I do not own this. It belongs to Rachel Cain
Normal life in Morganville. As far as normal ever was, Shane Collins thought; nobody was overtly rioting, getting arrested, or killing anyone. Not on the street, anyway.
Not on this street, anyway.
Being out in the open around dark was not his favorite survival strategy, but even though the Morganville Multiplex Cinema (three whole screens) tried to cram as many morning and afternoon showings in as possible, it wasn't always possible to avoid getting out later than was healthy for a regular human in Morganville, Texas.
"There's a reason those twilight shows are cheaper than the others," he said to Claire Danvers, who was walking with her small hand in his large one, head down. Claire was thinking, but then, she was always thinking. It was part of what he loved about her. "I wish Eve would have come with us. At least then, we'd have had wheels."
"We'll be all right," Claire said. She sounded confident about that. He wasn't, only because he was the guy, and therefore, by his logic, their survival on the way home sort of landed squarely on his shoulders. Claire was his girlfriend. That meant she was his to protect. He knew that if he said that out loud she'd smack him, and mean it, but it was just how he felt about it.
And he was smart enough not to tell her.
"She and Michael were going out," Claire said. "To that restaurant she likes. And then I guess they were going to the show, so it doesn't make sense for her to see it twice in one day."
"Yeah," he agreed. "It wasn't that good. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am all about the exploding things, but there's a pretty fine line between awesome and explode-o-porn."
Claire laughed, a silvery little thing that made him want to stop, put his arms around her, and kiss the hell out of her, right here in front of Bernard's Best Resale Shoppe. He didn't, only because the sun was scraping the horizon, they had five blocks left to walk to get home to the Glass House, and anyway, kissing her would only make him want to kiss her even more.
Which would make them appetizers, for the vampires already getting ready for their nightly strolls.
That was the thing about Morganville. Nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live here. And honestly, Shane couldn't exactly define why it was he did live here. He could have left, he supposed. He had, once, and come back to do a job for his father, Fearless Frank the Vampire Hunter. But now, he stayed because - because at least, in here, he understood things. He knew the rules, even if the rules were crappy and the game of survival was rigged.
He stayed because there were people here he loved. Claire, for a start, and as much as he felt for her, that would have been enough right there. But then there was Eve Rosser, who was like his annoying/sweet Gothed out sister. And there was Michael Glass, who was his best friend.
Had been, anyway, before he'd opened the door to the wrong vampire, and now - now it was complicated. Having a best friend with fangs had never been in Shane's life strategy.
One thing about strategy, boy, Fearless Frank had once told him, on one of his more sober days. It never fails to go to hell once you're knee deep in the fight.
"Hey," Claire nudged him. He nudged her back. "You're walking a little too fast."
"What's long, your widdle short legs can't keep up?"
"Watch it. I am proportional."
He waggled his eyebrows. "Just the way I like it."
"Stop that." He loved seeing her blush like that, a creep of hot pink that bloomed from her cheeks and spread all the way down her throat, into the neck of her shirt.
"You know what!"
"What can I say? Explode-o-porn. It makes me crazy." He waggled his eyebrows again. She laughed and blushed at the same time. All right, that did it. Sunset or not, he couldn't not kiss her.
He reached down, put his arms around her, and pulled her close. As he bent his head, hers came up, lovely and sweet and beautiful, her dark eyes shining. Her lips shimmered in the slanting orange light, until his were on them.
And oh God it was good. Good enough to make him forget Morganville altogether, for the space of a long, sweet, damp kiss. And several seconds after, before a streetlight clicked on overhead with a hiss of burning filament, and reminded him why making out on the corner was a very bad idea.
The streets were deserted, except for a few people hurrying by in cars. He and Claire were the only pedestrians. Even so, it wasn't that far to the house, and they had time. Barely.
Until Claire, hurrying to keep up with his long strides, tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and went down, hard. He bent down next to her as she quickly pushed herself back up, hands and knees, gave him a wide-eyed look of shame, and started to rise.
Her ankle folded up under her. "Ow!" she yelped in surprise, and looked down at it. "Ow ow ow!" She took her weight off of it, leaning on his arm, and he helped her limp over to a battered old wrought iron bench. It creaked as they sat down on it, and he immediately slid off to crouch down, take her ankle in both his hands, and carefully probe it. She flinched as he started to move it around, and her face went white, but she didn't scream, and he didn't feel anything broken.
