Vamp city, p.1
Vamp City, page 1
All Sophia Fontanelle wanted was to be left alone. On the run from New Orleans and its vampire council, she heads to Los Angeles to start a new life. But when The Caballero, the ancient peacekeeper rumored to be the great Zorro himself, is murdered, Sophia finds herself caught up in a fight to clear her name. Threatened by a 1950’s era gangster turned vamp by the Caballero himself, can she survive in VAMP CITY?
Urban fantasy meets detective noir in C.D. Brown’s memorable debut novel!
Praise for Vamp City!
“Vampire noir in LA, by way of New Orleans, with progressive creatures of the night trying to solve a twisted murder mystery. Sophia is a powerful lead fighting to clear her name in C D Brown’s compelling debut.” – Alan Baxter, author of Hidden City and the Alex Caine series.
Vamp City by CD Brown
Cover Design by Thais Lopes
Edited by Melissa Bowersock
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Created in the United States of America
Published Gryphonwood Press | www.gryphonwoodpress.com
Frosted, conditioned air prickled Johnny’s skin as he entered the casino. The temperature outside on the Las Vegas strip hovered in the mid 80s despite the darkened sky. But in New York New York’s casino, time dissolved into the now, as players anticipating the next card cared little for the hour, day or month. The only sign of the late hour was the locked-up restaurants and shops surrounding the casino floor.
Although his body ached from his daylong drive, Johnny felt the need for a drink to sand down the edges sharpened behind the wheel. Company would also be nice, but that wasn’t a requirement.
Walking through the pinging and dinging slots, he spotted an Irish pub within the faux-Gotham architecture. Out front was a small porch, superfluous as it was inside, but he saw a band on stage and customers lifting pints. After the bouncer checked his ID, he pulled the long brass handle on the heavy wooden door and slid into imitation Dublin.
He went to the bar where a blonde woman whose name tag read “Sheila - Albuquerque” pulled him a pint of Smithwick’s. The band, a four-piece consisting of a singer playing guitar, plus violin, bass and drums, played an authentic rendition of “Galway Bay.” As Johnny took his first sip, one of the waitresses jumped up on a circular stage above the band to dance. Young and freckled with hair the color of a fall-turned leaf, she kept her face serious, her arms down and straight and her back stiff as her legs bounded and bounced below her.
An archway led to an alcove filled with tables where the music wouldn’t overpower conversation. An older couple, perhaps in their fifties, quietly sipped pints while singing along with the band. An open table sat against the back wall underneath a reproduction of that old Guinness toucan poster. Johnny dropped there, crossing his legs and sipping from the pint.
As the song ended and the band segued into a ballad Johnny didn’t know, his eyes drifted to a table in the corner near the stage. A woman, alone with no drink in front of her, not even water, looked at the back of the stage. Dressed plainly in a white t-shirt and jeans, her pure white hair struck Johnny, as she seemed near his own age, 27. She turned, catching his eye. A glimpse of a smile crawled over mouth. Before Johnny could finish blinking, the woman sat across from him.
“It’s too late to drink alone.” She didn’t voice this as a question.
“But you’re not drinking.”
“Observant. And here I was thinking you were checking me out.”
Her voice dripped sarcasm, but Johnny was confused. She also sounded like she was coming on to him. Only one way to play it, he thought: cool.
“I was. But looking ain’t buying.” He cringed inwardly, as he realized he’d just called her a prostitute. Yeah, this was Vegas and she might be, but if she wasn’t, whatever chance he’d had was gone. But she sat there, her Cheshire grin unchanged.
“Bet you wished you had that one back.”
“I do. I didn’t—"
“Stop. I’m not for sale, but I’m not a saint either. I have a few…motivations.”
“Then let’s discuss them. Perhaps a drink?”
“Not now.” She looked around, nervous now, as if she didn’t want any attention. “Here’s the big question: are you staying or passing through?”
All of Johnny’s interior alarms rang. Loudly. “Uh…” He collected himself. “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question. In fact, I’m not sure I want your company anymore.”
Her face fell into a wrinkly puddle. She wasn’t crying, but she was clearly trying to keep it together. It wasn’t close to working.
“I travel for a living.” Johnny felt bad now but wanted to end this quickly and quietly. “I have to be wary, so that the few times I get to sleep in my own bed I can do so without fear or shame. So, good night.”
She nodded but didn’t move. “I have to get to L.A. What few means I have are dwindling, so I need some help. I was hoping for a favor.” She picked up his hand. Her touch was so light, so comforting that he didn’t pull away. Her skin felt cold, but she had been sitting inside longer than he had. “Will you hear me out?”
Johnny was in fact going to Los Angeles. Not for long, but it was only a four-hour trip. He’d met many crazies, men and women, in situations just like this. She didn’t seem to pitch her tent in that camp. But she did look desperate.
