Give and Take
In which Dodger comes to a bloody accord.
“Becky?” Boon asked. “What is going on?”
The vampire’s mood changed so suddenly that even Dodger felt a pang of sympathy for her. She stared hard at the ghost and asked, “Do you remember Gladys?”
“The new girl?” Boon asked. “The little brunette with a foreign accent?”
Rebecca nodded. “One of our contacts in New York rescued her from the streets and sent her to us. We took her in on good faith, bound her to our vows, and taught her our ways. She showed promise, but she betrayed us, Wash. She wasn’t just a lost fledgling. At her cold undead heart she was a Jackal.”
“I know. Surprised us too. Trouble is, we didn’t find out for nearly a fortnight. Meanwhile the clients she wasn’t outright killing, she turned and hid in the pit.”
“Dear God in heaven,” Boon whispered.
“I don’t know how it got past us. I trained her myself, and Dot kept watch on her as close as she could. We’ve just been so busy with all these frontiersmen. And the rise in tourists is threatening to close us for good. I just assumed she-”
“I’m afraid I’m a bit lost,” Dodger said over her.
Rebecca gave a little impatient huff. “What is it now?”
“Well, I don’t think the jackal I’m thinking is the jackal you’re all talking about.”
“Give him a break, Becky,” Boon said. “He ain’t never dealt with the likes of you before.”
“I can see that much,” Rebecca said. She looked away and muttered just loud enough for Dodger to hear, “I just hate dealing with new people.”
“You’d do best to get used to it,” Dodger said. “Because I plan on being around for a mighty long time.”
She looked to him again, a faint trace of a smile belying her gruff attitude. “A Jackal is the most twisted of our kin. Their main goal is to consume, taking and taking but never giving. They will turn a normal human into one of us without considering the consequences, creating more and more until their numbers are out of control. They are animals at best, and monsters at worse.”
“And you have just such a Jackal here.”
“Unfortunately, yes. She is held captive in the abandoned mines this town was originally built around. When we discovered she was turning her clients into monsters like her, or just eating them whole, we tossed her into the darkness with the rest of her brood and sealed them inside.”
“Why didn’t you just kill them and be done with it?”
She blinked, as if unsure of why he would ask such a thing. “Because that would violate our vows, Mr. Dodger.”
“Vows,” Dodger echoed. “Vampires take vows. You’re joking with me.”
“I most certainly am not. While it is true that our condition requires us to feed off of the life force of others, some of us learned over the years that we don’t have to kill to survive. We can coexist with normal humans if we show restraint. We take vows promising to never bring harm to another. To never take an ounce of life without permission and always give something in return.”
“Sounds like a noble endeavor,” Dodger said.
“Thank you. The Elders—the most arrogant of our kin—despise us for this, and thus we are forsaken by our own kind. Hence your employer’s colorful name for us.”
“He has a knack for naming things,” Boon said. “I’m always impressed by it.”
“As am I,” Rebecca said, but she sounded anything but awed. “The Desert Rose is a sanctuary for those like us, those tired of killing to survive. We take them in and teach them a better way. They accept our vows of nonviolence and we promise to protect them from the persecution that plagues us from all sides.”
Dodger smirked. “Kind of like a convent for bloodsuckers?”
“Very amusing, though apropos.”
“How deep do your vows run? Surely you’re allowed to protect yourself against attack.”
“We are and we did by means of non-violence. Killing a human is abhorrent, but to kill one of our own kind? We just can’t. We sealed her away so she could bring no more harm to others, or us. But there in the darkness she and her brood suffer. And as they suffer, so do we.”
“I see.” Dodger wondered, with all the talk before about throwing his carcass to the monsters in zee pit, just how much suffering was really going on here. He had a sneaking suspicion that perhaps she wasn’t telling him the whole story. Or rather, the whole truth. “I take it this is where I come in?”
Rebecca dropped her gaze to the floor. “I hate to ask, but I’m at a loss for an alternative. We are at our wits end, Mr. Dodger. And we have heard much about your skill at handling … shall we say, problematic situations?”
“You just assume I am willing to spill blood where your precious vows forbid it.”
She raised her eyes to him again, surprise over taking her.
“You’re wrong about your Elders,” Dodger said. “You’re just as conceited as they are.” He glanced to Boon, and found the ghost shaking his head in silence. Was his contempt for Dodger or the vampire? It was hard to read the spirit, so Dodger just let the idea go.
Rebecca’s surprise faded into a cool calm again. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but those are my terms. Handle our problem and I will give you what you want.”
Dodger considered this offer, unsure of the value because he had no idea what they were bargaining for. He wanted to ask, but reckoned he might weaken his bargaining power if he proved ignorant of the prize. “I will take care of your dirty business if you give the professor twice the amount he asking.”
“Twice!” Boon and the vampire shouted in unison.
“That’s right. Twice. I’ll do what you ask of me, only if you give us twice what we came for. And we keep the money too. Deal?”