Not that she couldn't have broken one of the smaller bones in her foot. Happened all the time. Nothing they could do about it, even at the hospital, but he thought this was probably a sprain. A bad one. He could already see the smooth matte surface of her slender ankle starting to swell up.
She took out her cell phone and dialed without him saying a word, but closed it up after a moment. "Eve's phone goes to voicemail."
"Try Michael's." She did, and shrugged helplessly when she didn't get an answer. They both knew what that meant - Michael and Eve were having private time, and there would be no rescue coming from that quarter. For once. "Taxi?" Even as he said it, Shane shook his head. "Never mind, he won't get out this close to dark."
They really didn't have time to debate it. What had been sort of theoretically dangerous before, when they were two healthy young people capable of running and fighting, had turned into a calculation. Claire, injured, was going to be irresistible bait. And not every vampire would check whether or not she had another vamp's protection before digging in.
Amelie might be furious about it, later, but that wouldn't help Claire right now.
And Shane didn't have any protection at all, except the fact that he was tough to kill.
"Right," he said, and stood up. "No arguments, okay?" He didn't wait for agreement, because he knew he probably wouldn't get it. He reached down, picked her up, and settled her in his arms. She wasn't feather-light, but he'd carried heavier suitcases. And suitcases hardly ever put their arms around your neck, or let their head fall into the crook of your neck. All in all, the kind of burden he was happy to carry.
"You okay?" he asked her. He felt her nod, breath warm against his throat. "All right, you just sit back and enjoy the ride."
She laughed and snuggled closer. "You need a car," she said.
Didn't he just.
They made it home without incident, thankfully, although Shane was almost sure they'd been followed the last block. By that time it had been almost full dark, and he'd felt the weight of stares on him from half a dozen dark spots.
He managed to balance Claire's weight, unlock the front door, and kick it open with a bang as he stepped across the threshold. There was a weird kind of sensation to it, every time, as the house itself recognized him. Welcomed him home.
It meant that no vampire would be lunging in after him, at least.
He didn't trust it, though. He slammed the door shut, jammed a deadbolt home with his elbow, and yelled, "Yo, heads up! Little help here!" Because his arms were about to fall off. He moved forward, trying not to bang Claire's injured ankle against the walls or furniture, and by the time he'd emerged at the end of the hallway Michael Glass was just hitting the floor at the bottom of the staircase. He was dressed, but there was something about it that looked like he'd done it on the way down. He took one look at Claire, cradled in Shane's arms, and drew in a deep breath.
"It's not like that," Shane said. "Nobody fanged her. She fell. It's her ankle."
"Couch," Michael said, and shifted aside his guitar, game controllers. "You carried her home? In the dark?"
"Not like you were answering your cell, asshat."
Michael looked up at him, then up at the stairs, where Eve was just pelting down them, a black dragon-printed robe belted around her. From the flash of legs, that was pretty much the extent of the outfit. "Yeah," he said. "Sorry."
The Guy Code ruled the moment, and all Shane could say to that was, "No problem," as he eased his girl down on the battered sofa cushions. She immediately squirmed up to a sitting position and pulled up the leg on her jeans.
Her ankle was swollen, all right. And starting to bruise.
"I'll get ice," Eve said, and flashed off to the kitchen. She hesitated in the doorway to call back, "Claire? You need anything?"
"Better balance? Oh, and Angelina Jolie's lips?"
"Cute. Settle for aspirin and a Coke?"
Claire nodded. Eve disappeared through the swinging door.
"Thought you guys were going out to dinner," Shane said. He couldn't resist, really. And it was worth it to see Michael think about lying, because he was just bad at it.
"We were," Michael finally said, which was the truth. "And then we didn't." Also the truth. "We can still make the movie if we hurry."
"Don't," Claire said, and winced as she tried to move her ankle. "It's explode-o-porn."
"What's wrong with that?" Michael looked honestly baffled. Shane really couldn't blame him, and the resulting harassed look from Claire was pretty much fantastic.
Eve came back with a plastic bag full of ice, a couple of towels, and carefully packed it all around Claire's ankle before running back to retrieve the aspirin and Coke. The medical treatment completed, all that was left was to not comment on what Michael and Eve might have been doing to not answer their phones.
That was almost impossible, in Shane's view. Eve and Michael looked so obviously barely out of bed it was crazy. But there was the Guy Code, and then there was the Code of Housemates, which meant he couldn't really say much at all about that unless he wanted to get the hell harassed out of him in return.