“Look, I’ll give you a ride. First thing in the morning—"
“Here’s where it gets weird. Uh…”
“Hey. Sophia.” She looked at her watch. “It’s just about midnight. I have to leave now.”
“What? No way. I just—"
“I’ll drive. I can’t ride during the day.”
“Look for yourself.” For a quick instant, her smile turned vicious, as her canines popped into fangs.
Johnny tried to jump up and out of his chair, but Sophia reached out and grabbed his head with both hands. She forced his eyes to meet hers.
“Relax, relax, relax. You are in no danger. But you need to let me drive to Los Angeles.”
The flight instinct drained from his body, leaving only his lungs to hyperventilate in order to slow his heart. He wanted to scream, but something outside of him kept him calm and listening.
“Yes. I must travel at night.”
“This is insane.”
“Believe me, Johnny. I have to go through this over and over again.” She released her grip. “But I don’t kill people. I took an oath and I will keep it whether you give me a ride or not.”
“Can I finish my beer?”
“Please. You paid for it.”
Had he somehow agreed to go back on the road? Yes, he had. But it felt right because she needed his help. He was doing good.
After finishing the pint in a few gulps, some combined attempt at washing away the fear and trying not to believe what he’d seen, he led Sophia to the casino’s parking lot. She blew out a breath.
“Oh, good. You have an SUV. You’ll be able to relax.”
“I still can’t believe I’m letting you do this.”
“This is very cool of you. Thanks.”
As Johnny punched the unlock button on his key, Sophia opened the back door.
“There’s one more favor I need. See, I’ve been out on the road, all by myself. Kept myself hidden until just this moment. I’m a little…hungry.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Johnny bolt
“Not much, man. Not much. It won’t be worse than giving blood at the doctors.”
“I don’t like to donate blood.”
“No, not the donation. Just that little bit to check on your cholesterol and shit.”
“It’ll help you sleep.”
He nodded and looked away. He felt a quick sting, but no lasting pain.
“Yeah, let’s get moving.”
She took his keys while he laid down on the back seat. Staring at the car’s ceiling, he hoped as he drifted off this would all be over soon and he could forget everything that had happened.
Part One: Wide Open Spaces
They’d arrived with less than one hour of darkness left. She drove to the address she’d received in the e-mail, on Hyperion Ave in the Silver Lake neighborhood, east of Hollywood and near I-5. She found the building, a couple of squat storefronts with big picture windows facing the street and a second floor that could be residential or could be more offices. She jumped from Johnny’s car and out of his life forever.
She felt guilty about using her powers over him, diving into taking over his mind just for a ride to Los Angeles, but need outweighed good. She hadn’t hurt him, just inconvenienced him, taking away a fun night in Vegas. He’d have many more, she was sure.
Her head still buzzed from the drink she’d taken from his wrist. In the past few weeks, she’d drunk more human blood than in the last decade, especially since Hurricane Katrina and the madness that infected her cabal. That was when David Hennesey, the boss of her cabal, started the whole rehab thing.
“Get clean from human blood,” he had said. “Let’s try and find that soul we lost when undeath came upon us.”
He spoke like it was still 1880, but his point got across. They had done so well, until they lost The Boss in a feud with werewolves. But that’s why she was in L.A. She had to find herself again after letting it all go. And she had to do it alone, as everyone else was gone.
One of the storefronts had thick curtains that looked taped to the inner wall, the best to keep out any light. Sophia could feel the heat of the bodies moving within. She must have found her destination.
The woman who answered the door had loose curls of salt-and-pepper hair drifting down past her shoulder blades. She looked to be in her mid-forties, but lean and toned. She wore an outfit similar to Sophia’s, distressed pink t-shirt and jeans, but instead of motorcycle boots she wore Birkenstock sandals. Sophia’s memories of her cabal mate Fritz and his thrall danced a hippie bounce across her memory.
“Are you Sophia?” When Sophia nodded, the woman enveloped her in a hug. At first, she wanted to resist, but the warmth of this woman’s body and the openness of her spirit collapsed her defenses. She accepted all the love this woman could give. “Oh, I wasn’t sure when you’d make it, but I’m so glad you’re here. Get inside now.”
Sophia had first contacted Carmen Primanti when she’d left New Orleans. Carmen was one of the many people David had connected with on his quest to help vampires rehab themselves. Carmen was a human, not undead, but David had said she was passionate in her desire to help.
“You want the fifty-cent tour?” Sophia nodded and Carmen led. There wasn’t much to the place: one chaotic office where Carmen did her work, a reception area to greet people coming in off the street and a conference room that had no table but plenty of metal fold-out chairs stacked in the corner. “This is where we hold meetings.”
“You’ve already got people rehabbing?”
“A few. I think they’ll be excited to meet someone who’s been doing it as long as you have.”
“What are you calling this place?”
“This is the ZLVG Rights and Assistance Center.” Sophia must have looked confused because Carmen filled right in. “That’s zombie, lycanthrope, vampire and ghost.”
