ALL IN A NIGHT’S WORK
Oh dear. I think I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a fix again.
It’s been a tough couple of months for Joshua, a mage. After battling vampires, despots, and demons, he heads to Chicago for some downtime, maybe even a little romance. Unfortunately, fate has other plans.
Joshua and his would-be lover are kidnapped by two vampires and threatened with death. The vampires agree to spare them, but only if Joshua helps find an ancient statue . . . by dawn. But he and his kidnappers aren’t alone in their search. Three other vampires want the statue as well, and not only do they kill those who get in their way, they enjoy the killing.
It seems this mage just can’t stay out of trouble, even for one night.
All in a Night’s Work is a novella of approximately 19,000 words. It is Book 3.5 of the Mage Tales, but can easily be enjoyed as a stand-alone work.
“Please,” I said in my most nonthreatening voice. “Let’s talk about this.”
Unfortunately, it failed to have the desired effect. Instead of untying me from the chair I was bound to and putting her gun down, the blonde woman cocked the Colt Detective Special and held it against my temple. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man tied up on the chair beside me squeeze his eyes shut and turn away, perspiration glistening on his face.
“The only ‘talking’ I want to hear is you telling me where it is,” the woman said through gritted teeth. Two of them were slightly elongated canines, or fangs, the same as her male companion’s. He had short brown hair, and wore a white button-down shirt with suspenders and a boater hat. If it weren’t for the undercurrent of magic running through him, one could easily mistake him for a hipster.
The woman, on the other hand, had a bob ending in sharp edges at her chin. With her big eyes, red lipstick, and fascinator hat and veil, she called to mind the “sorry dame” in noir mysteries. But since vampires stop aging the moment they are turned, it was impossible to tell how old these two truly were. If I had to guess, I’d put their mortal ages at no more than thirty.
“I’d be more than happy to tell you where ‘it’ is, madam,” I said, “if in fact I knew what you were talking about.” The man on the other chair was looking from me to the woman and back again, eyes wide with fear.
“Beverly, if we shoot them, we’ll never find it.” Her companion stepped forward. His voice was low, and he seemed more worried than anything else. Beverly appeared less worried than livid. I could see the sheen on her black, elbow-length gloves as she tightened her grip on the gun, then threw her matching clutch purse into a corner.
“I don’t have to shoot both.” There was a hard brightness in her eyes as they bored into me. She was so close, I could see swirls of blue veins under her pale skin. “I only have to shoot one,” she raised her eyebrows at me, “in order to show I mean business. Then, if the other doesn’t talk,” she jutted her chin at the man beside me, “we can just torture him until he does.” The would-be victim made a whimpering noise.
“Beverly, you don’t want to do that,” her companion said gently.
“You really don’t,” I agreed.
“Shut up, Jimmy,” she snapped, turning her head to the side, then back to me. “I’ll do what I have to. You know what’ll happen if we don’t—”
“Ah, Beverly and Jimmy, then, is it?” I interrupted. “Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Joshua Alderman—”
Beverly pulled the gun away from my temple and hit me across the face with the back of her other hand. Which, since she was a vampire, was akin to being slapped with lead covered in silk.
I heard the man beside me cry out. I tried not to show any reaction as I waited for the throbbing to subside. My low pain tolerance was a thing of legend, and it certainly wasn’t helping me now. Not that it ever did.
“Beverly!” Jimmy put his hand on her shoulder. She roughly shook him off and glared at me.
“Madam, surely there are more civilized ways of handling things,” I coughed. I wished one of my hands was free to hold my aching cheek, but both were tied tightly in front of me. “I mean, was that really necessary? Or that?” I indicated the gun with my eyes.
Also, a gunshot isn’t going to kill me, I thought to myself.
Oh, rest assured a gunshot to the head would hurt. It would be excruciating, in fact. And it would certainly make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to fight if things came to that. I also can’t promise it wouldn’t cause brain damage, though my father would say there’s little to damage in that regard. But anyone with witch blood likely wouldn’t die via such a small revolver. Now, a sawed-off shotgun, on the other hand, or one of those newfangled hollow-point bullets—
Sorry. I’m not helping you feel less anxious for my safety, am I?
But perhaps I should explain to you how I came to be in an abandoned warehouse office, tied up among mismatched chairs and a broken desk. The only light, I might add, came from a single bulb dangling overhead. And as I am rather sensitive, it was sorely bothering my eyes.
I’d recently come to the States from Rome. That’s where my ancient vampire father and I worked together to free my mother, a witch, from a decades-long sleep. Somehow, he and I managed to do this despite our rocky relationship. In the process, we battled some nasty bloodsuckers, including another ancient. This one was a dictator type who was hell-bent on taking over the world. Then there was a demon who tried to take me over . . . well, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I was looking forward to some rest and relaxation, and the present situation wasn’t what I had in mind.