So instead, he sighed and said, "I really need a car."
He kind of meant it, and kind of didn't, but over the next few days he found himself looking more and more at the cars for sale in Morganville. There was one car lot that sold a bunch of brands, but there was no way he could afford the shiny new ones anyway. So he ended up looking at the clunkers - the rusting, beat-up models that people wanted to unload cheap. He had a little money saved up, but not much, and after seeing three cars in a row that were barely running and yet still out of his budget, he just about gave up.
Until he came across the little sign in the window of Bernard's Best Resale, which said Car for sale, best offer. That was all. No number, no picture of the car, nothing. Which meant it probably was a dog, but he wasn't exactly rich with choices.
Besides, he could probably use a new shirt or something.
The bell rang as he entered, and the thrift-shop smell hit him immediately - mothballs, and dry paper. Fans turned overhead, stirring the smell and spreading it around, and there was nobody else in the place, except Miss Bernard, dozing off behind the counter. She came awake with a snort as he walked over to the men's shirt aisle, blinked behind her thick glasses, and patted her thin gray hair. "Collins, isn't it? Shane Collins?"
"Yes ma'am," he said. The ma'am was automatic. Miss Bernard had been his second grade teacher. And his fourth grade. Not happy memories, but then, school in general hadn't been his greatest time ever.
But it had been better than what had come after, mostly. So there was that.
"Well, Shane, what can I do for you? You need a nice new shirt for a date? Or a suit? How about a nice suit?"
He winced at the idea of him in a suit. Especially a suit from this place. "You've got a sign in the window," he said. "A car? You're selling a car?"
"Oh, that thing? Yes. I didn't think anybody would ever ask about it." She pursed her lips, blue eyes vague and yet somehow calculating. "You want to see it?"
"Sure." He tried not to seem too eager about it.
Miss Bernard led him out the back door, to a shed that leaned precariously in the back. At one time it had probably held supplies, or maybe even horses. Now, it was full of junk, and crammed into the middle of the junk ...
A hell of a car.
Shane blinked at it. Under the layers of dust and cobwebs, it looked like a sweet vintage Charger - big, black, and intimidating. "Uh - that's it?"
"Yes. It was my son's. He's gone." Whether Miss Bernard meant dead or just departed from Morganville, Shane couldn't tell, but he thought she meant dead gone. She looked very sad, and those big, vague eyes filled with tears for a moment. "He just loved this car. But I'm not as well off as I used to be, and I could sure use the money."
He felt very uncomfortable, seeing her like this, so he focused on the car. "Does it run?"
"I expect so. Here." She retrieved a set of keys from a hook on the wall and handed them over. "Start it up."
It took some reconfiguring of the junk pile to even open the driver's side door, but once he was in it, Shane felt something kind of like instant love. The car was old, a little shabby, but it felt right.
The starter ground a little, sluggish from its long sleep, and finally the engine caught fire with a cough, a belch of exhaust, and settled into a low, bass rumble.
Shane stuck his head out and said, "Can I take it around the block?"
Miss Bernard nodded. He didn't ask twice, just backed it out, down the alley, and cruised around, getting the feel of it. It was a hell of a nice car. Little bit of a shimmy on the turns, probably needed some work on the suspension, and a tune-up. But overall ...
Yeah, it was going to be way out of his range. He could just feel it.
As Shane turned it back to the store, he ended up sitting at a stoplight. A battered old wrecker pulled in next to him, and a voice called, "Hey, that your car?"
"Just test driving it," Shane called back. The driver was Radovic, the dude from the motorcycle shop; he worked part time at Doug's Garage. Everybody called him Rad. He looked like Central Casting's idea of a tough biker dude, all right.
Rad nodded back at him. "Sweet. Hey, you buy it, you bring it by the shop. I can make you a deal on murdering it out."
Shane raised his eyebrows, but before he could figure out what the hell to say to that the light changed, and Rad charged off with the wrecker, and Shane turned back to the store, where he pulled the car back into the shed, turned it off, patted the steering wheel, and got out to hand the keys to Miss Bernard.
"It's great," he said. "Out of my league, though. Thanks."
"What do you mean, young man, out of your league?"
She blinked. "I didn't even tell you how much it would be yet!"
"I know what it's worth."
She waved that aside with an impatient old-lady gesture. "I just want it gone. It reminds me so much of Steve, and I - just don't want to see it anymore. And the money would be ever so much help. I need to buy medicine, you know. How much can you pay?"