“Do you know any zombies?”
“I wanted to be inclusive.”
“I don’t know if they actually exist.”
“But if they did,” Carmen looked as if she had fielded this question before, “I’ll be here to help them.”
Sophia smiled, not quite understanding but enjoying Carmen’s enthusiasm. “This is great, but sunrise is coming.”
“Oh my gosh. Let me show you to your room.” They went through a door to find stairs. “David would stay here whenever he visited. I figure you can plant yourself until you get on your feet.”
The top floor had a small hallway with two doors, one left and one right. Carmen opened the right one, letting Sophia enter first. The tiny room had a bed, an armoire and the same blackout curtains over the small window on the back wall.
“I know it ain’t much.” Carmen’s voice was matter-of-fact. “But it’s what we got.”
“It’s fine. You’re very generous to let me stay.” Sophia dropped on the bed. Maybe a bit thin, but this was a temporary situation. She hoped.
Carmen lingered in the doorway. “Before I say good night, he’s really gone, right?”
“Yeah. I knew the moment it happened.” She pointed to her non-beating heart. “I miss him more now than when he would go on his trips. At least then I’d know he’d be back.”
Carmen took a few tentative steps forward. “I pride myself on being able to read people—"
“And vampires. I see David’s soul glowing within you.” Carmen put her hand over her mouth. “I don’t care what the literature says. You aren’t damned. I think you’re really gonna help us here.”
“I’ll do my damnedest.”
Carmen coughed a laugh, then closed the door. Lying back on the bed, Sophia considered the task in front of her. As hard as she’d try to continue the work David started, she didn’t have council support anymore. Would she have to get a job? That thought was more chilling than fighting a million werewolves.
The full day of rest was the best Sophia had since running away. Her escape had happened so quickly that she’d put little planning into it. All she had were David’s book of contacts, a few changes of clothes and the money left in the safe in their office above The Dungeon bar in New Orleans. It was enough to either catch buses or have something to spend in L.A. Not both.
Stretching out, she opened the armoire, and the wood bark aroma of worn leather overpowered her. David had left a pair of boots here. The smell brought her back two centuries. When she arrived in New Orleans intent on leaving behind the swampy woods and the stoic days of her Cajun family, the big city was still rough. The roads were rutted and the only central locations were near the river. And because of the rain and mud, men wore boots everywhere they went. The men who visited her at the brothel, both the tender and rotten souls, took them off first. When David chose her for a new life sans heartbeat, she still was attracted to the footwear until concrete and asphalt became the norm.
Although she had loved Chip, her now-destroyed companion, Hennessey had been the one who turned her. No connection was more powerful in a vampire’s existence. The severed links, between her and David as well as her and Chip, emptied her drive, leaving her unsure how to exist anymore. But she had to find a way if only to keep their memories alive for a few years longer.
She clambered downstairs and entered the office. Carmen sat at the reception desk.
“Oh, you’re up! I was about to knock.”
“We have a meeting starting in five minutes.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Carmen looked toward her computer screen. “I wasn’t sure if you’d even want to run it.”
“No, I do.” Sophia inhaled deeply, trying to gain her point of focus because she didn’t need to fill her withered lungs. But then she turned to Carmen. “How do I look?”
“Um…like you just woke up.”
Sophia ran her hands through her hair. “Co
“I can’t look in the mirror to fix my hair.”
“Oh, right.” Carmen popped up and pulled a brush out of her purse. Sophia turned her back to the woman, who ran the bristles kitten-paw soft through Sophia’s gray locks.
“Thanks. Chip and I used to help each other. But…”
“Don’t worry about it.” Carmen turned Sophia around. “You’d look good covered in mud.” Carmen bit her lip. “You don’t have to go in, you know. I can do it. This was unfair—"
“This is my job. I got it.” Carmen nodded as Sophia patted the woman’s shoulders. “Do they know the convergence?”
“David said he’d teach it when he got back. They could really use it.”
Sophia nodded and entered the conference room. The five occupants looked up. With the exception of a young-looking man with tightly-curled hair like a brown dandelion, the only one who smiled when she entered, the others looked wan and listless. Their already pale skin had yellowed like old paper, and if they had been alive, she would have thought they were tubercular.
She sat at the top of the circle, but she knew her face must have looked horrified. None of the five, not even the healthy-looking one, would meet her eyes. She decided to jump right in.
“My name is Sophia and I need blood to live.”
The young man said, “Hey, Sophia,” but the others could only mumble.
“Excuse me for a second.” Sophia left the room, finding Carmen in her office. “How long have these meetings been going on?”
“About two months now. Why?”
“How have they been eating?”
Carmen stood up. “From here.” She led Sophia to the break room, opening the refrigerator where packs of medical blood were stored. “I made a deal with a bank. We get the expired packs.”
“Those are good in an emergency, but that’s the vampire equivalent of dried ramen.”
by CD Brown have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes