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Club Houngan was the busiest nightclub in town, even on a Wednesday night. My cab made the turn onto Briar and pulled to a stop fifty feet or so away from the front door – about as close as we could get. A heavy line of black limousines waited, their drivers lurking protectively near them. The line to get in, which began around the corner, ended in an honest-to-God red velvet rope which was manned by a pair of bouncers that could moonlight as walls. A long canopy ran to the corner, keeping dry those fortunate enough to get inside within the next few hours or so. The rest covered themselves with umbrellas, coats, or fashion magazines. I glanced up through the car window at the three-story high building with a garish neon sign of a smiling voodoo priest atop it. The ugly red and white light of the sign reflected on the rain-slick pavement. This was the hottest club in town, and I’d just been told that an old classmate of mine owned it outright. Stranger still, that old classmate needed my help.
“Thirty-one twenty,” the driver said, turning down his pounding tech-metal music. He turned to face me. “Make it thirty-one. I don’t need your twenty cents.”
I gave him a pair of twenties: “Keep it.”
It was a decent tip, not enough to be extravagant, but enough to ensure the next time I needed this guy, I’d get him.
“Thanks, man.” The driver pushed a button and unlocked the doors. I got out and did my best to smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt and overcoat. I ran my fingers through my hair and strolled toward the head of the line. A couple of things were certain. The first is that I was at least ten years past the freshness date for this club, and I was making a bad situation an egregious one by not showing up with a bauble on my arm. The second thing I knew was that the bouncers weren’t going to be able to do a goddamn thing about it.
As I approached, their heads swiveled toward me like gun turrets on tanks. One grimaced outright; the other’s glare sank away into a dismissive sneer. I couldn’t tell anything more than that. Their sunglasses hid much of their expressions.
“I’m on the list,” I told the grimacing one. He and his partner could have been twins, or least cut from the same cloth. Both were an inch or two over six feet, bald, and wore their shades and earpiece radios. They were dressed in fashionable tuxes.
“There is no list,” the bouncer responded.
“There is, and I’m on it. Call Ray on that thing and tell him that Martin Black has arrived.”
The sneering bouncer stopped sneering. The grimacing one stopped grimacing and started questioning.
“Raymond Felske – the owner. He’s expecting me inside. If I’m late, I’m having your ass.”
The bouncer gave me a quick once-over, for weapons, I guess, then turned away and began to speak into the radio. I stood there until he looked up and nodded at his twin.
“He’s on the list?” The other one asked.
“He is the list.” He turned to face me, and unlatched the velvet rope. “Come on, sir, but there’s a policy: no man comes in alone.”
I glanced at the line. The first three girls waiting were blondes. The fourth was a cute little brunette. I offered her my hand. She grabbed it and left the line.
“Will she do?”
“Admirably, sir.” He waved to his twin, who opened the door for us. After we entered, I let the girl bound ahead of me. She climbed the short flight of stairs that led inside and turned to look at me.
“Go on,” I said. “Have fun. I’ll get the cover.”
“Thanks!” She bounded past the register and showed her ID to the bouncer at the door. I paid the sunny redhead at the register two more twenties and went inside. The bouncer here didn’t ask to see my driver’s license. Good thing, since I don’t drive.
I waited just inside the door, to let my eyes get used to the place. From a design standpoint it was interesting, if not very original, done up in the Nü-Gothic style, all plaster gargoyles and twisted iron. The furniture was all in black, gray, and oxblood. The bar was black wood and burnished copper, reflecting the lights from the dance floor. The floor was lit from below, flashing lights that changed with the beat of the music. Laser lights and strobes illuminated everything above. The dancers were legion. Most of the women were in short, tight dresses, which seemed to be the returning style. The men were dressed in dark tones, which fit into the atmosphere.
Across the room, the DJ booth loomed, built until the shape of a cathedral, twin spires rising to the ceiling and a stained glass window separating the talent from the rabble on the floor. A pair of grotesques coughed up dry ice vapor as the DJ changed songs. A few more people crowded onto the floor. I couldn’t help but shake my head; it was a dance remake of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love.” Nü-Gothic borrowed heavily from ‘80s styles, and the whole “is the lead singer a revenant?” controversy made these guys a favorite of the moment. I dug a gold cigarette case out of a coat pocket and found my favorite Zippo. I had taken only a drag or two when someone appeared at my side.
“Two thousand people in my club, and only one of them is smoking.” I turned and looked at Raymond Felske. He was dressed only in slacks and a black turtleneck. But it was his place, and he could do what he wanted. His red hair was cropped short, almost shaved, but his goatee stood out in force.
“I’d say the smell gave you away,” he continued his rant, “but I wouldn’t have been able to tell, what with that skanky old coat you still wear. Haven’t you ever heard of fashion?”
“Don’t know,” I responded. “Did you fuck her, or did I?”
“You never got close to her.” He smiled at his own wit. We had a handshake that became a manly embrace. It had been about ten years since I’d seen Ray, and though we weren’t good friends, I don’t think either one of us hated the other. That put him in a distinct minority in my mind.
“Come on. I’ve got someplace for us to talk and for you to smoke.”
He led me past the bar and upstairs to the lounge. We passed a pair of bouncers, poured from the same mold as the others. Inside, a tuxedo-clad majordomo oversaw a trio of waitresses in short French maids’ uniforms. “The Power of Love” was still audible, but at a much lesser volume. One entire wall was of faux stained glass and looked out over the dance floor. Raymond led me past the occupied sofas and tables to one more door, with another bouncer.
“Are these clones?”
