Brains, bouncers and unions ahead.
It was somewhere around the third beer when he realized the vampire was staring at him.
It was the kind of look that came just before the bouncer tapped him on the shoulder. Wyatt sighed and took a long sip of his drink, he’d paid six bucks for it and he wanted to finish it before he hit the pavement. When he looked up again, the vampire was gone, no doubt getting security.
Later he was going to have to kick Jimmy’s ass for making him come.
“It’s great. Wolves, vamps, zombies, everybody goes there. There are even brains and blood on the menu,” Jimmy had said, his shaggy hair falling in his excited eyes. The werewolf never took much care of his hair; it was always ragged from changing and too short to pull back. He would laugh whenever Wyatt told him he needed a haircut.
Even disappointed that the club wasn’t as tolerant as the report, Wyatt’s eyes softened slightly thinking of Jimmy. If he was lucky the werewolf would still be awake when he got home. They could fight, they could make up, all before Jimmy had to leave for work.
When he felt someone behind him Wyatt tensed, his shoulders lifting a fraction of an inch. It was a full club and a busy night but he could feel eyes burning into his head. He tipped back the rest of his beer and set his glass on the coaster. Part of him was ready to fight. Unless the bouncer was another zombie, Wyatt knew he could take him. Zombies were only about twenty times stronger than wolves, maybe ten times a vampire. But it was the principle of the thing for him. He shouldn’t be bounced if he wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t about to start a brawl and give everyone in the place a demonstration of a berserk zombie. Every zombie in town would lose. He took a deep breath he didn’t actually need and turned on his barstool, ready to be righteously angry but calm.
The vampire was standing there, short, hair too blonde for her eyebrows, cashmere sweater a little above the tone of the club. Her lips were twisted into a smirk that showed her teeth. “You must be Jimmy’s friend. Wyatt, right?” she asked and answered all at once, immediately putting her hand forward to shake.
Wyatt took her small hand feeling a little confused. Jimmy hadn’t said he knew anyone at the club. “Yeah, I’m Wyatt.”
She only held his grip for a second, smiling more fully, not trying to test his strength like so many had before. “I’m Lily, I own this dive.”
Her look was expectant and the name did ring a bell. He had to think hard, there were a lot of vampires out there and Lily was surely a popular name among the young ones. Memory was always a bit of work for him especially when he hadn’t eaten but eventually it clunked into place. “Selene’s Lily?”
She nodded and shrugged. “All the wolves know each other, have you noticed that?”
Smiling took a lot of effort so he just nodded back. Wolves knew everybody, even the vampires and zombies, even some of the normals. “Jimmy didn’t say this was your place.”
Her mobile face twisted into a confused frown but it was gone as quickly as it had come. “Huh. Well he told me you’d be here tonight.” She pulled the edge of her lower lip between her teeth. “I have a table upstairs, want to get something to eat?”
Wyatt felt a prickle of irritation because for just a moment he was sure she was trying to get him out of her bar. Still, Jimmy had good instincts about people and Wyatt wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. She couldn’t be too bad if she could keep up with Selene. That was one wolf who didn’t take shit from anyone. “Lead the way.”
She took his hand with no sign of hesitation even though it was significantly colder and bluer than hers. He trailed her through the bar, surprised to see a pair of zombies playing darts with some girls who were probably wolves. How had he missed that from his stool?
Upstairs the floor was packed with tables and chairs and patrons. The lights were low and Lily wound them expertly through the maze until she stopped at small table near one of the windows that overlooked the lake. She settled in her seat and passed him a menu. “We’ve got just about anything. If there’s something you don’t spot on the menu we probably have that too,” she said before looking down at her own menu.
He peered at her over the heavy paper trying to figure out why he was sitting with her. Jimmy clearly wanted them to meet. She clearly wanted to meet him. Was it just because their wolves were friends? There weren’t a lot of vampires that would go out of their way to play friendly to a stoic like him.
“Jimmy was telling me you used to live in London,” she said after a minute, not looking up.
Wyatt blinked and lowered his menu. “For a while. Have you been?”
She folded her menu and smiled ruefully when she met his eyes. “Not this century. When were you there?”
There was an edge of excitement in her tone and he realized why he was sitting at the best table in her club. She wanted to reminisce.
A waiter interrupted them and gave Wyatt time to organize his thoughts. He had to pick a point to work from, when he had volunteered during the First World War and work out. If he concentrated he could line the memories up one after another, from getting off the boat to being bayoneted in that trench, to managing to get back to London only to realize he’d been declared dead and had no way home. He envied the way vampires could just remember things that had happened a hundred years ago with no effort, the same way he envied their expressive faces or a werewolf’s ability to pass for normal.
He watched her cheerfully order lamb and ox blood and a glass of wine and realized it was his turn. She and the waiter watched him expectantly. It made him realize that he hadn’t really eaten, not what nourished him, in public for years. Too many years. “I’ll take the chilled rhesus monkey brains and a Corona.” He ordered with a sort of grim satisfaction, expecting their expressions to change, to get that little shiver out of them that even vampires betrayed when confronted with brains.
Neither even blinked. “Do you want lime with your Corona, sir?” the waiter asked smoothly.
