Natalia looked around the bar from her perch on the second floor. The bar, named Lava, wasn’t too large. There was room for about three hundred people in the two-level establishment. There were tables along the walls, but not many. There were more upstairs, along with couches to promote a more relaxed atmosphere.
The size of the place meant it was crowded, but not overly so. She could duck behind people if she needed to, and still keep an eye on her target. She almost laughed at the word. He wasn’t really her target, but she couldn’t think of a better word.
As the DJ switched from one song to the next flawlessly, Natalia took a sip of her soda and looked around again. She sat on a couch on the second level, watching as people walked through the door. From her perch, she could clearly see the front entrance.
“Hey. You don’t look like you’re having fun.”
Natalia placed a smile on her face and tried not to be irritated at her best friend. Bethany didn’t know what Natalia’s true reason for being here tonight, but that was all right. Bethany was oblivious to the world around her, and Natalia planned to keep it that way.
“I’m having fun. I had a rough day. All I want to do is sit and people watch.” She gave Bethany a real smile. “I did warn you I wouldn’t be much fun.”
Bethany leaned back on the couch. “You haven’t even danced. The songs are pretty good and there are a bunch of people dancing. Come on. One dance!”
Natalia laughed as Bethany’s lighthearted attitude washed over her. “All right.”
Natalia left her perch with Bethany and headed downstairs. She wasn’t looking to approach the vampire tonight, therefore it didn’t matter too much if she missed seeing him. She wanted mostly to make sure he was the type of vampire she could approach. His social media pages made him out to be a rather nice person, but that didn’t mean anything. His pages never once mentioned his true age or the fact that he was a vampire. She didn’t think it was smart for a vampire to use social media, but for some reason, he did.
As Bethany and Natalia found a good spot, Natalia took a deep breath and let her worries go. She would be back in two nights to look for him without Bethany. It would be easier then.
Tony Lam looked like his profile picture. His short, dark hair was tousled, as if the wind had blown it around. He had an easy smile that reached his eyes; a good sign. He was dressed in dark jeans and a plain green t-shirt. He walked around the bar, talking to people and seemed to know one or two. He engaged in conversation with the bartender and ordered a beer in a bottle. From her perch, Natalia watched him carefully and noticed that though he carried the drink around, he never drank from it.
She planned on staying in her perch upstairs for an hour or two, to simply watch him. She had a tablet in hand and occasionally took pictures and typed. She had a fake social media page and blog site up, in case anyone asked what she was doing. She would show curious onlookers her page and let them know she was trying her hand at blogging local events. All the while, she kept Tony Lam in sight, to see what he was up to.
At the end of her two hours, Natalia got up and left the bar. She had watched him enough and he was starting to act as if he could feel her eyes on him. Satisfied, but not yet ready to approach, she knew she would be back. He liked coming to Lava when there was a DJ. The DJ was there Tuesdays and Thursdays. She would be back next week to watch him some more.
Natalia watched Tony Lam for three weeks before she felt ready to approach him. It was late on a Thursday and he was carrying around a second drink. He had stepped into the bathroom a few minutes earlier with a nearly full drink. He came out with no bottle and ordered a second one. She was pretty sure he dumped out his beer in the bathroom sink. He never drank anything.
After he had his second drink in hand, she watched as he stepped outside. It was a warm San Francisco night. There was a patio out back, with tables and chairs. Natalia followed him out, and walked right up to him. She tapped him on the shoulder and smiled.
“Hi. I think I’ve been following you on Instagram. You’re @LonelyTony, right?”
He laughed. “Yeah.” Tony smiled. “And who might you be?”
He smiled again. “An actual name. I like that. Most people tell me their Instagram name. My name is Tony Lam.”
“I know. I found you on Facebook, too.”
He smiled. “I hope you’re not stalking me.”
Her eyes grew big in fake surprise. “Oh goodness, no! I saw you here awhile back and then thought I saw you online.”