“No, clones are expensive. I just hired guys that looked alike.” The bouncer opened the last door for us, and we entered the exclusive lounge. Two women and three men sat in here. I recognized two of the men from their campaign posters and the other from his TV show. One woman sat on the star’s lap; I didn’t know her, but assumed she was either a wannabe or a nobody working her way up to wannabe. I knew the woman sitting between the two politicos. I nodded to her as we passed.
“Reverend.” She nodded back.
I joined Raymond at the bar, which was small and only had two high seats. The bartender moved away as we sat down.
“Seriously, Martin, is that the same coat you had at the reunion?”
“It might be. I’ve got a bunch that look alike. I got a discount to buy them in lots.”
“That fucking thing’s gross. Do you know why I called you?” Raymond asked, after the bartender was out of earshot.
“I owe you money?”
“No. Do you?”
“I don’t think so. It’s why most people want to see me, though.”
“I asked you here because weirdness seems to find you.”
“A friend of mine says I’m a weirdness magnet,” I said, looking for the ashtray. Raymond reached behind the bar and set down a short silver platter.
“Thanks. Actually, my friend says I’m a wyrd magnet. He says I attract aspects of the supernatural. I’m like a house that just needs to be haunted.”
“That sounds about right. I think I need that.”
“There’s someone or something here stalking some of my customers.”
“Models. The stalker only goes after models, and I’ve got a shitload of those in here every night. Heidi and Seal are downstairs right now. I’ve got one of my guys shadowing her tonight, but she’s just the biggest name. They’ll be up here later. You want to meet them?”
“Um…maybe some other time. How many models has the stalker taken?”
“Three. All three were found later, dead. I’ve lost about one a month since I opened and it’s about time for another one to vanish.”
“I don’t know. It’s always happened on a Friday or Saturday night, when the crowds are biggest. That’s when the most models and celebrities are here. The first time it happened was three months ago. It was some girl who’d done Victoria’s Secret, Maxim; you know the kind – cute, skinny little blonde. She was here with five or six others of the kind and she vanished about three in the morning. No one really missed her until dawn. The found her a couple days later over in the Port. The coroner said she’d OD’d.”
“Fuck, no. She was just dead. One of my regulars works at City Hall, and I had to get him to have the coroner say it was an overdose. That cost me ten grand. The next month it was a little redheaded thing. She was fifteen, and in here with two friends.”
“You let fifteen-year-olds in here?”
“Are you high? Of course. Most of these models aren’t old enough to fuck, let alone drink. But that’s what people pay to see. The Maxim blonde was only nineteen and she’s considered a bit old to model. Can I go on?”
“They found her in a hotel room in Hampton. The coroner said she was an OD, too.”
“Fifteen. The last one was the worst. Petra was here – Petra! Dear Goddess, do you know what would’ve happened if the stalker had got her? She’s a supermodel? The other girls were just models, for fuck’s sake!” Ray was getting worked up. His hands were flying, but he had managed to keep his voice low. He’d had practice keeping people from hearing his conversations.
“She said some guy tried to get her to follow him. She almost went, but someone fell against her and spilled wine down the front of her dress. When the furor died, the stalker had gone. She was dazed and told her date what happened. She seemed drugged, but I know drugs, and I’d swear she wasn’t on anything I’ve ever seen before.”
“How’d you find out?”
“Her date told one of the bouncers, and he told me. By the time I talked to her, she couldn’t even remember what he looked like. I sent my guys out to check on everyone, but we never found him. Before we closed, I heard that another model had gone missing. This one was a nothing girl from that TV show. You know – the reality show?”
“I know it. Don’t watch it.”
“Yeah, well she was the first runner-up, but still snagged a contract from Elite. She hadn’t done anything yet, but she was hot, and she was seventeen. They found her in her car out on the highway to Bannocktown, like she had fallen asleep on the road and crashed. Coroner said she died in an accident.”
“Did that one cost you?”
“Yeah, another fifteen grand, even though I think he might have let that one go. I didn’t want to take the chance.”
“I think I’m getting all this. You’re expecting trouble this weekend, right?”
“Yeah,” Ray didn’t try to sugarcoat it.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Find the stalker and get rid of it. Or find the stalker and I’ll get the bouncers to handle it. I’ll have them float the bastard in the river if I need to.”
“That’s what I thought.” I lit another cigarette to help stay calm. “Before we discuss terms, we need to agree on a new term.”
“What are you talking about?” Ray asked.
“You don’t have a stalker, Ray. You have a vampire. You and I both know it. You want me to track down and stop a vampire.”
Ray glared at me a few moments, his fingers tapping on the bar. Then he spoke:
“Fine,” I said, taking a drag. “Twenty grand.”
“What? Twenty—oh, you son of a bitch.”
“You know the coroner will charge you more for a fourth time. All it’ll take is one of these girl’s friends to call in the paparazzi, and you’ll be out of business. I won’t do that to you, and I’m not going to gouge you, but I think twenty grand is fair to track down a vampire. For thirty grand, I’ll destroy the thing myself.”
“Deal. Julia Christ, would you have charged me this much if we hadn’t gone to school together?”
“Ray, I’d have charged you sixty grand if you and I hadn’t worn the black and gold together. Go Tigers.”
“Go Tigers. Do I pay you now or later?”
“Ten now; the rest later. I’m not going to charge you for the taxi either, but I want my forty bucks back from the door.”
“You’ll get it. I’ll write you a check.”
“I know you’re good for it. I hope you didn’t pay the coroner that way.”
“He got a bag full of cash.”
“I want one of those, one day. One more thing: tell your clones the next time I come to the door, I walk right on in.”
“Fine. Any chance you’ll dress like you fit in?”
“I had to ask. How are you going to find the vampire?”
“I’m going to start by looking for his Judas goat.”
Continue with Chapter Two - "Let's Go"