“Get that, will you, Jude?” Gideon called from the bathroom where he’d been putting the final touches on his hair for the past five minutes.
Jude put away his own phone (on which he’d been playing Candy Crush while he waited) and picked up Gideon’s off the charger. He checked the screen. There was no name attached to the number, but ‘Cleveland OH’ was displayed below it.
Jude crossed the sumptuous hotel room. “You expecting to hear from anyone in Cleveland?” He leaned against the doorframe and watched Gideon peer into the mirror. Probably trying to determine if he’d spotted a wrinkle or a gray hair.
Gideon snorted and looked at Jude’s reflection in the mirror. “No. Can’t think of anyone who wasn’t as happy to see the backside of me as I was to see the backside of them.”
Jude showed Gideon the screen and he reached out to casually dismiss the call. “If it’s important they’ll leave a message.”
Jude dropped his hand. “You about ready?”
Gideon made a move to check his reflection one more time, then abruptly turned off the bathroom light. “Just need to get my jacket.”
Jude gave Gideon an appreciative look as he slipped the blue pin-striped jacket on over the dress-shirt that matched the pinstripe. Jude pretended the jacket needed to be straightened and used it to reel Gideon in for a kiss before slipping the phone into an inside pocket. Only the fact that they had to catch the bus to Moda Center kept Jude from pulling Gideon into a second kiss.
They ran into some of the other players headed for the bus in the corridor and trooped to the elevator together. Jude wanted to arrive early, so he was taking the bus with the players rather than waiting for Lionel and the limo. While they waited for Pete to make sure everyone was accounted for Gideon took out his phone. He gave Jude a look after glancing at the screen.
Jude was curious so he left his own phone (and his unfinished game) in his pocket while Gideon checked his voice mail. Because he was watching Jude saw an expression of surprise, followed by concern, cross Gideon’s face. “What is it?”
Gideon looked at Jude for a long moment, then handed the phone to him. “Listen, then I’ll explain.”
Jude took the phone and replayed the voice mail. He didn’t know what he was expecting based on Gideon’s reaction (a claim of paternity, perhaps), but Jude certainly hadn’t been expecting it to be vampires terrorizing Portland.
“Is this a joke?” Jude said, handing the phone back to Gideon.
“I fucking wish,” Gideon said. “Don’t go anywhere alone, okay?” he implored Jude.
“You’re scaring me, Gideon.”
“Good. These things are all too real, and they’re dangerous. Promise me, Jude.”
“I promise,” Jude said, mainly to get that look off Gideon’s face.
Jude’s eyes went wide as he remembered that he’d left Lionel to ride to the arena alone.
“Meet her when she gets there and don’t let her out of your sight. I’m serious, Jude.”
Jude took Gideon’s hand and squeezed it. “We’ll be careful.”
Gideon nodded and looked straight ahead for a long moment. He took a deep breath and turned to Jude. Gideon leaned in so they wouldn’t be easily overheard and Jude, moved by Gideon’s apprehension, did the same.
“Xander is a member of a group, an organization, that battles supernatural threats.”
Jude tried to keep the skepticism off his face, but he was largely unsuccessful.
“I know,” Gideon said. “I wouldn’t have believed it, either, if I hadn’t seen it for myself. One night back in Cleveland I was out clubbing. Par for the course back then. I was approached by this woman. She was gorgeous. We danced for a bit and she mentioned that her boyfriend wanted to meet me. He’d been at the bar watching. I thought maybe they wanted to make a Zero sandwich.”
Jude rolled his eyes like he was supposed to.
“I would have let them, too, because he was hotter than she was, if that was even possible. Though his clothes were a bit dated. He looked like an extra from ‘Saturday Night Fever’. Turns out that’s a tell.”
“I’m guessing that’s not what they wanted,” Jude said.
“That is definitely not what they wanted. We went to a back room. I was between them. She was in front. She looked at him over my shoulder as if I wasn’t even there, and said, “We’ve never had a basketball player before.” And then her face . . . changed.” Gideon shuddered at the memory.
Jude didn’t know what had really happened, but he knew that Gideon was freaked out. And, to be honest, he was freaking Jude out a little bit. He still held Gideon’s hand so Jude squeezed it again and Gideon squeezed back.
“What happened next?”
“I tried to get away then, but they were stronger than they looked. They were lowering their heads to my neck . . .” He gestured. “. . . one on each side, when the woman suddenly exploded into dust.”
