In which Dodger learns the truth of Waxford.
“Stop, Rebecca,” Boon said. “Don’t hurt him.”
At the voice of the spirit, the women reverted. Just like that, the fangs were gone, the women were flawless beauties again, and Dodger trembled and sweated and wondered what in the hell just happened. One moment he was all too happy to die by their hands, or rather mouths, and now? Now the idea horrified him. Which is to say, he returned to normal on the matter.
Boon stood in the center of the ladies, holding his hat in his hands and pleading with the blonde. “Don’t hurt him. Please.”
“Wash?” the southern belle asked. She furrowed her pert brow as the corners of her lips curved ever so slightly down.
“Zee meal was lying,” the Frenchy said. “Boon is alive after all.”
The women cooed and clapped, glad to see Boon was unharmed. All save for the blonde belle. She silenced the others with a quick hiss and crossed the room, approaching Boon. His spirit towered over her as she stood beneath him, craning her neck to look him in the eyes.
“He wasn’t lying,” she said. “Was he?”
Boon shook his shaggy head. “I’m afraid not, Becky.”
The southern gal reached up and caressed his ghostly face. Static sparked from her palm, crackling as she ran her fingers through his beard. Quite literally. “What happened to you?”
“I guess I just danced a little to close with lady death. You know she always loved me for a partner.”
“She isn’t the only one.” A few tears rolled down her pale face, tracing the curve of her cheek on their way to do gravity’s biding. “Then it is true. Washington Boon is dead?”
“Yes. He is.”
The room itself seemed to gasp in astonishment. Several women covered their mouths. Some started to weep along with the blonde. Others looked away, as if the sight of his ghost was too much to bear.
“Why are you still here?” the belle asked as she wiped at her damp eyes.
Boon shot a glance to Dodger, who sat slack jawed and shocked into silence, then looked back to Rebecca. “I don’t rightly know.”
“I do.” The woman smiled, but this time it was an honest to goodness smirk. No fangs. No danger. “You linger for her.”
Boon gave a soft sigh. “Perhaps. Time will tell I suppose. Speaking of which, we ain’t got a lot of time on our side right now. Can one of you pretty ladies please untie my partner?”
“This cretin is with you after all?”
“He sure is. And we are both in a bit of a rush, so … if you don’t mind?” Boon motioned to the bonds.
“Always in a hurry to get back to her.” Rebecca clapped her hands and the two burly women closest to Dodger began to undo the knots that held him fast.
Only they weren’t women. Were they? Well, they were women now. All bosom and rump and lips. But what were they just a few minutes ago? All fangs and thirst and anger? And seduction. Loads and loads of seduction. Dodger knew what they were, but at the same time he didn’t want to know. Still, the analytical part of his mind reached for a name to describe them, but it sounded wrong. Wrong because it was impossible.
“For a partner of yours he was quite ill prepared,” Rebecca said.
“The Doc reckoned trial by fire was the best method for this one,” Boon said. “He’s a little on the skeptical side. Has to see it and touch it and taste it to believe it.”
“He was almost on the dead side. Your side of dead of course, not ours. You should have warned him. Or us, at the very least.”
Boon rubbed his neck. “Yeah, I would’ve spoken up sooner, but I wasn’t sure you would be able to talk to me, much less see me.”
“Congress with the deceased is one of our many gifts. You know that, Wash.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Where’s Ched?” a plump redhead asked.
“Yuck,” the French gal said with a snort. “Trust zee mention of congressing with corpses to remind her of him.”
“He’s back on the line, Lucy,” Boon said. “But he sends his love.”
“Pooh,” the redhead said, sticking out her lower lip. “I don’t want his love. I want his body. As close to mine as possible.”
The ropes gave way and Dodger slipped to the floor, just catching himself before he struck the ground. He still couldn’t manage words, the distress of what had almost happened and was happening now threatened to close his mental shop for good. A few ladies tried to help him to his feet, but he flinched from their touch—a touch he would have given his life to experience only moments before—and stared at them, still trying to make sense of what seemed so senseless.
“What brings you to Waxford?” Rebecca asked.
“You know why,” Boon said.
“He needs more? So soon? Will he ever give up on his hope for her cure? I told him, Lelanea is cursed. Like us. There is no cure. Only death. Death and damnation.”
“It’s not for her. It’s something different this time.”
The blonde narrowed her eyes. “Tell me he isn’t trying to make more of us. He is well aware that’s forbidden.”
“No. Nothing like that.” Boon launched into a brief explanation of the last two days, starting with Dodger’s employment and ending with their need for whatever it was they were here to gather.
“That’s quite a story” Rebecca said. “You make me feel as if I should give you what you want for free.”
“Is that an offer?” Boon raised an eyebrow.
“You know me better than that, Washington-”
“Vampires!” Dodger shouted over her, unable to contain the impossible idea any longer. He didn’t care who heard him, or what they thought of his insanity. For lack of a better thing to say, he repeated, “Vampires!”
Rebecca stopped talking, and turned to Dodger, a cool calm crossing her beautiful face. “Must you use such vulgar language? There are women present.”
“Women?” Dodger could all but feel his eyes trying to bulge their way out of their sockets, but he couldn’t help his heightened level of alarm. “You aren’t women! You’re a bunch of vampires! Lady vampires!”
The ladies growled in unison, filling the room with feral anger.
“Stop calling them that,” Boon whispered. “It only upsets them.”
Dodger looked to Boon for help. “Upsets them? They tried to kill me! And you! You just let me waltz on in here like nothing was wrong. Why didn’t you warn me?”
“Warn you about what?” Boon asked. “About the women of this town and how they will suck the life from your cooling corpse just as soon as look at you?”
“Well … yes.” Except, the way the ghost put it, the whole thing sounded silly. But it wasn’t silly! It was real! “They almost killed me. You could have given me some kind of idea.”
Boon sighed in his wistful, ethereal exhale. “And if I came right out and explained the way of things would you have believed me?”
“No,” Dodger was forced to admit. He also had to admit that just about every crewmember tried to talk him out of going it alone. Dodger dreaded facing Ched’s smug grin when they returned to the line. “But if you aren’t, you know what, then what was all that ‘sucking me dry’ about?”
“If you need a label so desperately,” Rebecca said, “then you may refer to us as Forsaken.”
“Forsaken,” Dodger echoed.
“Yes. It was your employer’s idea. Much like you he wasn’t satisfied until he had a label for us. Though I must admit his word is fitting. We have been forsaken—by humanity, by divinity, by our own kind—so the label is effective, if not a little dramatic.”
“The doc has a flare for the dramatic,” Boon said. “Just as my friend here can be a little over defensive. But we’re all friends here. Aren’t we, Dodger?”
“Dodger?” Rebecca asked. “You’re not the Rodger Dodger?”
The sound of his name on her lips simultaneously made Dodger ache with need while his skin crawled in disgust. It was an interesting effect. Nauseating, but interesting.
“Depends on what ‘the’ stands for,” he said.
Rebecca raked her blue eyes over him, in much the manner a hungry man measures up a side of beef hanging in a butcher’s window. “Oh yes, you’re him all right.”
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