“Dodger,” Boon started. “I think that’s a bit much to ask-”
Dodger lifted his hand, asking Boon’s silence, as well was support.
Rebecca leaned against the couch again, regarding him with a cool stare. Though she did her best to conceal it, Dodger could sense the wild anger dancing behind her eyes. But she kept her unruffled façade, eyeing him as she weighed either his offer or the best way to kill him and be done with this whole affair.
At length she said, “The rumors about you are true. You really do drive a hard bargain. I wonder if everything they say about you is true.” She gave him the once over, from head to toe and back again, licking her plump lips as she ended the sweep of her gaze at his groin.
Or was it the guns she stared at so hard?
No, it was his groin. He felt naked under her penetrating gaze, but resisted the urge to cover himself with his hands. Boon cut him a questioning glance, and with it Dodger knew his next bull session with the guys in the cab was going to be full of awkward questions and dirty suggestions.
“I accept,” Rebecca said. “If you can manage to dispatch Gladys and her brood I would be glad to give you twice what you want. And yes, you can keep the money.”
“Sound good to me. What about the mines. Do you have a map?”
“No, but you won’t need one. The caverns are limited.”
Which left the deed itself. Dodger hated to ask, but he needed to know. “Do the usual vampire remedies apply? Or is there some special way I have to kill her?”
“Unless things aboard the Sleipnir have changed dramatically since Wash’s demise, then you’re well enough armed.”
Dodger stared at the vampire, unsure what she meant.
Your ammunition is silver tipped, Boon whispered.
Raising an eyebrow at the news, Dodger tried not to act too surprised. “I suppose that settles that.” He removed his jacket and held it out to her. “If you can hang onto this, and point me in the right direction, we can get this over with.”
The vampire snorted and snapped up his coat. “It’s good to see we aren’t only ones that get a little blood thirsty. You certainly live up to your name, Rodger Dodger.”
And all at once Dodger regretted his enthusiasm.
“Boon can show you the way to the mines,” Rebecca said as she settled onto a settee. “I need to gather my girls and explain the terms of our agreement. Do make haste. I’m sure we would both like to get this over before the sun rises so you can collect your payment and be on your way.”
“Just one more thing,” Dodger said, rolling up his sleeves. “How many did you say there were?”
“I didn’t. And truthfully, we aren’t sure. Could be as many as half a dozen, maybe more.” Rebecca slipped his jacket on in a move that was all seduction, whether she intended it or not. “But don’t worry, I’ll know if you’ve slain them all.”
“How? Will you just somehow sense it?” Which Dodger wouldn’t put past her. After all, she was a vampire.
“Nothing so dramatic. You see, once you go down there’s only one way you’ll come back out alive.” She flashed him some fang, and a good bit of cleavage, before she pulled his coat over her bosom and said, “Goodbye, Mr. Dodger.”
Her farewell had an edge of finality to it that Dodger just didn’t care for. Rather than giving her the pleasure of a response, he followed Boon out of the parlor, through a low-lit hallway and back out onto the porch. No sooner had the door closed behind them then Boon gave a hoarse shout.
“Great gravy, son!” he whispered fiercely. “What was all that about back there?”
“What was what?” Dodger asked.
“All that flirtin’ and fakin’ and flauntin’. I’ve never seen anyone handle Becky like that. Boy she was as mad as a hornet trapped in honey there at the end. Do you realize how close you came to ending up in that pit as a snack instead of a savior?”
Dodger stopped on the bottom step and looked up to the spirit of the taller man. “What else was I supposed to do? You weren’t any help back there you know. One of us had to stand up for ourselves. Some partner you are.”
“Well it was kind of hard for me to get a word in with you two playing verbal poker like that. It was all I could do to keep up! I’ll say it again, I have never seen Becky treated like that. I mean the way you spoke to her, much less make her back down from a full payment? And you got us twice what the doc asked for! How did you do that?”
“It was nothing. I just bluffed her.” Dodger returned to his stroll. “Anyone can do it well if they know how. Stop making a big deal out of it and show me where this place is.”
“A big deal? Dodger, you don’t understand the enormity of what just occurred here. There’s just one thing those women love more than blood, and that’s money. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but did you or did you not just talk a one hundred and fifty year old vampire out of five thousand dollars?”
Three things struck Dodger all at once, bringing him to another stop.
First and foremost, he had a hard time processing the suggestion that the buxom southern gal was a day over twenty-five, much less one hundred and fifty years old.
Secondly, how much money did Boon say Dodger was just walking around with stuffed in his jacket pocket like it was a few measly bucks?
And third, he had done just the very thing Boon claimed he had done.
Boon’s chuckle interrupted Dodger’s shocked thoughts. “Forgive me for being so crass, son, but I don’t understand how you get about without limping, ‘cause you must have balls as big as church bells.”
Dodger groaned as he rubbed his eyes. “Let’s fetch the Sunbox from the Rhino and get this the hell over with. I’m getting tired and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”