Chapter 17
(Mid September)

    The smell of charred flesh and burned wood was acrid to her nostrils.  A flame gutted house has a very distinctive odor, as does burned flesh, neither pleasant and both memorable.  She wasn't sure why she'd returned to the site of destruction that she visited on the Deacon's men a little less than two weeks ago.  A feral grin lit her face.  "Too bad the Deacon wasn't here," she mused.  "I'd have toasted his fat butt, too."
    She was standing uphill, at the tree line, where she'd be practically invisible, though she didn't expect anyone to be here.  The carnage had not made the local news.  Considering the violence of the explosions, she was surprised.  "Guess the Deacon had to share the wealth to keep that quiet," she thought.  "That guy has juice all over the place!"
    She'd briefly met with Duk the following night and they'd agreed to keep it very low key for a while, at least until they got a feel for what the Deacon's response might be.  She smiled, remembering that meeting.  There'd been some strategy, but there'd been a lot more of something else.  She'd been randy, needing to feed, and Duk, for all of his defenses, was just easy pickings.  She suspected that he knew and just didn't care.  She'd met a couple of people like that and those interactions could be very nice!  At least they each got what they wanted.  "Can't go wrong on that," she considered.
    She gazed at the destruction she'd wrought.  "Waste," she muttered.  "A total waste.  I cooked a few low level employees and maybe slowed that bastard down, but I made no real difference.  At least Duk has had some breathing room."   She shook her head.  "Everyone deserved what they got.  Bastards!"  She spat, indicating her disgust.  "Rot in hell!"

    The Blood Bistro, musically, was a step up from the Rusty Nail, but it didn't have the home feel.  Still, she wanted to immerse herself is some good music, tonight.  She'd missed several days at the library during her recent foray into helping Duk and getting at the Deacon.  The past two evenings at the library had been a welcome relief, though incredibly busy.  The debt was due for her absence!  She almost felt like some normalcy was returning to her life.  It felt good.
    The serving wench led her to a comfortable booth, near the back as per her request, and waited patiently while she settled down.  "Palinca," she ordered.  She settled back and waited for the band to start playing.  They'd been on break when she'd entered and were now just returning to the band stand.  Her drink was served and she settled back to enjoy the music.  The band consisted of four guys, one on the keyboard, one guitar, a drummer and one who seemed to be a master of many.  He'd used a sax, clarinet, trumpet and harmonica so far.  Eliza grinned at his versatility.  She realized, that to master than many instruments, showed both talent and desire. 
    She put her feet up on the booth bench, and leaned against the wall, her right arm on the table.   This way, she could relax and have a good view of the band.  So far, she wouldn't rate them as spectacular, but not hard to listen to.  Three slow drinks later, they took another break and the lead guitarist winked at her as the filed past her booth.  She gave him a thumbs up, a smile and a return wink.  "Never hurts to be in tight with the band," she thought, remembering Serophia.  That had worked out very well – for both of them. 
    On their way back to the band stand, the stopped and the guitarist put a Palinca on her table.  "We do notice when someone actually listens."  He grinned.  "Can we do a number for you?"
    She picked up the drink and toasted to him, taking a small sip.  "Why yes, you really could do a number for me.  Do one you guys like.  Not for this crowd, not for easy listening, one you like, for me." 
    The looked at each other and nodded.  "I think we can manage that."  The lead guitarist held out his hand.  "I'm Rick, this is... Oh, hell, gotta get back and make music.  We'll catch you later."  They hustled to the band stand and took their positions before Eliza could say a word. 
    She laughed and shook her head.  "Musicians!  They're all nuts."  Mr. Play Anything had somehow produced a bass and had begun drawing a bow across the E string, producing an almost subsonic note.  Rick, on the guitar struck a minor chord, along with the keyboardist, who had altered the settings so that the keyboard was now clearly in multi-voice "moog" mode.  The drummer was gently using his brushes on a snare drum, and they eased into a totally eerie rendition of nothing Eliza had ever heard before.  Now, it was she that was enthralled.

