Undead sublet, p.7
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       Undead Sublet, p.7

         Part #2. 5 of Half Moon Hollow series by Molly Harper  
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Page 7


  Because she had no answers for me, Jolene simply led me over to the booth where most of the Half-Moon Hollow Volunteer Fire Department was having lunch and introduced me to the cooks, Anna and Joe Bob. They were more than happy to discuss the ins and outs of the smokers, the hickory wood used to smoke and flavor the meat as it cooked, and the base for the sauces. Joe Bob promised to show me which cuts of pork shoulder worked best and how to keep the ribs from drying out before they cooked completely.

  “We’re firing up another batch at dawn if you wanna come by,” Anna offered cheerfully, her round, cherubic cheeks smudged with soot from the smoker. “You could see the whole shebang from start to finish. ”

  “I would love to!” I exclaimed, clapping and hopping up and down like a cranked-up game-show contestant.

  “Are you going to keep doing that?” she asked, lifting her eyebrow.

  I bit my lip and stopped with the hopping. “No. ”

  “We’ll get along just fine, then. ”

  Now, That’s a Spicy Vampire!


  It was a matter of timing. Sam never left the basement door unlocked while he was awake. So in the window of time between his warming up his “wake-up” blood and showering, I managed to slip into the basement to do my dirty work and ducked out the front door before he saw me.

  Jolene had invited me to join her book club for the evening, despite the fact that I hadn’t read The Night Circus. I’d expected a bunch of frustrated housewives slugging back wine in some well-appointed suburban living room. And while there was wine, the group was made up of open, friendly gals who met at a funky little bookshop called Specialty Books.

  The interior of the shop was a cheerful mix of paperback pop culture and antique tomes. The walls were painted a cheerful midnight blue, with a sprinkle of twinkling silver stars. There were comfy purple chairs and café tables arranged around the room in little conversation groups. The leaded-glass and maple cabinet that held the cash register displayed a collection of ritual knives and candles that I didn’t quite understand. I was OK with not understanding.

  The store had an impressive selection of cookbooks, everything from Introducing Variety to the Undead Diet to Food Gifts for Faerie Folk. I found a deeply discounted title on drinkable sauces for vampires, but Jane, the shopkeeper and book club organizer, warned me against it. It turned out the recently turned French chef–author had not bothered to test his recipes, and his use of eggs, flour, and purees had made several hapless vampire customers quite ill. Jane only kept the book on the shelves because it was something of a cookbook cautionary tale.

  Jane was a vampire, as were her manager, Andrea, and several members of the club. At first, I worried that it was a setup, that Sam had somehow managed to round up some of his undead friends to strong-arm me out of town. But then Jane referred to me as Jolene’s “pocket-sized new friend,” and I figured that was more humor than one usually found in a paid assailant.

  Jane and Andrea were funny, smart, and snarky as hell, having both been turned in the last five years and having a more human perspective than most vampires. Although they were obviously close, the ladies were polar opposites on the vampire fashion spectrum. Titian-haired Andrea was polished and perfect in a peach sweater set and pearls, while tousled brunette Jane was wearing jeans over her impossibly long legs and a T-shirt touting “Dick Cheney for President—2012. ” When I asked her about it, she grumbled that she’d lost a bet with Andrea’s husband.

  After paying lip service to the book of the month, the women broke up into smaller “discussion groups,” and I learned all about Jane’s sordid history in the vampire community, including the fact that she’d been turned after a local drunk mistook her for a deer and shot her. A vampire, Gabriel, to whom Jane was now married, saved her by turning her, and they lived happily ever after. Sort of.

  “Isn’t that an unusual way to be turned?” I asked, sipping the surprisingly tasty latte Andrea had prepared for me. “I mean, you’d think you guys would make it into the news more often if ‘mistaken for a deer and shot’ was the average vampire experience. ”

  “Yes, Jane is very unusual,” Andrea said, rolling her eyes. “But she was given a choice about whether she wanted to be turned, which is the norm nowadays. Despite the fact that it’s illegal to turn a human into a vampire against their will, some of us weren’t afforded that luxury. But we make the best of it. ”

  I noticed the slightly pained expression on Jane’s face as she gave Andrea’s shoulder a little squeeze. I got the feeling there were details about Andrea’s transition that I was missing, but it would be rude to ask. Andrea shrugged and handed Jane what looked like a mochaccino.

  “Wait a minute,” I said. “I thought you guys couldn’t eat human food. ”

  “We don’t. But Andrea and I have been experimenting for years with all those fancy coffees that folks can’t seem to live without, trying to find ways to make them more palatable for vampires. ”

  “Interesting!” I exclaimed. “Would you mind if I asked you about your techniques?”

  “Tess is a chef,” Jolene said proudly. “In one of those big-city restaurants where the paparazzi lie in wait for celebrities. ”

  “Jolene made friends with a chef, color me shocked,” Andrea said, smirking and shaking her head.

  Again with the cracks about Jolene’s eating? Had Jolene recently lost a bunch of weight? She’d eaten a pretty hefty lunch at the Three Little Pigs, so she wasn’t dieting. Either way, it was sort of shitty for her friend to poke fun at her.

  I was about to jump to her defense when Jane piped up in a desperate tone, “So, Tess, I’m always interested in how people ended up in their professions. Why did you start cooking?”