His turn to blink. "Um ... I don't know." He had five hundred dollars. He chewed his lip a second, then said, "Three fifty?" Because she'd bargain, right?
"Sold," she said. And he instantly felt like a worm. Before he could try to tell her he was going to pay more, she gave him back the keys. Shane cleared his throat, gave it up, and reached into his pocket. He'd been carrying around the cash for days, just in case, and now he peeled off the three fifty and handed it over. Miss Bernard dug the title card out of the glove compartment and signed it, then thrust it at him. "Don't forget to get insurance. They're really hard on you if you don't have insurance."
"Yes ma'am," he said.
"And remember to change the oil. Steve was very particular about his oil changes."
She patted his cheek with her hard, dry hand. "You always were a sweet boy," she said. "I'm sorry about the troubles your family had."
He nodded, suddenly not able to say anything at all, and slid into the driver's seat. This time, the car started up without a hitch.
He drove it straight to the car wash, a creaking old thing with barely-working sprayers and tired old vacuum cleaners. He found spiders in the vents, and an old nest on the engine that was already turning brown from the heat and probably would have burst into flame any time. He scrubbed off the dust and shined the paint and cleaned the windows, and when he drove it away, glistening in the sun, he felt like he'd made the deal of the century.
And like he'd ripped off a little old lady, too. Which wasn't so great.
He went straight to the garage.
Radovic was there; the wrecker was parked in the front, big hook still swinging from its earlier motion on the road. Shane parked the Charger and went inside, where he found Rad chugging down what looked like a beer and reading a bike magazine.
"What did you mean?" Shane asked. "Murder it out?"
Rad wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Get all that chrome off it," he said. "Black it out. Black the wheels. Deep tint. Make it a bad-ass mother-"
"Yeah, I get it," Shane interrupted. "How much?"
Rad shrugged. "It's already mostly there. Three hundred."
"Don't have it," Shane said. "Never mind, I guess."
"Yeah? What you got?"
Rad laughed. "For a hundred, I could maybe black out the wheels. Do the chrome. Not the tint."
"Okay," Shane said. "When?"
"You got a couple of hours?"
He handed over the keys and walked home, checked on Claire - she was up and walking, though with a pretty significant limp - and made chili dogs for the two of them while she talked about the new weird shit that Myrnin was making her do. It was fascinating, whatever it was. He just liked listening to her talk.
"What?" Claire asked him, stopping in mid-stream to watch his face. He paused, a chili dog halfway to his mouth. "You're smiling."
"I am? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I'm eating. Which does make me happy."
"That wasn't a chili dog smile. That was some other kind of smile. An I've-got-a-secret smile."
Damn. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. He didn't want to tell her. He wanted to show her. He was trying not to smile, but dammit, his lips just wouldn't stop with the curving. "Maybe I just like hearing you talk." Which was true, but she wouldn't believe that. Sure enough, she rolled her eyes, let it go, and went back to her Myrnin monologue.
He ate his lunch in silence, smiling the whole time.
Two hours later, he was back at Doug's Garage, and the Charger was parked outside. If it had been sweet before, it was incredible now. There was a kind of gravity to it, a darkness that just sucked in everything around it, and Rad had been dead on about murdering it out ... the Charger went from a car to something like The Car. In a crowd, it would be the only car.
Rad had said he couldn't do the tinting, not for a hundred, but not only was the chrome and wheels blacked out, the windows sported a new, heavy tint, black as midnight.
Rad emerged from the door in the side of the garage, the one that said OFFICE, and gestured at Shane. He was carrying a big wrench in one hand, and he was half-covered in grease. Shane walked over, digging out a hundred dollars from his very thin bankroll.
He froze, because inside the office sat a vampire.
"Shane Collins," the vampire said, and stood up to extend a hand. "My name is Grantham Vance. Good to finally meet you." He smiled, no fangs in evidence, which didn't make him one bit less a vamp. "You're getting to be quite a legend in Morganville, you know."
Vance was medium-tall, medium-broad, with skin that had probably been dark olive when he was alive. It was now sort of a sickly almost-gray, which made his big dark eyes glow even brighter. He had brown hair cut into a kind of Roman style, something antique and weird.
He wore a western plaid shirt, with pearl snap buttons, a pair of blue jeans, and cowboy boots. Lizard.
In short, he just looked completely ... wrong.