    The evening went well, and the band seemed inspired by Eliza's request.  She gladly ignored "last call."  She had no urge for another drink.  Every time her glass was empty, another replaced it.  She wasn't sure who was paying, but she was quite sure, hoping actually, that someone would step forward and offer her the chance to thank them properly. 
    As usual, she did not rush vacating the premises.  She was feeling well "buzzed" by the Palinca, more than she usually consumed, and was a bit unstable.  She'd made her way to the exit when she heard a loud whistle behind her.  She turned and looked.
    "Slow down," Rick called.  "We want to thank you."
    Eliza responded in her normal sophisticated manner.  "Huh?"
    Rick smiled as the four band members approached her.  "You, my beautiful mystery lady, just landed us a regular gig.  One we badly need.  We owe you big time."
    "Me?  How did I get you a gig?  I didn't do anything but listen. "
    "Yes, and you requested we play our music.  You see, we'd been doing what we thought everyone wanted and we were really bad doing that.  When we played you our tune, people actually listened and we could tell, and we caught fire.  When the set was over, the manager offered us a once a week gig.  Without you that would have never happened."  He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the door.  "Celebration time!  Let's go!  We can actually afford to eat now."
    Eliza stretched and squinted at the stray beam of sun entering her bed room.  With an irritated hiss, she snugged the curtain tighter.  Soon, the shorter days would mean it would be almost dark when she had to get up to go to work.  But not yet. 
    Standing, she groaned like people all over the world.  "Waking up is hard to do," she muttered.  Last night came back to her.  The after hours celebration had been fun.  The guys jammed, they drank cheap wine and smoked some cheap herb.  Once they loosened up, they were quite talented.  She'd always loved music and the people who made it, and well understood how difficult it was getting started.  What they needed to do was cut a demo CD and get some copies out.  She suspected they knew what was needed and couldn't afford it.  Smiling, she headed to the shower.  She could help there.
    That night, at work, Eliza  began acting as an agent.  She was familiar with a few clubs that featured live music, but several were  featuring more dance music than actual listening music.  There were a couple of "hip" clubs, but they usually featured known groups that acted as a draw.  The Blood Bistro was a good gig for them and an excellent start, but another club couldn't hurt, she figured. 
    "Yes, yes, I do understand the problem.  I've spent a lot of hours there with Duk.  Yea, that's me."  She listened.  "Ok, so if they can do heavy metal and some of the old acid rock, and I can get Duk to get them in and out safely, you'd consider offering them a gig?"  Eliza nodded, a silly thing to do, when talking on the phone, but everyone does it.  "Thank you.  I'll be in touch."
    There was one recording studio, around, that made CDs.  They were expensive, but not as expensive as Eliza had imagined.  "I can do this," she thought.  Her smile indicated her pleasure.

    "You want us to play where?"  Rick looked stunned.  "We like living, you know!" 
    "Hey, it's not that bad.  I actually like the place, but you do have to burn a CD first.  You were talking about doing a CD, now is a good time."
    "Ah, Eliza, two things – we don't have the money for that and we don't have the money for that."  He sighed.
    Eliza smiled and shook her head.  "Life is strange, you know."  She handed him the appointment card for the recording studio. 
    Rick accepted it and stared at it blankly.  His hand shook slightly as he read it.  "That's enough time to do an entire CD.  How did you manage this?" 
    "I have a friend," she said smugly. 
    "Some friend!  Wish I had a friend like that."  Rick paused and stared at her.  "Come to think of it, I do!"  He grabbed her and hugged her so hard she could hardly breathe.  "Thank you, Eliza.  I'm your slave for life!"
    "Lemme go," she gasped.  "I need air!"  She grinned at the thought of having a slave for life.  "Not that I really swing that way."

    According to the guys, the recording session went great.  They burned two demo disks, a complete CD and got the original digital recordings.  They even got 100 copies of their CD and one of the sound techs, who had artistic aspirations,  had done a cover for them, no charge.   Actually, the date he had, that night with Eliza, had been payment; and Eliza had played nice and not even nipped him.  It had actually been a fun date for both of them, and Eliza had come back from that date knowing a lot more about recording music than she even knew existed. 