The evening started out promisingly enough. I arrived in Chicago, a city I’d never visited but always wanted to. I thought I’d take a stroll through Grant Park, see a game at Wrigley Field, enjoy a hot dog buried under toppings. As it turned out, there was an art gallery opening not far from my hotel, so I thought, “Why not?” There were many modern paintings and sculptures, which I admired but didn’t even pretend to understand. There were even a few items on loan from various museums, presumably to give the gallery an aura of prestige and worthiness.
While strolling among the pieces of artwork, free champagne, and canapés, an attractive gentleman caught my eye. I put him at mid- to late thirties, with a slim build and small, dark eyes under wavy black hair. Wearing a bespoke suit, he seemed relaxed and nonchalant, the way arrogant men often are, or want others to believe they are.
I hadn’t come to this event with romance on my mind, but since I was here for recreation, again I thought, “Why not?” I mean, I wouldn’t call myself overly handsome, being a rather tall and gangly sort. Still, I’ve been told I have lovely light green eyes. All right, all right—it was my mother who said it. But I do think they go well with the dark hair that trails down the back of my neck. I suppose I should do something about my skin, which is too close to a vampire’s paleness for my liking.
My complexion didn’t seem to put off my potential partner, though he might have been too dazzled by my wardrobe to notice. I was in my usual white button-down shirt, black trousers and jacket, and scuffed black loafers. Usually everything I wore was wrinkled, but the one night I managed to iron my clothes was the night I got kidnapped. Figures.
Our eyes met, and I walked toward him slowly. He was standing next to a display of loaned artifacts in front of a painting he was admiring, or pretending to.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” He indicated the piece with his champagne glass.
“Absolutely,” I agreed.
“I’m a huge fan of the artist. You?”
“Can’t name an artist I like more.”
“Mmm. So . . . who is the painter, then?”
“No bloody clue,” I replied. We both laughed, and the man looked me up and down appreciatively as we introduced ourselves.
“That’s a bit of an accent you’ve got there,” he said when we were through shaking hands. “British?”
“Sort of. Technically, I suppose I’m American, but I spent a good deal of time in England growing up.”
He nodded. “New in town, then?”
“Just visiting.” I grabbed a canapé from the tray of a passing server. “Here for fun, really.”
“Good to know.” He nodded again and grinned. “I only just arrived myself. Scoping out the business prospects around here, checking some properties. You know how it is.”
“Of course,” I said. Actually, my family is what you might call independently wealthy, and I wander around getting into scrapes, so I really don’t know how it is.
“I don’t suppose you know anything about real estate development, do you?” His eyes were now spending equal time between me and the painting, with me gaining more ground as the minutes ticked by.
“A bit,” I said. “My family owns several properties both here and abroad.” Many of them are dilapidated, tombs, or both, but no need to give all the details.
My comment had the exact effect I knew it would. “Excellent,” the man said, clearly impressed. “I’m investigating a few possibilities in the downtown area, as a matter of fact. I’ve actually got some intriguing reading material on it back at my hotel. Unless of course, you’re not . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Not?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Not interested,” he finished.
I smiled. “Oh, I’m of a nature that finds a variety of people interesting. But I’d be especially curious to see your . . . material.”
He smiled widely in return. “Wonderful,” he murmured. “Am I to take it—” He looked from right to left and leaned his head close to mine. “Am I to take it that you’re free the entire evening?”
“Well, that depends on how it goes, now, doesn’t it?” I said in an equally low voice. This was nice. After months of hair’s-breadth escapes and flesh-tearing fights, I’d forgotten how much fun flirting could be.
The man laughed silently, then reached up to brush a hair away from my cheek. A server whisked by us, and the man stopped and stepped back abruptly. He waited till the server and a few other people had passed, making their way around the artifact display. Then he looked around again.
“Everything all right?” I turned my head slightly in the direction of the display, but nothing seemed unusual.
“Oh yes. It’s only . . .”
“We have to be discreet,” I said.
“I have a lot of business contacts.” He looked almost embarrassed. “Some of them might be here. I don’t know if they . . . how it would affect . . .”
“I understand,” I said quickly. Really, I just wanted to get this handsome bloke out of the gallery and into my, er, arms as fast as possible. “Is your hotel safe, do you think?”
“Should be.” He took one last gulp of champagne, then one last glance at the servers milling around the artifact display. “Let me give you the address. I think it’d be best if I leave first and you follow afterwards.”
“Sounds lovely.” I got out my cell phone to take down the particulars.
“I must say, I hardly ever do this sort of thing,” he said after I put the address into the phone.
