not giving them any of the Pack's money."
I nodded. "We'll be good, we won't have to pay any damages, and then we'll come out and take a nice shower.
"Wash the stench off. I can smell the bloodsuckers from here."
"I can feel them from here."
I could - the sparks of vampiric magic tugged on me from the white parapets.
"Thanks for doing this," Curran said.
"Thank you for coming with me."
Get in, get out, not cause a giant war between the Pack and the People. Piece of cake.
We passed through the tall arched entrance guarded by two men with curved yataghan swords. The guards wore black and looked suitably menacing. They very carefully didn't look at us.
Inside a deluge of sound assaulted us: the noises of slot machines, refitted to work during magic, metal ringing, music, beeping, mixing with shouts from the crowd surrendering their hard-earned money for the promise of easy cash. Lemon-scented perfume drifted through the cold air - the People were keeping their customers awake, because the sleeping couldn't gamble.
Curran wrinkled his noise.
"Almost there, baby," I told him, zeroing in on the service entrance door at the far end of the vast room.
A large overweight man spun away from the machine and ran into Curran. "Hey! Watch it!"
Curran sidestepped him and we kept walking.
"Asshole!" The man barked at our backs.
"I love this place," Curran said.
"It's so serene and peaceful, and filled with considerate people. I thought you'd enjoy the ambiance."
"I adore it."
We passed through the service entrance. One of the journeymen, a man in a black trousers, black shirt, and dark purple vest rose from behind the desk.
"How can I help you?"
"It's alright, Stuart." A woman descended the stairway on the side, walking into the room. She was five two and looked like anatomical impossibility made of adolescent boys dreams. Tiny waist, generous hips, and an award-winning chest, wrapped in dusky silk. Her hair fell down past her butt in red wavy locks, and when she smiled at you, you had a strong urge to do whatever she asked. Her name was Rowena and she ran the People's PR and piloted undead for a living.
She was also in debt to the witches, which in a round-about way caused her to be in debt to me. If I asked a favor, she had to do it, the fact which we both hid from everyone.
"Mr. Lennart. Ms. Daniels." Rowena fired off a beautiful smile. "Lawrence is waiting for you upstairs. Follow me, please."
We followed, Rowena's shiny perfect butt shifting as she walked the stairs two feet in front of us. Curran heroically didn't look at it.
She led us to a small room with a two way mirror. One would've expected a table, severe grey walls, and chairs bolted to the floor, but no, the room's walls were cream with a delicate pale lattice carved at the top and the furniture consisted of a modern sofa and two soft chair set with a coffee table between them. Lawrence sat in the corner of the sofa. He looked pale and his eyes were bloodshot.
We sat in the chairs.
"Do you know who we are?" Curran said quietly.
Lawrence nodded. "I've been briefed. I'm supposed to cooperate."
I pulled out a notepad from my pocket. "How long did you know Amanda?"
Lawrence swallowed. "Three years. She was admitted as an apprentice right after her high school graduation."
"How long have you dated?" I asked.
"Thirteen months next week," he said. His voice was hoarse. He cleared his throat.
"Tell us about her family," Curran said.
Lawrence sighed. "She didn't like them."
"Why not?" I prompted.
"She said her mother was very cold. Aurellia would go through the motions, make sure that Amanda and her brother were fed and appropriately dressed. She was very specific about their schedule. The Steel Calendar, Amanda called it. If they had to have a doctor's appointment or a school trip, it was put on the calendar and there was no deviation from it. Amanda had perfect attendance the entire four years in high school. No matter how sick she was, her mother would send her to school. Never late. But there was never any love or real warmth there."
"And her father?" Curran asked.