Leaning forward, she thought that she detected the faintest suggestion of movement from the passage inside beneath the dull bass throb from the Moth itself. A shudder through the monstrous timbers hurried her backward.
“What th’ cott’n pickin fuck?” the occupant demanded from the shelter of its hide.
“It's Susan.” she told it. "I need to talk to you." The vampyre’s gloating chuckle passed through the wood between them as it worked the latch; she felt the violent grinding of the iron in her chest, remembered details of the creature's brutality toward her churning in her gut.
Without its slathered cosmetics, Siobhan’s face possessed a strange, hypoxic blandness, an anonymity more startling than the corrupt theatricality she had braced for, and at first she attributed her surprise to this irregular state. But while Susan marked its surroundings in perfect detail, the vampyre presented as an insistent anomaly, like a sun-bleached watercolour, blanched and impoverished. It stood squinting back at her, dark little eyes narrowing with its tongue-stuffed smirk in an expression of dismal delight, then froze like a jammed film, before leaning forward from the doorway and peering hard in both directions.
“Heh heh heh... them critters’ll bounce ye off a stiff dick soon’s ye core temp takes a fuckin nose-dive.” it chuckled. “Ye kin fuckin thank meh, an git back on ye wey.”
“Either let me in or I’ll go and make a fucking scene in there.” she insisted, nodding toward the Moth, a tiny lateral flinch afflicting her for a second; it was enough to trip the vampyre’s seasoned guard and it snapped out an arm for the door, too late, Edward pinning it to the wall with his boot while he caught the creature's throat. Susan bent low, turning quickly to heave the huge bolt back into place after them.
Adrenaline carried her down into the darkness, the sound of Siobhan's wheezy carping extinguished by the grip on its neck. On the landing Edward set the shotgun from the boot of his sedan against the wall and used a finger to enjoin silence, listening to the contents of the chamber beyond the dark arched door before holding up three fingers for her benefit. She nodded, half-comprehending, the flagrant reality of his intention transpiring only as he walked her back against the wall and stooped to retrieve the firearm.
He shouldered open the door with no more urgency or duress than some familiar invitee, the two figures smoking methamphetamine before the vanity looking up at him with pipes poised between their fingers, the feeble candle flame as still in the darkness of their eyes as it was in the dead air of the chamber. The tallest broke first, snatching a pistol from the foot of the mirror, only to lose the offending hand then two thirds of its shrieking head to the shotgun, its skull arrayed like an egg struck by a stone against the chalky wall. In the bright flash of the closely-coupled blasts the second vampyre dived onto all fours, making a scrabbling dash for the door; Edward kicked it onto its side as it scurried past and swung the hinged wood, the creature's squeals becoming a high scream, its shoulders, spine and ribcage crunched like seashell between it and the frame. Siobhan's hands clawed at his throttling grip as Edward set down the shotgun, turning both his attention and a freshly-drawn forty-five toward the portiére curtain. He listened intently, shifted his aim to the right and discharged the weapon twice into the heavy fabric. It sagged outward, permitting the fugitive to topple forward, stolen blood expanding slowly across the flags beneath its featureless corpse.
Susan's muffled voice was resolved as he heaved the door back, the vampyre's oily remains dropping wetly to the stone though some stuck fast to the black wood where they were most condensed. She jumped over the glistening mound of offal into the dirty glow of the chamber, lifting the collar of her parka against the thick, webbed stench of corruption, like something shouted in her face, gelling on her tongue like cold fat. Edward released the vampyre's throat and threw it to the floor, where it lay, cursing shrilly under the boot he planted on its back. Rendered in the disparaging colours of Susan's new perception, neither the expectorating creature nor the remains laid out in the shadows of the curtain and the vanity table inspired much more than simple disgust, the latter's catastrophic, widely-broadcast misfortune almost completely abstracted by the effect.
“I can see them...” she exclaimed, holding out a hand for comparison. “Vampyres... they stick out like dog’s bollocks...” Stepping forward, she scraped the pistol from the jellied gore with the toe of her boot and scooted it across the floor toward him.
“Lydia said you might develop an eye.” Edward replied as he trussed Siobhan’s ankles with the green sash of its robe.
"Dralna paramedic.” Pausing, he tossed a pair of shells from his pocket onto the ground by the shotgun. “Reload.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Learn.” He hoisted Siobhan from the flags and looped the sash over the lowest tine of the sooty candelabra overhead, tying it off so that the vampyre hung like a vanquished game fish, its robe and slip of jewel-green satin flapping down over its head. It hacked and spat and fixed them both with an inverted scowl.
“Least ah kilt that piece as close t’ fuckin dead as she gonna git fer th’ fuckin ferseeable.” it croaked, batrachian grin aimed squarely at Susan. She struggled to break the shotgun with both hands before the carousing Arabs and placid tigers on the wall behind her, replying without looking up from her task.
“I survived, you idiot.”
Siobhan questioned its ears in a moment of silence, its almost stately spin beneath the candelabra directing it toward Edward.
“'Suff'rable fuckin hellion... ye nev'r did hev no respect fer th’ nat’ral fuckin order... resurrectin poontang... how many fuckin chickens died fer that shit?”
Edward reclaimed the shotgun, employing his customary monotone.
"You seem almost surprised to see us."
"Aint ev'reh day ye bring a sahde a fuckin gash t' tune a blameless fuckin by-stander!"
“This is not a social call. The sooner you comply, the sooner we can leave town with your life savings.”
“Go rob mah fuckin cash drawer lahk every oth’r fuckin crackhead!” the vampyre croaked.
“Just give us the fucking money..." Susan insisted. Siobhan seized on her intervention, spitting from the maw that had rent her flesh.