Tony laughed. “No worries. Buy you a drink or something?”
“Um…” She wanted to turn the talk to something else, and looked around to see if anyone else was close by. A noise in the distance caught her attention, but faded too quickly. “Not really a drinker.” She turned back to him. “You don’t really seem to be either.”
They stared at each other for a moment before he put his drink down. “This doesn’t feel like a social call anymore.”
The noise came again and Natalia’s breath caught. The patio was fenced off, but faced an alley. The fence was shoulder high and was only there to keep people from wandering into the alley with a drink in hand. There were voices coming down the alley and she could now hear them.
“You’re sure he’s here?” The gruff voice chided.
“Yes. Check his Facebook.” This voice was younger.
“I don’t even understand what you said.”
Natalia looked around fast, noticed they were alone on the patio and turned back to Tony. “Are you full?”
He stepped back. “What?”
She glared, but kept her voice down. “Are you at full blood?”
Tony’s eyes went wide.
“There are Slayers coming down that alley. Probably looking for you. Are you at full blood?”
He looked beyond her to the people he could hear but not see, then back to the woman. “Yes.”
She grabbed him around the neck. “Jump!”
It was a command, said softly but firmly into his ear. He did as told, and jumped to the rooftop. Once there, Natalia let him go and peered over the edge. They were only two stories up and she could still see the men coming into the alley. Dean was in front, leading Zechariah. She breathed a sigh of relief and turned to Tony. She moved away from the edge and indicated he should do the same. When they were away from the edge, she realized he was appraising her.
“You know what I am.”
“Yes, and I offer you blood for getting us out of here, after you get us further.”
“And why don’t I just leave you here?”
“My name is actually Natalia. I have some questions I think you can answer. I’ve tracked you for some time, Mr. Lam and I’m willing to pay for the information I need.”
“What are you?”
“Human.” She said it without fear. Telling him what she was would give him nothing but advantages.
“And the people down below?”
He cringed. “You know them?”
“I work with them on occasion, but I don’t believe like they do.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“You don’t, but I did warn you about the Slayers. I’m not trying to get you killed. I’m trying to get some information and I can help you get out of the city.” Her hand strayed to her small silver beaded necklace, as she wondered if she would have to hypnotize him into helping her. She hoped she wouldn’t. She preferred allies.
“Why out of the city?” He crossed his arms.
“They’re hunting you and other old vampires. Not sure why, but I know they know who you are.”
He sighed. “Let’s go someplace safer. Looks like they’re going around to the front. They might be able to sense me.”
Her hand dropped from her necklace. “Where to?”
Tony picked Natalia up in his arms without a word and ran. After a few minutes of running and jumping, he stopped. When they stopped, he let her go and Natalia saw they were not in the same area, but still on a roof.
She leaned against the low wall around the edge of the roof. “You’ll want blood.”
He took a good look at the human. She was tense and her arms were crossed. Tony guessed she didn’t want to give him blood, but would. “Let’s take care of that after we understand what we both want.”
“That sounds fair.”
Tony leaned against the wall close to her. “How long have you been following me, really?”
“The Slayers have been looking for older vampires for a while. I think they’ve known about you for a year or more. I tracked you down quicker.”
“Well, Mr. Huang Lam, you’ve been in San Francisco a very long time. Like I said, I think you can help me with information. I tracked you here about three weeks ago.”
“I haven’t heard my first name in a very long time.” He shook his head. It was obvious she had done her homework. “I thought someone was watching me. I thought it might be Slayers.”
“They may have been. They don’t always tell me who they’re watching.”
“Don’t trust you?”
“Do they know you work with both Slayers and vampires?”
“No, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Ok.” He gave her a skeptical look. “What are you looking to find out?”
“I’m trying to find the vampires that are running this city. I heard there were a few vampires in this area that have been here since the city was founded. I wanted to talk to one who might be able to give me information on the newest problem. Do you happen to know who is trying to be in charge?”
