Part IV

The lower levels of the parking garage were almost empty, so I could have walked up to Tana straight out, but what kind of mystique is that? She jumped when I put my hand on her shoulder from behind, but kept it under control, which is more nerve than I had given her credit for. Actually, Tana's surprising me a lot these days … and she did it again, turning around with a crucifix the size of a hatchet, and it was my turn to jump. "Jeez, girl, watch where you're pointing that thing!"

"Sorry," she said, but she didn't look it. She slid a backpack off her other shoulder and handed it to me. "Here are your clothes."

"Right." I pulled out the outfit I had given her, sloughed off the coroner's sheet I had been wearing as a toga, and began to dress. "How long till sundown?"

She frowned. "What do you mean? Sunset was two hours ago."

"Oh. Okay. I guess I must have fallen asleep. Did you know they've fixed those refrigerated drawers so they lock?"

"I guess they've lost bodies before. Sunnydale's sure the place for it." She watched me as I tugged the fringed vest into place and tied back my hair, then asked, "So how did you get out?"

"Makeup," I prompted. She gave me a little case, and I began to apply cosmetics by feel. (It's a skill you learn.) "That's another weirdie," I told her while I brushed and patted. "Somebody came in and started checking the drawers one at a time. I kept my eyes shut when they came to mine, so I didn't see anything, but I could tell they were keeping the main lights off, and trying to stay quiet, so I don't think they belonged there. They weren't looking for me, they pushed mine right back in, and I grabbed the inside mechanism so it wouldn't catch. Then they must have found what they wanted, because they spent about ten minutes talking, and I heard a couple of camera flashes go off. I gave it a few more minutes after they left, then I crawled out and called you."

I was finished now, and we started walking up toward street level. Tana looked pensive. "Were there three of them?"

"Yeah, three men. You run into them?"

"Not exactly. When I got here I saw three men out front arguing, then they got in this really ancient VW van and drove off. They didn't strike me as your basic morgue attendants."

"What did they look like?"

"Well, two of them were tall and thin, one with long stringy blond hair and black-rimmed glasses — I swear, he looked just like Dana Carvey's character in Wayne's World — the other wore a suit and he had short hair and a neat little beard. The third man was shorter and heavier and seemed older, he had gray hair and his glasses were wire-framed." She looked puzzled. "The long-haired one said something about a new world order, and the older one said something about sculling in Boulder, and that's when they got in the van and left."

" 'Sculling in Boulder?' " I repeated. "That doesn't make any damn sense."

"No, it doesn't," she agreed. "Just about right for Sunnydale."

"Well, it was lucky for me, whatever it was. Without them, no way I could have gotten out without it showing that the thing was busted open from the inside." I looked around. "Where's your car?"

"Down the block, right there," she answered, pointing. As we headed for it she said, "How long, you think, before they have to turn Kyle loose?"

"Depends on what other stuff he may be up for, but with the body disappearing they can't hold him forever. And as soon as he makes bail he'll book, probably clear out of state. Our boy won't hang around to face that kind of pressure." I grinned at her. "All in all, it was a pretty good idea. I guess I owe you."

She gave a little wriggle of her shoulders, looking uncomfortable. I knew the feeling, the words had sounded funny to me when I said them. This was not our normal relationship, way too warm and fuzzy. We got in the car, and she cranked up and pulled out, asking, "Where do you want me to take you?"

I shrugged. "When I called you I was thinking of going to your house, chilling in the garage or something till the sun went down. Don't need that now. What the hell, want to go clubbing?"

The Triumph lurched a little as she reacted to that. What was the matter with me? "Do you mean it?" she asked doubtfully.

Okay, this was much too bizarre, time to get things back on track. I gave her my filthiest leer and said, "Why not? Live a little, girl, walk on the wild side. There's life outside the Bronze, and I can show you where to find it. Whattaya say, want to get your feet dirty?"

She drove for a few more seconds in silence, then she said, "You can come into my room without me asking, can't you?"

I hesitated too long, and we both knew it. "What makes you think that?"

"I was already wondering, and when that guy grabbed me even though I was wearing my cross … and then you did the same thing a few minutes ago." She turned her head slightly to glance over at me. "I just don't understand you at all sometimes."