“Ye kin suck mah cold dead cock b'fore ah tek orders from a chickenhead bitch on her dirty fuckin rag... tek more then yew t' poke th' fuckin lahks a meh! Ah were tradin simple gash fer needful shit since fuckin Noah quit crappin off the port sahde... shoulda chugged ye harder while ah hed the fuckin chance!"
The salty insult returned Edward's gaze to Susan. She stooped to collect the door brace from the ground and strode past him with it in both hands, swinging the iron back over her shoulders. It struck the helpless vampyre on the full and then again, ringing dully with the weight she threw behind the blows, her arms burning, the corybantic joy of dealing agony bruited like streaks of sky-bound sulphur by the rhythm of her strokes, the dead flesh thuds and beaten grunts baring her own teeth. At first the creature screwed its black eyes shut and weathered the broadsides with a hoary veteran's resolve, though it grew far less supportable, driven by her white-faced rage, loosening her victim's grip on its own sorely-goaded animus. It thrashed and writhed within its binding flesh, snapping and foaming at her beneath the chandelier and she whipped it with the iron until her arms were almost lost to her, snarling back at it. Edward raised a hand to spare his face the blood flung from the brace while the vampyre relinquished defiance and hung slackly, expressing a low, hollow sound of such inarticulate character that she would have mistaken it for the scurl of groaning pipes if she had not stood before its source. With her face clenched like a fist, she battered the creature’s knees into a bagged and shapeless purple sludge and opened wet black gashes across its thighs, returning to its midriff for good measure before being halted by her failing grip upon the iron. Susan leant over the brace to catch her breath, glancing back at Edward's silence. If she had looked to him for judgement he offered none, handing her instead a half-spent taper from the vanity with an attitude of ascetic, pristine detachment.
“Say it with me. My name is Susan Ellen Christabel, and I am an apex predator.” he told her.
Her victim swayed in the heat that boiled about the flame, still swinging faintly from her final stroke, the candlelight a slick, licking gold upon the viridescent satin swagged against its battered form. Its hem curled out toward her almost in invitation. Edward's terrible smile had defrayed his impassivity, his eyes an eldritch shade of electrum and she felt their wildest qualities glowing in her own. Wax bled over the back of her fist, stiffening swiftly. For an instant she saw terror in the vampyre's gaze and felt herself its object; she wiped unwitting blood across her chin and the smell belted the milkshake from her stomach, throwing her forward and ejecting an arcing stream that slopped onto the stone beneath the creature. She shook the candle from her grasp as she spat, groping for the edge of the portiére curtain in the darkness and wiping her face. A thick black rill escaped her victim’s little pug nose and pooled in its eye for a moment before dripping from its forehead. Susan held onto the curtain while her stomach threatened further action, turning her face from the smell of the vampyre on the ground beneath it.
“Does it even have any money down here?”
In answer, her companion stepped over the body he had left beneath the drape, pushed it back and disappeared, returning with an ancient, seal-grey safe that he dragged over the flagstones, the steel screeching and sparking on the granite. At the sight of it, Siobhan writhed from the sash that bit into its ankles, exasperated profanities growing less comprehensible with the fruitless violence of its struggle; as if in sympathy, the perforated corpse under the curtain began to tic and shudder.
“You only let me go to piss Nyāti off.” Susan assured Edward, frowning as the inspiration struck her obliquely. “How fucking thick am I?”
“Dummer then a fuckin shitpost if ye think that dirty snakeface aint gonna do yew lahk he fucking durn us.” the vampyre spluttered brokenly.
“Shut your fucking cakehole." she told it.
“Combination.” Edward demanded, his stare an analogue to the grasp he maintained on the gun.
“I kint re...”
The first two syllables of Siobhan’s prevarication discharged the weapon at the left side of its head, leaving a tar-coloured hole the size of a fist where its ear had been and dressing the distant wall with mottled tissue, setting the vampyre off in a spin. Susan kept her hands to her own ears as it slowed, offered an alternating view of Siobhan’s unilateral disfigurement while it spluttered out the numbers Edward required. Sounds of sucking liquid movement, of wet constriction and release gurgled distantly and yet issued indisputably from within its inverted person.
“Hurry up... I think something’s happening...” she hissed. The sight of the vampyre's throat, distended to the thickness of its head when he looked up, inspired Edward to rise and drag the safe toward the door.
Almost as he did so its mouth fell open and loosed a lapsing, fetid freshet onto the flagstones at the impartial behest of gravity, emptying the great elastic sinus in the vampyre's torso of its horrible capacity. Susan leapt back and scrambled up onto the padded stool before the vanity, watching the black slick wash around the folded legs of the corpse beneath. The stench besieged her; as she retched against her hands the wormy stool frame cracked and pitched her forward, forcing her to jump down into the sludgy pond of blood. Turning his shoulder against the thick splash from her boots Edward heaved open the safe while she stumbled over the mephitic remains crushed in the doorway, skidding wildly on its squandered fluids. She caught a hold of Siobhan’s dress rack, a sequined sheath coming away in her hand while the rest toppled into the spill.
The rank alley seemed alpine-sweet to her when she burst out of the passage under the eaves, flapping her parka to throw off the stench that seemed to mouth them even as Edward propped the trompe l’oeil panel shut with a broken crate. The bag from the safe weighed half as much as she did, stuffed tightly with soiled, looted currency; he hoisted it onto his shoulder and hung the shotgun from his elbow, swinging it toward a pair of gossiping vampyres descending the steps of the club. They froze, dumping a shower of wallets and credit cards into the skirt that Susan held at his command before reversing through the door. She hurried after Edward, shaking the scaly, Persian-green sequins of Siobhan's gown from her arm.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
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