    The Chains gig had come and gone, and it had gone very well.  With Duk and his gang wandering around, providing a "civilizing" influence, a favor for Eliza, Chains has never been so orderly.  Once the band had begun to play, their talent became obvious and they accepted and played shouted requests from the audience.  Eliza wondered how they kept so many songs in their heads, but they responded to every request and they got it right, to the enthusiastic appreciation of the crowd.   Chains had never been so civilized, Eliza observed.  Not exactly gentle, but the boisterousness was good natured and fun.  It was an interesting evening. 
    "So why," she thought, "am I sitting on the roof, in the rain, at 2 AM?"  She stood and shook her lengthening hair, sending a spray of rain over the area.  It was warm, tonight, and even though she was soaked, she was comfortable.  She'd closed the library at midnight, and instead of leaving, made her way to the roof.  The view was great and she felt save and secure this high up. 
    The rain briefly stopped, as it had been on and off all day, and the full moon became visible through the clouds.  She shuddered, smiled, and let the change wash over her.  "No one up here to offend," she thought.  She felt her body subtly change.  Over the years, the changes had become more profound and more difficult to control, though control was balanced by her increasing ability.  She'd realized that, once again, there was some truth to the vampire legends.  The older a vampire was, the more "power" they had. 
    As she'd progressed into her change, she'd found that the concerns on normal mortals had become of less concern to her.  Part of that was her circumstances and part of it was the physical changes she was undergoing.  She'd amassed significant wealth from some of her prey,  she was frugal and had invested wisely.  For several years, she'd had more money than, keeping a low profile, she could envision spending. And she worked, sometimes almost obsessively, to increase that amount.  The job at the library was something to allow her to fit in and it was something she loved doing.  It was not a financial necessity. 
    The sound of angry voices, below, caught her attention and broke her reverie.  At two PM, the bars closed and inebriated clients took to the streets, trying to get home or make the score they'd failed to make in the establishment of their choice.  "Now this is luck.  The moon comes out, I change and dinner is delivered.  Life can be good!" 
    Closing the distance to her prey, should could see two men and a young woman.  While she was apparently a "lady" of the night, for some reason she didn't want anything to do with these two.  The two men were getting increasingly loud and abusive towards her.  Eliza sauntered up and watches, slowly moving into their line of sight.  They both noticed her at the same time and turned to face her.  The lady then been harassing took the moment of inattention to make her escape.
    "Well, well, what do we have here?  I think we have a party girl.  You are a party girl, aren't you sweetie?"  The man steadied him self against his companion and they both peered at her.
    Eliza smiled sweetly.  "I've been known to party if I'm treated right.  But you do have to treat me right."
    Both men snickered.  "Oh, we'll certainly treat you right.  Can you "do" both of us?"
    Eliza felt a tremor and squeezed her legs together.  She was having a hard time keeping her fangs hidden.  She was more than ready for a meal.  She glanced around, wondering if the area was free of observers.  "Oh, I think I can handle that.  What are you offering?"
    The two men glanced at each other, and grinned.  "Our car is right around the corner and we have a room 'bout a mile up the road.  The bar is well stocked and for you being nice, we can be generous."
    Eliza liked the way it was going down.  They were coming on to her, so they probably were not cops.  Handling cops could be tricky.  For starters, killing a cop is a really bad idea, as well as being repugnant to her ethical system.  Getting free of their attention, once they've focused on them is not easy.  While she could cloud the mind, and even induce some degree of hallucinations, removing an existing memory was beyond her.  So caution was warranted.  Never reveal too much too soon.  "Well, gentlemen, show me to your chariot."  She struck a pose, that since she was wet, revealed enough of her charms to make them want more.