"Well, surprise!" I wasn't acting now, the bitterness was genuine. "You knew what I was the first time I showed you my real face. Anything else, you've been kidding yourself."

"I don't think so," she replied. "You talk to me like I'm a retarded pet, but you treat me … you treat me …" Oh, crap, she was starting to leak tears again. She swallowed, hard, and finished: "… special. You feed without killing, I don't think you ever killed anything before last night and I don't even know if he counts since he was already dead, and if you were as bad as you always act you'd brag about killing. I can't trust you to tell me the truth, but you saved my life …" She was crying freely now, and she paused to wipe away tears and snot with the back of her hand. Gag me! "Maybe you're right," she said finally. "Maybe I'm kidding myself. Or maybe you are."

I was pretty sure I could settle the question for her by ripping her head off, but that was no way to treat leather upholstery. "Drop me off here," I said stiffly. "I can walk the rest of the way."

She pulled over to let me out, and I was about to slam the door hard enough to warp the hinges when she said, "I'm sorry, please, it's just I'm so tired, it makes me crazy, I haven't slept since night before last."

"What?" I stared at her. "Why?"

"You said you'd call me to pick you up, and I just kept waiting, I was afraid you'd need me in a hurry and I wouldn't be there."

Hell and damnation, what was I going to do with this girl? She was too dumb to live and too pitiful to kill. "Go home," I told her. "Get some sleep, eat something, then sleep some more. I'll come over and slap you silly when I think you're strong enough to appreciate it."

"All right," she agreed, and yawned like a hippo. "Sheila? Next time you come to see me … just come on in, okay? Surprise me."

"Sure. Would tying you up and squirting you with battery acid count as a surprise?"

She looked blank for a second, then she smiled. "Not really," she said. "You're more original than that." She eased the Triumph into gear and screeched away.

Fine, I'd think of something original. I was two blocks from Prism, and the main rush would still be going, so I headed that way in quick-time.

I'm not kidding myself, this can't last forever. I figure maybe ten years before somebody starts to think it's funny the same girl's been coming in as long as they can remember and she doesn't seem to be getting any older. That gives me plenty of time to party down while I work out a gradual move to another city. It'll do.

The same is true for Tana. I really am going to kill her one of these days. I am. But for now my life is more fun with her in it.

I was halfway across the parking lot when someone came out, and through the doors I could hear the music and God help us it was Donna fricken Summer belting out "Bad Girls": toot-toot, beep-beep, shoot me now. I spun on my heel, even a hellchick has her limits, I'd crash the Sunset Club or the Silk Tulip or even hitch a ride to the next city to see what was happening at Shelter. A convertible pulled up beside me — Tana? No, this was a Miata, and getting out was my sandy-haired would-be studmonkey from the other night. "Hey," he called, "I was hoping I'd run into you."

"Yeah? Why?" Oh, fella, you don't want to rub me the wrong way right now …

"I wanted to apologize," he said. "I … look, this is embarrassing, but I don't remember your name. In fact, I don't think I ever asked."

"Come to that, I don't believe I asked yours."

He sighed heavily. "This is what I was afraid of. I can't remember how I acted the other night — God, you wouldn't believe the hangover I had yesterday morning!" (yes I would, if I'd let go of your throat two minutes later you'd have been cooling meat and I'd have had something to brag about to Tana) "— but I know the kind of mood I was in, so it can't have been good." He got a sheepish look. "I went through a really harsh divorce eight months ago, and night before last would have been my sixth wedding anniversary, and I was feeling ugly and hateful. You didn't deserve that. Please say you'll let me make it up to you."

Wonderful, this must be my night for touchy-feely. "Look, if we're ever in at the same time I'll give you another dance, okay? Don't try and push it past that."

"Fair enough," he told me. He flashed a wistful smile and walked past me to the doors of the club. Fine, one more chance, and don't think I won't crack you open like a rock lobster if you try that macho crap again.

He must have reached the doors just as I got to the street, because the music surged out again, throbbing and insistent. I stopped. No, damn it. No. The undead have their pride, too …

Oh, screw it. I turned and headed back across the parking lot, following the pulsing rhythm, the only hunger that calls to me more keenly than blood.

I hate disco. I'm not "protesting too much", I'm not trying to hide a secret shame, I really truly hate disco.

But I love the beat.