“Xander just . . .” Gideon made a stabbing motion. “. . . with a wooden stake and poof!”
“A stake through the heart.” Jude wasn’t saying he believed that had happened, just repeating the fictional lore, but Gideon seemed to take it that way.
“Exactly! Anyway,” Gideon continued, “the guy used me as a distraction and shoved me at Xander. Unfortunately for him, Xander wasn’t alone. Xander caught me and pushed me behind him while his buddy took care of the vampire.”
Gideon fell silent for a moment. “Dust everywhere,” he said. “I wondered what the cleaning crew thought about it.” He looked at Jude. “No one else seemed to notice what had just happened.”
Gideon shook himself out of the memories. “I hope you never have to believe me.”
“I believe you,” Jude said.
Gideon gave him a look.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not still hard to wrap my head around.”
Gideon nodded. “Even after that happened to me, it would sometimes feel like a dream. I hadn’t thought about it in years until . . .”
Gideon looked down at the phone in his hand. He swiped the screen and tapped a few times before typing on the keyboard. “I’m sending Xander a text.” Gideon glanced out the window. “We’re almost there. I’m gonna have to leave my phone with you. I’m sorry to drag you into whatever this is, Jude.”
“I’m with you no matter what,”Jude said. “I don’t need to be dragged.” He tilted his chin towards the phone. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Find out from Xander what’s going on and keep me informed. And don’t go anywhere . . .”
“Alone,” they finished together.
“I won’t,” Jude promised.
Jude met Lionel the moment she stepped inside the arena. “What’s so important I can’t go to the owner’s suite for a drink first?”
“Oh, you’re gonna need a drink,” Jude muttered. He led Lionel to an office he’d been given access to and filled her in on Xander’s original voice mail, Gideon’s story, and the phone call between Jude and Xander when the latter had called back following Gideon’s text.
Lionel was silent for a full minute when Jude finished. “You’re right,” she finally said. “I definitely need a drink now.”
Before Jude could offer to get her, and maybe himself, a drink, his cell rang. Jude answered and listened to the person on the other end. “I’ll be right there.” Jude’s fingers shook a little bit as he ended the call and slipped the phone into his pocket. “They’re here.”
Xander had called Gideon because he was on the trail of a newly-turned vampire and needed access to Moda Center. The vampire had once worked at the arena and Xander had reason to believe he was headed back there tonight.
Jude’s stomach roiled as he led Lionel, who refused to be left alone, to the box office. Xander had told Jude to look for a brunet with an eye-patch and a bleached-blond, so he was able to pick them out right away. It only took a few minutes to get them set up with VIP passes courtesy of The Devils, then they all headed back to the office.
“What happens now?” Jude said.
“Now we look for the missing janitor,” Xander said.
(By ‘missing’, Xander meant ‘got up and walked out of the funeral home, leaving one dead funeral director behind’.)
“And hope we find him before he kills anyone else,” Xander finished.
“What are you going to do to him?” Jude said.
Xander gave Jude a look. “You realize he’s not human anymore, right? He’d kill his wife and children and not feel the slightest big of remorse.”
“Why do you think he’d return here?” Lionel said.
“Because he got fired the day he was turned. Just his bad luck that he ran into a vampire after he got soused.”
“You think he’s going after whoever fired him?”
Spike pointed at Jude as if to say, got it in one. “And anyone else he has a vendetta against, probably.”
“Great,” Lionel said. “As if Jelena and Oscar aren’t enough, I’ve got something else to worry about now.”
Jude patted her on the arm. “We’ll check on anyone that’s been fired since you took over and make sure they’re among the living.”
“Or are actually dead,” Spike said, looking like he was having way more fun than Jude thought the situation warranted.
“Okay,” Xander said. “We just need directions to the owner’s suite and we’ll get out of your hair.”
“Oh, hell no,” Lionel said. “You’re not leaving us alone with the Evil Undead running around here. Besides, you’re gonna need us to get into the suite.”
Lionel looked both men over. “Pretend you’re famous. Rockstars, maybe. You’re wearing enough leather for it.”
Jude had returned Gideon’s phone to him after he’d spoken with Xander and passed on his own cell phone number. He texted Gideon now with an update. The Devils were on the floor doing their warm-ups; hopefully by the time Gideon got the message it would all be over.