Shane didn't answer him. He looked at Rad. "What's going on?"
Rad looked uncomfortable. "Mr. Vance, he sort of owns the place," Rad said. "He dropped in, you know, to look around. He saw your car."
"Beautiful machine," Vance said. "I'll give you a thousand dollars for it." He reached in his pocket and peeled off hundreds. Ten of them.
Shane swallowed and said, "It's not for sale."
"No?" Vance peeled off another three. "Really?"
"I just got it!"
"Of course." More hundreds. Shane had lost count. "I've always wanted a car like that. Oh, and I had Rad put on the vampire-quality tinting, so really, it's of no use to you now, is it? You can't even see to drive." Vance lost his smile, and what was left really wasn't good. Not good at all. "Take the money, Collins."
Rad shifted uncomfortably. He was still holding the wrench in one hand, and he was too big a guy to fight, even unarmed. "Just do it," he said. "Sorry, man. I didn't know this would happen. Walk away."
That would have been the smart thing to do. Take the money. Leave the car. Hell, he hadn't even gotten used to having it yet.
"No," Shane said. "Take the tint off."
Rad looked deeply worried now. "Don't play that way. Just let him have it."
"I'm not playing. That's my car. I've got the title to prove it. It's not for sale. Take the tint off."
Vance stopped counting money. Shane tried not to imagine how much there was in his hand. "Really."
"Yeah, really," Shane said.
Vance shook his head. "Stupid, boy. Very stupid. I'd give you the cash to buy any car you liked."
"I like this one."
"So do I. And my wishes rule, in Morganville." Their eyes met, and locked, and Shane felt himself getting dizzy. He braced himself against the wall and held on, somehow, until the vampire looked away first. "You really are a fool," Vance said. "Mr. Radovic."
"Do you like your job?"
"Then make Mr. Collins leave before I lose my temper."
Rad grabbed Shane by the collar of his shirt and shoved him out into the sunlight. Shane twisted, stiff-armed him, and got some distance.
Rad still had the wrench. In the dusty, hot afternoon, surrounded by the skeletons of old cars, Shane felt like he was ten years old again, getting beaten up for his lunch money by kids twice his size.
Not again. Never again.
"Let him have it," Rad said. "Trust me. Just let him have it."
"Screw you, man, that's my car! I don't just let vampires take stuff away from me!"
Rad grabbed him and hustled him off into the grimy garage. It was large, and filled with cars under construction, destruction, repair. Sparks flew. Machines whined and banged. It stank of old oil and burning metal.
"This way," he said, and dragged Shane around two SUVs, a battered Ford pickup, to the far corner of the garage.
There sat Shane's car. Murdered out. Tint and everything.
Shane turned and looked back outside. A duplicate of the Charger sat in the sun, sparkling. Identical. "What the hell ...?"
"That one out front is mine," Rad said. "It's got a blown valve, it drives like shit, and the block's going to crack in the next ten thousand miles, so I've been keeping it in the back, I was going to overhaul it and drop in a new engine. Let him have it. Take the money, man. Don't screw this up and you can walk away with the cash and the car, and Vance gets screwed both ways."
Rad, Shane decided wasn't as dumb as he looked. He stared at him for a long moment, then nodded, walked back to the office, and looked inside. Vance was still sitting there, counting money. He looked up, frowned, and said, "Come to insult me again?"
"No sir," Shane said. "I'll take the deal. For five thousand."
Vance frowned, but Shane had guessed right this time. Five thousand was well within the boundaries of that bankroll, and Vance didn't seem like a guy who particularly cared about the money, anyway.
He counted out the bills, shoved them over, and Shane smiled. "Enjoy the car."
"Oh, I will," Vance smirked. "And they say nobody ever takes advantage of you, Collins. You're not so tough."
"Absolutely," Shane agreed, deadpan.
Then he walked out, handed Rad a thousand bucks, and said, "Hang on to the car."
Rad looked stunned. "What?"
"Your plan, your gain. Keep the car for now. I'll buy it back from you one of these days. Can't afford the insurance right now anyway." Shane shrugged. "Just let me drive it when I want, that's all I ask."
"Yeah. I'm sure." They shook hands, and Shane grinned. "But that means you need to let me borrow it right now, okay?"
Shane drove it by Bernard's Resale on the way, and handed Miss Bernard another thousand dollars of Vance's money because hey, why not?
Then he went home, picked up Claire, and drove her to the movies.
A chick flick, this time.