Home > Song in the Dark (Vampire Files #11)

Song in the Dark (Vampire Files #11)
Author: P.N. Elrod

Chapter 1

Chicago, January 1938

I slouched in the backseat of Gordy's Cadillac, the one that had just slightly less armor than a German tank, keeping clear of the rearview mirror out of habit, not because I cared one way or the other. The driver, a stone-faced guy named Strome, probably wouldn't have said anything about my lack of reflection even if he'd noticed. He almost certainly had other things on his mind, like whether or not he would be the one delegated to kill me tonight.

It was really too bad for him, because I got the idea that he'd begun to like me. I already had his respect.

A scant few nights ago Strome had seen me apparently dead, an ugly kind of dead, then had to contend with my quick and mystifying return to good health. I gave no explanations to him or any of the others who were aware of my experience, and soon he'd accepted that I'd somehow survived. So far as he knew now I was still healing from that bloody damage, yet able to walk around and carry on with what passed for normal life, which in his eyes made me without a doubt the toughest SOB in Chicago. Strome couldn't have known about my supernatural edge; anything to do with vampires was well outside his view of the world, which was fine with me. Like others of his ilk, even if specifics about the Undead escaped him, he was aware that I was dangerously different. He knew which questions not to ask, and that made him a valuable asset to the mob. And me.

Most of the time he and his partner, Lowrey, were bodyguards to their gangland boss and my friend, Gordy Weems. We all tripped and fell down on the job a few nights ago, leaving Gordy with a couple of bullets in him. He'd survived, too, barely.

While he'd been out for the count, his lieutenants decided that someone had to step into his shoes to deal with the running of their mob during the crisis and elected me to take his place. I thought it to be a singularly bad idea, but took on the burden for Gordy's sake. I wouldn't have been any kind of a stand-up guy to have ducked out when he needed the help. I'd been too cocky assuming the mantle, though. Because of my edge, I'd come to believe in my own indestructibility. I thought I could handle anything.

Circumstances and a drunken sadist named Hog Bristow taught me different.

I got my payback on him. Bristow was dead. Ugly dead. I'd killed him, and now I had to give payback to someone else about my actions. Even Gordy couldn't get me out of this one. It was serious gang business, the resolution of which would take place in his soundproofed upstairs office at his nightclub.

Or the basement. I'd been there once or twice. Not on the receiving end.

"Turn on the radio," I told Strome.

He obliged. Dance music flowed from the speaker grille. "You want this or something else?" he asked.

"That's fine." Music helped to distract me, to seal over the fissures inside. I had lots of those going deep down into blackness full of sharp, cutting horrors along the way. If I focused on the radio noise, then I didn't have to think about certain things, like what Bristow had done to me after hanging me upside down from a hook in a meat locker.

That's what this ride was about: the repercussion over what I'd done to him once I'd gotten free.

It wasn't fair that I was being called on the carpet for that bastard's death, but the mobs had their own rules and ways of doing things. Bristow had powerful friends back in New York; they'd give me a few minutes to give my side of the story-Gordy had wrangled that much for me-then I'd die.

Strome drove to the back-alley entrance of Gordy's club, the Nightcrawler, which was the normal ingress for bosses. The front was for the swells come to see the shows and try the gambling in a strictly private section of the club.

The gaming was the main difference between my own nightclub and this one. If the stage shows were a bust, then Gordy was still guaranteed to make a ton of money from tables and slots. He thought I was nuts not having some as well as a backup, but I chose early on not to take that road. Sure, I had an accountant who could cook the books to a turn and, with Gordy's influence, could manage bribes and all the rest, but I wouldn't risk it even for that kind of money. All it'd take was one raid, one arrest, one daylight court appearance with me not there, and that would be the end of it.

Maybe I did some sweating when profits were thin or nonexistent, but that was better than losing the whole works.

Not that any of it mattered much to me now.

Strome parked. I quit the car, sliding across the seat to get out on the driver's side, slamming the door harder than was necessary. It drew attention. Despite the cold there were a number of guys hanging around the Nightcrawler's back door. Two of them were Ruzzo, brothers in Gordy's outfit, strong arms, bad tempers, and not much brain. Being too hard to tell apart, they went interchangeably by the one name.

A few nights back, in order to assert my authority as temporary boss, I'd had to punch them both out to make a point. Now they lurked close enough to force me to notice them. Both looked like they'd shared the same bad lemon.

Ruzzo the Elder had a split lip; his brother had a black eye. Two ways to tell them apart. They must have thought my number was up and were already figuring how to get me alone for some payback of their own before the boom lowered.

Ruzzo the Younger showed an exceptionally hard glare. It effectively distracted me from his brother.

Who threw a punch toward my ribs as I walked past.

Bad move.

I took it solid, but didn't collapse the way I was supposed to; instead, I sliced out sideways with my forearm and slammed him broad across the middle. I'd seen something like it on a tennis court, only you're supposed to use a racket.

The Elder staggered backward halfway across the alley, folding with an oof noise onto the cold pavement. The Younger blazed in to kill, pulling out a gun.

Which I plucked away from him almost as an afterthought.

He stared at his empty hand.

Strome finished up. He had a blackjack ready and swiped it viciously behind the man's left ear. The Younger dropped.

I held the gun out to Strome, addressing him loud enough for the others to hear. "These dopes shoulda kept in school. They could have found out how rough the big boys in first grade played. Maybe learned something."

His turn to stare. "You okay? He caught you a good one."

I pretended to shift uncomfortably. "Yeah, he did. Let's go."

We climbed the loading-dock stairs to the club's kitchen, but instead of turning toward the stairs up to Gordy's office, Strome led the way to the main room of the club. Band music, live, played there, though the place was still an hour or so from opening. A last-minute rehearsal for their big star seemed to be going on.

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