Lionel smiled and schmoozed their way into the owner’s suite. When anyone asked, she introduced Xander and Spike as members of a grunge band out of Seattle. No one blinked an eye at the explanation.
At the bar Lionel ordered two martinis. She drank one down, then turned around with the other in her hand and surveyed the room. Jude ordered sparkling water because one of them had to keep their head. He ordered the same for Xander and Spike because it would look strange if they didn’t have something in their hands.
Lionel made small talk with some of the bigwigs from Portland, but her smile was strained. Jude bit back the urge to ask Xander and Spike whether they saw anything amiss – he figured he’d know the moment they did.
Finally Spike said, “He’s here.”
Jude tensed as he waited for the vampire (Merle the janitor) to enter the suite. His stomach swooped when Spike said, “Well, that’s unexpected.”
Jude realized the problem at the same time Xander said, “He brought friends.”
Jude’s first thought was, Gideon was right. Merle was wearing a crisp, clean janitorial uniform (and Jude briefly wondered where he’d acquired it), but the others were dressed in clothing from a mishmash of decades.
There was a moment of total silence as the various conversations broke off when everyone realized that the suite had been invaded by a group of people who most definitely weren’t supposed to be there. It was broken when a woman spoke.
“Merle? I thought you were dead.”
“Nah,” Merle said. “I just started living my best life.”
Spike nudged Xander. “I gotta remember that line.”
Xander indicated the doorway. “I guess we know how they got past security.”
Jude looked before he could stop himself. Two more vampires entered the suite. One of them wiped blood off his chin and licked it off his fingers, as if he didn’t want to waste a drop. There was still a smear of blood around his mouth that made Jude’s stomach twist unpleasantly. That vampire had just killed a man.
“Who’s the guy that fired you?” the other latecomer said. Clearly their leader.
Merle pointed. “Him. David Kenny.”
“Okay. David Kenny is all yours, Merle. Everyone else is fair game.”
Most of the people in the suite had stayed silent out of confusion if nothing else. A man Jude recognized as the CFO stepped forward. “What is all this about, Merle?”
Before he finished speaking, over half a dozen vampires did something with their faces that made Jude jolt. The room filled with screams.
Xander and Spike immediately flew into motion. Spike went for Merle, who’d gone directly for Kenny. Xander called out, “Everyone down!” and loosed what had to be wooden stakes from contraptions on his wrists.
Merle was easily taken care of because he was newly turned, and the two Xander had taken out hadn’t been expecting anyone to fight back. Once the element of surprise was gone it became more of a down and dirty fight.
Xander and Spike fought hand-to-hand with four of the remaining six vampires. The vampires double-teamed them, but Xander and Spike appeared to be holding their own. Everyone else crowded as far back into the suite as they could. Except for Jude and Lionel, who’d remained frozen in place by the bar. One of the two vampires not currently in a fight for their lives (undeads?) approached them.
The vampire gave Lionel a slow once-over. “You look like you’d taste good.”
“Euww,” Lionel said, and threw the remains of her martini in the vampire’s face.
Jude thought it was the shock of it more than the alcohol burning his eyes that brought the vampire to a halt. Before Jude could caution her, Lionel stepped forward and kneed the vampire between the legs. Apparently being kneed in the groin didn’t feel any less painful when you were a vampire because his mouth opened in a silent scream and he doubled over.
Jude fumbled behind himself for the bottle he remembered seeing on the bar. His fingers found it and he swung it around, smashing the bottle against the vampire’s head. He toppled the rest of the way to the floor. Jude didn’t know if he was out cold or just stunned, but he didn’t have time to worry about it because they were approached by the vampire Jude guessed was the leader of this little pack.
“You two look like you could be fun.”
“We’re a hoot,” Lionel said.
The vampire sneered. “Let’s find out.”
He took a menacing step forward, then stopped, stunned when a basketball slammed into the side of his head. Jude’s gaze swung towards the doorway even though he already knew who’d thrown the ball. Gideon!
Jude shook himself and picked up a stool. He swung it at the vampire while he was distracted. Before it connected the vampire grabbed the stool and wrenched it out of Jude’s hands.
“Jude!” Gideon yelled. He ran towards them, bending down to retrieve one of Xander’s stakes as he crossed the room.
The vampire raised the stool as if he was going to hit Jude with it. Gideon howled and ran at the vampire, barreling into him and shoving the stake into his chest. Gideon, panting, stepped back and they all stared at the stake stuck into the vampire’s chest by just the tip.