Tony thought about it for a moment. “I don’t have his last name, but there’s a vampire named Christopher who seems to have taken control. He’s been sending people out to try and get others to join him.”
“Why won’t you join him?”
“I don’t like groups. Most vampires don’t like being controlled by other vampires. I don’t know how he’s doing it. I have a feeling he’s killing the older ones off and changing new ones, forcing them to live how he wants.” He shook his head. “The thing is, Christopher seems to have left the area. Edwin is in control now.”
“Is Edwin older?”
“No. Fairly young.”
“I’ve heard rumors of another vampire in the area. An older one. A lot of Slayers think he’s the one who’s really in charge.”
Tony frowned at her. “Who?”
Tony laughed. “Vincent isn’t with them. He reached out to me; offered me safety and money if I joined his team.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Told you: don’t like other vampires.”
“What do you know about Vincent?”
“I don’t have too much information. I know he owns a couple places in the area. I can tell you the names of his businesses, and you can find out more on your own.”
“Ok, what are the names?”
“No, this is where we negotiate. What can you do for me?”
“Blood or money.”
He frowned at her. “Don’t play stupid. You’ve already proven you’re not.”
Natalia nodded her agreement. “Human has to try.”
He laughed. “All right. Of course, I want your blood. Especially since you’ve already offered. As for money, I was changed when I was a railroad worker in the late 1800s. I learned to save. I need a place to go. If you want the information, you’ll get me contacts out of the city, away from here.”
She didn’t even pause. “Where?”
“How far East can you get me?”
“I know a couple people in New York, one in Boston.”
“Friendly to my kind?”
“I wouldn’t have listed them if they weren’t.”
“How soon can I leave?”
“You tell me the information I want, I’ll send you a private message on Facebook, under the Leslie Chander profile.”
Tony thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Blood first.”
She nodded, took a deep breath and held out her arm, hoping he wouldn’t demand blood from her neck. It was more dangerous if he took from her neck. Tony came closer, took her arm in his hands and bent to bite into her tender flesh. He bit her inner arm, near her elbow. She winced at the pain, but didn’t pull away as he drank a few swallows of her blood. When he pulled away, she covered her arm with a cloth handkerchief she pulled from her back pocket.
Tony licked his lips and smiled. “Vincent owns a restaurant called The Ocean’s Edge and a nightclub called The Red Thread. Other business too, but I don’t know them all.”
She nodded and pulled her phone out of her front pocket. She entered the information into her phone then went to Facebook and sent him the information. Natalia looked to Tony.
He grabbed his own phone out of his pocket and checked his messages. There were two names and their contact information. He nodded. “Thanks.”
“You sure you don’t need anything else?”
“I want to know more about you, but I don’t think there’s time for that.”
“Even if there was, I wouldn’t tell you much.”
“Fair.” He looked around. “You know where you are?”
With that, he was gone. It surprised Natalia how fast he could disappear. She shook her head then looked around and found the entrance to the stairway. The door was locked, but that didn’t stop her for very long. She was on the street and on her way home shortly after Tony Lam left. By the time she arrived home, she already had a message from one of the contacts she gave Tony. She told her contact Tony needed a safe place to go and the contact thanked her. After that, the message ended. If she had been in distress, the message would have been far different. Knowing Natalia had given the name freely, the contact was no longer worried and would invite Tony Lam into their home and help him get settled.
That taken care of, Natalia searched for Vincent’s businesses online and found a lot more information than she thought possible. When she searched his name before, without the business names, she came up with too many results. The business names narrowed the results to one person. She found public records on his businesses in the area. She also found his current birth certificate and a photo ID. Vincent Grey’s information stated he was in his 30s, but the photo was terrible. Still satisfied with the night’s work, Natalia readied for bed. She had a meeting with Zechariah and the other Slayers early the next day.