Liar. A quick scan of your thoughts shows you did it three times in the past two weeks alone. Fortunately, there are limited circumstances under which I can contract disease; otherwise, I’d have asked for a blood test before this little encounter. Ironically, I was not given to such trysts, but I had good reason for this one. Now that the dust had settled after a prolonged period of life-and-death nonsense, there was a certain person I had to call. A person named Colleen. And I was procrastinating.
“Me neither,” I said. “But why not? I mean, you only live once.”
My potential partner’s gaze moved past me toward the front door, where a new crowd was entering. In the middle of the laughing and cheek-kissing stood a tall, burly man with a close-cut beard. He was smiling and shaking hands, but his eyes were scanning the room.
“Crap,” my companion said. “That’s one of my clients. I told him I’d meet him here later if I had time. If he sees me, I won’t be able to get away. And if he sees me with you . . .”
“I get the message,” I said drily.
Suddenly, his eyes lit up, and he put his hand on my shoulder. “Come on, we’ll sneak out the back.”
“What happened to meeting separately at your hotel?”
“Forget it.” He kept his hand on my shoulder as we made our way toward the rear of the gallery. “If we get out of here quickly and quietly, with any luck no one will notice us.”
My new friend’s plan worked, and we exited into an alley behind the building. We walked for several blocks, until my friend turned into another alley. This one didn’t look like it held art galleries in front.
“Are you sure you want to go that way?” I asked. The alley was full of graffiti and broken glass bottles. A strong Chicago wind was blowing; it pressed newspapers along a barbed wire fence at one end, as well as an unmoving lump that I hoped was a homeless person and not a dead body.
“Why not?” he said. “Look—there’s a big hole in the fence down there we can duck under. It’ll be a shortcut.” When I hesitated, he smiled and cupped the back of my neck. “I think it’s exciting. Doesn’t it turn you on? Where’s your sense of adventure?” His voice had a teasing lilt, and his eyes were shining.
My sense of adventure? I left it in Rome along with a tyrannical vampire, paranormal investigators, and one very twisted demon. But I finally acquiesced. I liked the feeling of his warm hand on my skin, his scent, the promises in his eyes. I could easily dispatch a mugger or two with magic, assuming that was the worst we came across.
I assumed wrong. We were almost at the end of the alley when I sensed a presence, but knew my companion didn’t.
“Did you hear something?” I asked as we were about to duck under the large hole in the fence.
The man stopped and listened for a moment. “No,” he finally said.
“Well, I did.” I peered into the darkness we’d just walked through. “It sounded like—”
My words were swallowed up by a cloth soaked in chloroform, and my companion’s cries of protest met the same fate. I tried to discern who our attackers were, but it was difficult. They must have moved very quickly from one end of the alley to the other. Much quicker than a mortal could manage.
There were at least two, of that I was certain. One was behind me and the other was behind my companion, who quickly gave way to the chloroform’s effects, falling motionless into his assailant’s arms. As I struggled against my own captor’s incredibly strong grip, the sickly sweet chemical smell was already making me light-headed. The edges of my vision went fuzzy, and sounds got farther away as vertigo set in. Then I could do little more than keep my eyes open, and barely that.
The chloroform wasn’t strong enough to knock out a mage like me. But it was disorienting enough that I couldn’t prevent the assailants from dragging us to our present location, and likewise precluding our escape.
And so my new friend and I found ourselves strapped to chairs gazing up at two vampires, one with a gun in her hand. But I knew there was more to this situation than met the eye. Why would vampires use chloroform? Trust me, if one of their kind accosts you in an alley, it’s usually to kill you, not knock you out. And why use a gun unless they wanted to maintain the pretense of being human? Vampires had strength and fangs enough to do violence. It was time to get to the bottom of this.
“Civilized?” the blonde repeated. She pulled her veil up and folded it over her hat, which I could see was pinned to her hair. Now she could fix her gaze on me in earnest, her big eyes angry and determined. Her chest was heaving in and out with fury. I had to admit, it wasn’t entirely unattractive, but I had to maintain my focus.
“You don’t think I’m civilized? Boy, you will never see civilization again if you don’t tell me where it is.” Her last words took on a hardness tinged with magic that was supposed to make me answer instantly.
Instead, I repeated my previous question. “Where is what?”
“You know what I’m talking about!” snapped Beverly.
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do!”
“Look,” I said, “can we hold this conversation in a way that doesn’t make us sound like four-year-olds fighting over an action figure?”
“Bev,” Jimmy said hesitantly, “maybe he really doesn’t know.”
“Of course he does!” Exasperated, Beverly turned back to him. “What do you think all that slyness at the gallery was for?”
Slyness at the gallery? Besides the chemistry between my companion and me, what on earth was she going on about? And why would it concern her?
But for the moment, I didn’t care. The longer she bickered with Jimmy, the more time it left me to finish the spell I’d been working on since they tied me up.