  “I’m good at it,” I said, shrugging.

  Jane didn’t seem satisfied with this and leaned a bit closer, staring into my eyes as if there were secret messages written on my corneas. “But you didn’t know that until you started. And that’s what I was asking, how did you start cooking?”

  A bit rattled by Jane’s gaze and feeling very much like a lobster over a pot of boiling water, I blurted out, “Cooking made sense, even when I was a kid. You put eggs, milk, and cinnamon on bread, you got French toast. As long as I followed the rules, I knew what the outcome would be. It was one of the few areas of my life that was predictable. And most of the time, if my parents were eating something I made, their mouths were too full to bicker. It was quite the incentive. ”

  My mouth snapped shut like a steel trap. I stirred my cappuccino, shocked that I’d said so much. I rarely talked about my parents, even with Chef. Hell, in those two sessions of therapy I’d attended, I hadn’t said more than, “My parents were well-intentioned but selfish people who would probably be making each other—and me by extension—miserable today if they hadn’t died. ”

  “Do you mind if I ask why you’re so curious about vampires?” Jane asked, sensing somehow that I needed a change in topics. “Jolene said you would probably have some questions for us. ”

  I cleared my throat, commanding my brain to produce more polite conversation. “Oh, I live with one. Not quite voluntarily. ”

  “Anyone we know?” Andrea asked.

  “Sam Clemson,” I said.

  Andrea and Jane both tilted their heads and gave me the “aw” face. “Poor Sam. ” Jane sighed.

  “Why ‘poor Sam’?” I asked. “I mean, other than he’s married to a ring-tailed bitch. ”

  Silence. My comment was met with complete, stone-faced silence. I bit my lip, afraid that I’d offended my new acquaintances. But then Jane burst out laughing and exclaimed, “Thank you!” while Andrea rolled her eyes.

  Andrea said, “Lindy’s not that bad. ”

  “She tricked Tess into renting her house without telling her Sam was sleeping in the basement,” Jolene informed her.

  “Oh, then she’s an evil she-beast,” Andrea conced
ed. I chuckled, and she shrugged. “My opinions are very adaptable. They have to be when you’re married to a vampire named Dick Cheney. ”

  Jane’s T-shirt made much more sense now.

  “I actually meant ‘poor Sam,’ as in he was one of the vampires we were talking about, the ones who don’t get a choice about whether they were turned or not,” Jane said. “You know Sam was a contractor, right?”

  I shook my head. “Actually, I don’t know anything beyond Sam’s the cranky guy who lives in my basement. ”

  “Sam was pretty well known around here for being a trustworthy guy,” Jolene said. “He did quality work at a fair price, and you didn’t have to worry about him raiding your jewelry box while you were out. We hired him to finish up our house after some, uh, other companies failed to do the work they’d been paid for. ”

  Jane smirked but didn’t elaborate. “Sam and Lindy moved here about six months before Sam took a job for an old-school vampire who’d just moved into the area. The vampire—his name was Hans something—asked for a light-proof sleeping compartment to be added to his bedroom closet. When Sam finished it, the vampire decided he didn’t want a human knowing where his evil lair was and drained him. ”

  “I thought it was illegal to forcibly turn a human. ”

  “Technically, he didn’t turn him. Hans just drained him until it would be impossible for Sam to survive and dumped him in the woods behind his house to let nature take its course. Fortunately, Hans was already under surveillance for some suspicious feeding activity over in Murphy. When the head of the local Council, Ophelia, saw him tossing Sam’s body, she stepped in and had one of her Council goons turn him. Ophelia would do just about anything to avoid scandal for the vampire community. Draining innocent human temp workers would qualify as a PR disaster. ”

  “Of course, Lindy pitched a fit, told everybody in town that Sam had gone off the deep end, had an early midlife crisis, fooled around with some vamp-tramp, and got himself ‘infected,’” Jolene said. “Oh, and because of the physical trauma he’d been through, it took Sam nearly five days to transform into a vampire, which is practically unheard of. The Council admitted that it was possible that Sam might not make it through the transformation to vampire, and Lindy managed to get some judge to declare him too dead and/or incompetent to handle his own affairs, which was a legal first. There was no will, and Lindy got everything. She controls every bit of their money until the divorce goes through. Sam gets an allowance for his blood and utilities. ”

  I mulled that over for a moment. Part of me felt sort of bad for him, in love with a woman who couldn’t see him as the same person she’d married, just because his diet and waking hours had changed. And then I remembered the previous Tuesday, when he’d hidden every product I had that contained caffeine—after keeping me up until 3:00 A. M. with the melodious screams of a jigsaw. My sympathy was short-lived.

  “Honestly, I think he just hasn’t adjusted to unlife yet,” she said. “Sam seems like a do-it-yourself kind of guy. And those first few months as a vampire, all you need is help. You feel like you’re losing your connection to the human world and your place in it. You need someone to help you figure out your new schedule, how to feed without hurting your human donor, to vampire-proof your house. Sam went through all that alone. ”

  A strange, hot sensation twisted in my belly. What if Sam felt like that? What if he was lost and alone? Here I was making life that much more difficult for him, taking away from what little time he had left in his own home. I felt something shift inside me, a little spark of empathy I’d been missing for a while.

  I jumped to my feet, nearly knocking over the little café table and our coffees. “I’ve got to go. ”
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