He nodded and the waiter excused himself. Still watching the man’s progress across the room he said, “This is some place you have.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Lily said cheerfully. When he looked at her there was a look of wistful understanding on her face. Vampires had it a little easier, but they didn’t get to eat out often either. Her expression sobered after a moment. “Actually, that’s why I asked Jimmy to have you come.”
Her tone was confessional and his shoulders tensed again. He had made up his mind that she really wanted to be friendly, at least in a couples dinner, talk about old times sort of way. Knowing Jimmy there might even be unspeakable double dates. Instead she wanted him for something. It was possible he and Jimmy weren’t going to have enough time to get to the making up that night. “Is that so?”
His tone was a little tight but he had so little control of inflection that he wasn’t sure she’d notice. She did and shrugged apologetically. “Jimmy said you have a lot of contacts in the community.”
The Community. She meant zombies. She meant the council he was co-chair of that tried to keep things quiet for zombies in the city and had regular battles with the city council to keep their rights intact. His temper flared even if his expression didn’t change. “You want me to sell this dive of yours. Tell them it’s a nice safe place for all the freaks. Must be good money selling drinks to zombies, considering how long it takes them to feel it.”
She blinked at him and sat back in her seat like she’d been slapped. Her eyes stayed wide but her mouth compressed into a thin line. “Actually I wanted you to co-chair the council we’re in talks with the wolves about.”
Her statement took a minute to rattle through his brain, his synapses already set for anger. “Who’s we?” he managed eventually.
The smile was back though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m on the Elders Council. We’ve been talking about presenting a united front to the city council. The werewolves have a lot of pull-”
“Because they can pass,” he guessed. His brain stubbornly let itself be wrenched into this new train of thought but once it was there it didn’t take long to see where this was headed.
She nodded. “They have the most public positions, but our council has the money. And your group…” She gestured toward him.
He nearly smiled. “We have the labor. The largest manual labor base of all the undead.”
Lily’s eyes glittered strangely. “And after the wolves, the largest population total. There are only five hundred vampires in this town. Maybe three thousand wolves. At least seventeen hundred zombies.”
“That many in the census at least. Maybe a few hundred more,” he agreed. If they went to the city council with the wolves and the vampires it would make a hell of a showing. It would certainly give them more pull than they had now. At this point their bid for better wages and hours had been summarily ignored despite three separate strikes that had cost the city millions. No one was ready to accept that zombies didn’t want to work 18-hour days even if they didn’t need sleep, or that they should be paid the normal worker rate for every one of those hours. “So the vampires get numbers. What do the wolves get out of this?”
“Money. All of their research and medical facilities in this state are privately funded. In exchange for some regular donations they’re lending their political presence,” she said bluntly, tapping her manicured fingernails on the tablecloth.
The waiter came again to bring their drinks and Wyatt didn’t say anything until he left. “And what do we get?” he asked, watching her over his bottle.
This brought a real smile, she knew as well as he did that he was really considering it. “I think with some of the wolf labor leaders behind you your contract negotiations are going to be a lot smoother,” she said showing at once that she’d done her research and knew how best to appeal to him personally.
He took at long drink and twirled the bottle between his dark veined hands on the table. “So the vampires get numbers if we show, what do the wolves want from us?” he could get used to dealing with a vampire who laid things on the table instead of tap dancing around everything.
She took a sip of her wine, either stalling to think of a good answer or steeling herself to say something unpleasant. She set the glass carefully on the table and rubbed the stem between her fingers. “They want you to take their zombies.”
He blinked at her and was so stunned by what she had said that he worked up the nerve connections to frown. “They’re actually admitting they have them?” Wolves as a rule didn’t tolerate mixing. No wolf-vampires, no wolf-zombies. Just live wolves and dead ones. They had their own little councils to make sure it stayed that way.
Lily shrugged. “They’ve changed more than I thought in the last few decades. Apparently there were a few groups of them hiding out, passing,” she paused and took another sip of wine, “one of them was an Alpha’s son and he wouldn’t let the council have the kid.” She shrugged again. “I guess after that it opened things up a bit.”
Wyatt wasn’t stupid, he knew it couldn’t have been that easy but he took it for what it was, the abridged version. He’d have Jimmy fill him in. “We can take them, we always have.” Unlike the wolves at the top, the zombies would take anyone. If they at brains it was all the same to them.
Lily and Wyatt both paused and looked at each other, hands on their drinks, realizing that he’d agreed. “Great,” she said casually. “We’re meeting next week to work out representatives and the charter.”
He nodded and dug into his wallet for his card. “This has my home and cell numbers, and my email. Just shoot me a line about the time.”
“After sunset is a safe bet,” Lily said, taking the card and producing one of her own.
Wyatt let out an expulsion of breath that was his approximation of a laugh. Lily chuckled at her own bad joke and smiled winningly at him.
The waiter came back again with two tall glass-sided mugs for Lily and a deep bowl that he set down in front of Wyatt. The brains were chilled just pink and the spoon stood firmly up in them showing off their perfect consistency before he’d even taken a bite.
Wyatt picked up his spoon, glanced around the room where he could make out vampires, wolves, and zombies all eating. Then he looked back down at his dinner, saliva pooling in his mouth. With his spoon poised he decided he and Jimmy would have so much making up to do when he got home they might not even have time to fight first.