    Much to her surprise, they'd gone to the motel room, and like they'd said, they were very generous with the drinks.  Expecting to be abused, and to have a good reason to retaliate, she now was in a position of not wanting to harm them.  The only thing she could think of to do was play along and be the party girl that she had said she was.  They would fade long before she did, and with patience, they would all go home happy.
    Both of them were snoring and smiling.  After they'd had her a couple of times, and were rapidly fading, she told them to turn out the lights and she'd give them a real treat.  What she actually did was feed from the femoral artery on the high inside of the leg while doing things to them that, since they could not see, they could only speculate at.  Her ability to project emotion and sensation further enhanced their drunken imagination.  Even with her recuperative abilities, she knew she was going to be sore tomorrow.  So, she gave at least what she'd received, along with getting a very good feed from the two of them.  She was very glad she didn't have to work tomorrow.  Sleeping in was going to feel so good!
    Lying in her own bed, she rubbed her very comfortable belly.  The night and her feed had not gone as expected.  Her depression had lifted a little, but a good feed always did that.  She really felt useless and at loose ends.  Sofye was very busy with school and making plans for her future and she didn't want to stop that process.  Her lifestyle was not one that she wanted to impress on a young lady, especially one with Sofye's history.  She liked what she'd accomplished with Sofye, but she mostly felt useless. 
    She'd gotten very good at finding "donors", as the liked to think of them, proving that practice does make nearly perfect, at least.  So many really, rough Johns and brutal pimps had met a fate better left only to the imagination at her hands, that life on the sex for sale scene had gotten almost safe, except for the chance of an STD.  There had even been an article in the newspaper about the drop in crime.  At the time, she'd snickered and said, "Bet it's me."  She didn't realize that she was right.  Since she always cleaned up her "messes", what she did was rarely recognized as a crime.
    Stretched out on one of Duk's bean bag chairs, she sipped the palinca he'd provided.  He was facing her, their right legs touching, each had found a reasonably comfortable spot and was relaxing into it.  “You know,” he said, “your band guys have done a Chains gig three more times, now, and they are a real hit.  The crowd takes care of them, now, and they couldn't be safer than if they were home in bed.”
    “Now, that's not exactly what I'd expected, but I'm glad for them.  Are they getting some decent pay?”
    Duk nodded.  “That they are!  Old Wacko Jacko is a good business man, and he want's his increased profits to continue.  I heard that he's going to bank roll a CD for them for a guaranteed one year contract, and get this, WITH pay!  He said a hit CD will only draw more people.”
    The both drank silently considering Jacko doing something nice.  Well, it was nice, even if it was to his benefit and a good deal for the band.  Duk like a lot of the music that she liked, so Eliza was just allowing herself to drift.  Duk's hand on her thigh was not unpleasant so she squirmed a little to make access a little easier for him.
    “You know, Eliza, I love you like a sister.”
    That got her attention!  Love, his hand half way up her thigh and sister, all in the same moment definitely had her attention, but not it a positive way.  She felt herself stiffening and there was no way she control it.  She knew that whatever was coming next was something that she was not going to like.
    Duk, being somewhat more sensitive than the average street lout, realized her tension instantly.  “Hey, relax!  I'm not going to bite you!”
    Eliza glanced to the right and then to the left, like a creature looking for a place to hide.  She grimaced.  “I'm not all that worried about getting bitten.  You've done that to me before, and I liked it. “
    He squeezed her thigh, sending shivers up her spine.  “I'm just trying to say that I do have some real feelings for you, other than the sex.  I ain't asking you to marry me and if you ask me, I'll say no.”  He smiled his most charming smile, and to her surprise it was quite charming.
    She relaxed a little and smiled.  “OK,” she said, scooting down further and pulling his hand all the way up to where he'd been heading.  “As long as we don't take this sister stuff to the no sex level, I'm alright with that.”
    His eyes widened.  “Oh, you have my word on that.  We definitely have to keep the sex part.”  What he did next made her clench her teeth and moan.
    “Oh, we definitely do!  We definitely do!” 
    Later that night, as they were in recovery mode, Eliza sat up.  “This may be a good time for us to take a break and lay low.  There's a conference in Denver that I should really go to and it wouldn't hurt if you were scarce for awhile.”
    “True, and with you gone,  I really can lay low, vanish in fact, not having to worry about you getting into trouble or doing something silly.”
    “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Numb Nuts!”
    “Hey, be nice.  You know it's the truth.”
    Eliza smiled.  “I guess so, but you really don't have to be my body guard 24/7.  I've managed to survive, all on my own, for some time now.”
    “Yea, I know you have, but I still worry and I can't stop that.”
    “Well, big guy, here's your chance!  Denver should be a nice safe little town to visit, and who knows, I might even hook up with some handsome dude and forget all my troubles.”
    Duk grinned and stuck out his tongue.  “No problem there, as long as I'm not one of the troubles you forget!”
    “Not to worry,” Eliza retorted, “You are not that forgettable.  I'll take my laptop and regularly check email.  You get into too much trouble, you can call for help.”
    “Sounds like a plan,” he replies.  “And seriously, if I did get into trouble, which I won't, I'll be laying low, you would be the first one I'd call for help.”
    Eliza said nothing.  She just leaned forward and gave him a long deep kiss.

    The flight to Denver was boring and uncomfortable, like all airline travel, lately. The Librarians Conference sponsored by the ALA, American Librarians Association, did have a lot of events, and they chose the Brown's Hotel to host them.  She enjoyed what she was being exposed to, but much to her disappointment, the men there that seemed attracted to her, appeared more prim and proper than she was dressed to portray, and she was in Eliza the Librarian mode. 
    She quickly found out that the night life in Denver had some diversity.  Some places required sponsorship to get in, while others were worth your life to get out of!  She'd rented a chopped hog and found she was happier in the areas where it was she, and not the bike, that was causing the attention.  Denver was not a “big” city, but it thought it was, and in may ways, it acted like one.  If would be very easy to get killed and have it passed unnoticed until someone complained.  “My kinda town,” she thought.  “I could get used to this life style.  I really could.” 
    She finally stumbled on a “club” the she liked.  The clientele was diverse, the theme being sort of unidentified counter-culture.  The booze was good, the music decent, and she managed to feel more or less at home.  Since it was a Thursday night, she headed back to her hotel early so she could get a decent start for the final day of the conference.
    Tomorrow night, when I come in, I'll fire up the laptop, log onto IRC and see if I can scare up a little action.  I might get lucky, and even if the conference is ending, I don't have to rush right back.  I do have some vacation time coming to me.  She grinned.  Actually, I have a lot of vacation time coming to me.  She settled into the soft bed, covers up to her chin, and drifted off to sleep.


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