“How do you know of me?” Dodger asked.
“Let’s just say we hear a lot of rumors from our clients. And your name may have come up once. Or twice. Or three times.”
“Clients? That’s a strange word for victims.”
The women growled again, and for a moment Dodger worried he had crossed whatever line kept them from killing him. Rebecca snapped her fingers, calling her ladies to attention.
“Leave us,” she demanded.
Grumbling, the women filed out of the room, leaving the three of them alone. Dodger felt more than one pair of cold eyes weighing his worth as the women departed.
“Was it something I said?” he teased.
“Dodger,” Boon warned.
“I obviously touched a nerve.” Dodger chuckled as his own humor. “I didn’t think vampires had nerves.”
“Please be quiet. You’re embarrassing me.”
“Embarrassing you? These monsters tried to kill me!”
“Becky,” Boon said aloud. “I apologize for his behavior. If I had known-”
“No need to defend him,” Rebecca said as she scooped up the gun belt from the desk behind her. “It isn’t his fault. He bears the bias of his forefathers. Let him think what he wants. It matters not to us.” She held the guns out to Dodger. “Here, I’m sure you’ll feel less exposed with these on.”
Dodger snorted and looked again to Boon for help. “Are you telling me they don’t lure men out here to the middle of the desert and kill them for their blood?”
“Not quite,” Boon said. “They take life from their clientele, true, but only enough to survive. In exchange the men who willingly allow them access get … well …” The spirit grinned, unable to finish the thought. If he had any blood to blush with, Dodger supposed the ghost would’ve turned a fine shade of pink.
“They get a night they won’t soon forget,” Rebecca said. “My girls have had many, many years to hone their talents. They are the best at what they do. The very best. Is it so much to ask a little life in exchange for such boundless pleasure?”
“It that’s true,” Dodger said, “then why aren’t you overrun with these so called clients? I don’t know a man alive that wouldn’t let you drain him dry if you’re as good as you say you are.”
“A man can easily forget other things when their memory is crowded with such delights.” She waggled the gun belt at him.
But Dodger wasn’t fooled by her double talk. “You mean you make them forget.” He snatched the belt and proceeded to buckle it in place. As soon as the belt settled on his hips, he felt a little safer; though he didn’t know how much good the guns would do against the supernatural being.
“We prefer to think of it as giving them other things to remember. Better things. We leave just enough hints behind to lead others brave souls to us, but not enough to reveal our home to unworthy eyes.”
“Just who do you consider worthy?”
“Anyone in need of our special touch. The lonely and dejected. The outcast. The heartbroken. Those willing to give anything to feel loved, even if for one night. I would wager that even you have probably heard of us? The great Rodger Dodger is sure to have been around the block a few times? Yes? Enough to pick up on certain rumors?”
The Desert Rose.
Dodger remembered now. Tales of a brothel so hot it left a man soaked just thinking about it. Women so beautiful you would willingly lay your life down just to lay with one of them. A meal of flesh so satisfying a man would pay whatever price asked for the privilege of a taste. Trouble was, no one knew where they place was located. Even those who had claimed to visit couldn’t quite remember where they had been at the time. But the rumors persisted, and the mirage flickered hot and scrumptious in the burning mind of every lonely man across the west.
And yes, in his past life Dodger set out for the place at least once. Maybe twice. But business always came before pleasure. How many times had he willingly bled for some nameless boss? No one ever offered him a night to remember. The most he got from a job was a head full of nightmares he’d rather forget.
“This is quite a setup you have,” Dodger said, trying to shift the conversation away from himself. “How long you been at this?”
“Here?” she asked. “Long enough to know it’s probably time to move along. America is expanding, and there is no place for us in this new world. Soon there will be nowhere for us to go.”
“What will you do then?”
She didn’t answer, and Dodger reckoned he was pretty glad about that.
“I hate to seem obtuse,” Boon said. “But we are here for a reason, and time is growing short.”
“Oh yes,” Rebecca said. “Your strange men are in need of our help. Help we would love to give, except …”
Dodger waited for the pause to pass, but it didn’t look like she was going to elaborate without a prompt. “Except?”
“We have the most unfortunate troubles of our own.” Rebecca flounced—not walked or strolled or stepped, she full bodily flounced—across the parlor and draped herself over the arm of a couch. There she crossed her legs, showing a heaping helping of thigh in the process, and pushed her chest out as far as her physique would allow for without breaking her spine. Her posture was somewhere between erotic and demure, much like a clueless virgin trying to seduce her husband on their wedding night.
And funny enough, it was just the kind of innocent seduction Dodger loved.
“I just don’t see how I can focus on what you need when I have so much worry on my delicate mind.” Rebecca pressed the back of her wrist to her forehead and sighed. “Worry that I’m sure the legendary gunslinger Rodger Dodger could handle with ease.”
“Knock it off,” Dodger said.
She placed a hand across the swell of her cleavage and dropped her mouth open, just a bit, in attitude of fake shock. “Why, sir? Whatevah do you mean?”
Dodger was pretty surprised himself that her naive sex kitten act wasn’t melting his pants right off his horny ass. He wasn’t sure if his near death experience had inoculated him against her charm, or if it was the presence of the ghost, or a little bit of both. Whatever it was, the sight of her lolling about on the arm of the couch with her breasts pushed forward and her lips set in a pretty pout did not fill him with the urge to do her bidding.
It filled him with the urge to run away as fast as he could before she could attack again.
“What do you want?” Dodger asked.
“Why would you assume I want something?” she asked.
“Because you’re showing us enough landscape to plant a crop of wheat on. Now what do you want?”
She fluttered her eyelashes and heaved her bosom. “I can’t ask a big, strong, handsome man like you to-”
“Just tell us,” Dodger said. “So we can get out of here.”
“Come on, Becky,” Boon said. “You ain’t foolin’ either of us with that routine. Just name your price and we can be on our way.”
She sat upright and smoothed down her thin gown. “Death has changed you, Boon. You used to be all kinds of fun.”
“I did not!” Boon turned to Dodger. “I did not. She’s just saying that. Ched likes that kind of fun, not me.”
Dodger stomach churned at the visual of such a suggestion. “Bringing Ched into this isn’t making it any better.”
Boon didn’t seem to hear him. “I mean sure, I like to have fun. But with the right kind of gal. You know … a certain kind of gal.”
“You mean a living woman,” Rebecca said. “Which is kind of ironic now, isn’t it?”
The ghost grinned wide and goofy. “Yeah. I reckon so. Me being dead and you being-”
“Wait up,” Dodger said. “What is this dead business? I thought you said you weren’t a vampire.”
“No,” Rebecca said. “I said we didn’t like that name.”
“So you are vampires?”
Rebecca thought about this before she said, “I think you should save that question for Hieronymus. He has all manner of theories about us. I’m sure he would be willing to share them with you.”
Dodger got the impression that she was done talking about the subject. Had she been a he, Dodger would have pressed harder for more information, vampire or not. But again, his experience with women forbade him this gratification. Not that he had an especially deep respect for the fairer sex. He just knew once a woman set her mind to being done with something she was as apt to change it as a eunuch was to grow a new pair of family jewels.
Boon cleared his throat, producing an awkward sound from the ghost. “Back to the matter at hand. Dodger did bring a full payment, with a little extra for bugging you gals so soon since the last time.”
“As much as I love money,” Rebecca said, “I’m afraid it isn’t as simple as a financial transaction. I said we had problems of our own, and I meant it.”
“What kind of problems?” Dodger said.
A look of genuine concern came over her. “The kind that needs killing.”
GIVE AND TAKE
In which Dodger comes to a bloody accord.