“That was pathetic,” the vampire said. “And just pisses me off.”
“Unbelievable,” Jelena said.
All of their gazes swung back to the doorway. Jelena took in the scene at a glance, then began stomping angrily over to them in her heels, skirting the piles of dust as if she was walking down the streets of L.A.
“Don’t ask a man to do a woman’s job,” Jelena said.
The vampire had an expression of recognition and dawning horror on his face. (Jude thought nothing of it; Jelena had that effect on a lot of people.) He changed the trajectory of the stool, aiming it towards Jelena. She blocked it easily. The vampire opened his mouth to speak, but Jelena slammed the heel of her hand into the stake.
The stake slid the rest of the way into the vampire’s chest like a hot knife through butter. They all coughed as the dust rained down around them. Xander and Spike, finished with their vampires, came over to them. Spike was grinning like a maniac.
Xander looked at the vampire lying on the floor. “Spike.”
Jude couldn’t take his eyes off Spike’s face as he bent down to take care of the remaining vampire. By ripping off his head. Spike gave Jude a questioning look when he stood and saw Jude staring at him. Jude pointed to his own face.
Understanding filled Spike’s face and his face changed so he looked human again. Spike was still grinning and practically bouncing on his feet. “That was fun!”
“Yeah,” Lionel said. “Fun.” She disappeared around the bar where the bartender was still cowering and pulled bottles off the shelf.
“Slayer,” Xander said. “I would’ve contacted you to help deal with this if I’d known you were in town.”
Jude shook his head. First vampires were real, Spike was apparently a vampire, and now Jelena was something called a slayer.
“I don’t do that,” Jelena told Xander. She looked at Jude, Gideon and Lionel. “We’re never going to mention this again.”
“The fuck we’re not,” Gideon muttered as Jelena turned and left the suite.
“What’s a slayer?” Jude said. “And why is Spike a vampire?”
“Long story,” Xander said.
“When a boy gets his heart broken and meets a batshit crazy beautiful woman in a barn . . . ,” Spike said.
Xander rolled his eye. “We need to get the cover story out.”
Jude looked around the room, aghast. “What’s the cover story?” What he meant was, what could possibly cover up this shit show?”
“Meth heads,” Xander and Spike both said.
“That’s not going to work.”
Turned out people could block out a lot of horror and ‘rampaging meth heads’ was easier for their brains to sort than ‘vampires’.
The police arrived within minutes. The arena was a crime scene. The game was cancelled, to be made up at a later date, if necessary.
After they were questioned, Jude and Gideon walked Xander and Spike to a back exit of the arena. Lionel had stopped walking and leaned against the wall a few feet back, the bottle she’d taken from the bar hanging from one hand, the straps of her heels swinging from the other.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Gideon said, “but I hope we never run into each other again.”
Xander smiled. “Funny how many people feel that way.”
“They don’t feel that way about me,” Spike said with a little hip shimmy.
Jude and Gideon watched Xander and Spike walk away until they disappeared into the shadows.
“Are those two . . . ?”
“I don’t know,” Gideon said. “Probably best not to think about it too much.”
They turned back to Lionel, who looked about done in. All of them were dealing with an adrenaline crash.
“You okay?” Jude said.
Lionel gave a laugh that turned into a sob. “I don’t suppose you’d be up for a threesome tonight?”
“I’d take you up on that in a heartbeat if you weren’t Jude’s best friend,” Gideon said.
“Not because I’m your boss?”
Gideon gave Lionel a look, then looked at Jude.
Lionel’s laugh was weak, but more genuine this time. “Point taken.”
“How about a good cuddle?” Gideon said.
Gideon and Lionel both looked at Jude, who nodded in agreement. It was a good plan after the evening they’d just had.
Gideon gently took the bottle out of Lionel’s hand and handed it off to Jude. He swept Lionel up into his arms. Lionel made a sound of surprise, but laid her head on Gideon’s shoulder and closed her eyes.
Jude felt wave of affection for Gideon, seeing him be so careful with Lionel, who would probably be pissed tomorrow that she’d fallen apart tonight. Jude clutched a fold of Gideon’s uniform top and they walked out to the limo. He considered discarding the bottle when they passed a trash bin, but decided to hold onto it in case they needed it later.
Jude thought back to when Gideon’s phone had rung just a few hours ago. Who the hell would’ve thought it would be vampires?