It was after dark by the time Nine exited the Roseland Police Department in downtown. She had spent the entire day answering questions, or at least it felt like the entire day. Most of the morning she had spent in a waiting room. Her shift at the restaurant started in twenty minutes, and she still needed to ride the bus home to fetch her work clothes.
Did she even want to work tonight? Talking things over with Peter sounded nice, but solitude called her home. Tapping on her phone, she sent Peter a message asking for the night off.
The police had questioned her about the murder. Their only suspect in custody, they had asked about the decapitated body and its missing head. She had held it together throughout the questioning, and the investigator’s cluelessness had made it easier for her to lie.
Now, she felt like hurling. Her stomach did one of those twisting-tumbling things, but nothing came up. Her knees weakened, but she trudged on trying to think about Peter with his warm smile.
At the crowded sidewalk, she rose up on her toes searching for the bus stop.
A black limousine stopped at the curb beside her. As she began to make her way, the door popped open and the driver climbed out.
“Miss Thyme?” said the driver.
Freezing in place, she gave the driver a bewildered look and watched him stroll to the back of the car. He opened the door. Did he expect her to climb into that thing?
The car behind honked.
“Miss Thyme,” said the driver. He tipped his cap. “I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
“I don’t know what your game is,” said Nine, “but I’m not in the mood. Besides, my grandfather taught me never to climb into cars with strange men.”
Horns rippled down the street.
“Miss Thyme,” said the driver, “traffic grows impatient.”
Nine stepped closer, peered into the car, and spotted legs in black slacks. The three-inch heeled shoes appeared sharp yet functional.
From within the darkness, a hand with pink polished nails emerged, beckoning.
Nine had a bad feeling this woman had come on account of the murder. This sort of business shouldn’t wait, and the empty leather seat at the back offered rest for her weak stomach. She told the driver she wanted to go home. Ducking down she crawled onto the seat.
The door closed, and the interior grew freakishly dark. The windows hardly let any light in at all, but somehow she could see out the tinted glass well enough. As her eyes adjusted, she found the woman sitting opposite her, or rather she found shaded figure. The car moved passing a streetlamp, but the interior remained curiously dark.
Light exploded illuminating the front of the woman. She wore a suit including slender necktie. Her blonde hair was held up in a loose bun by pointy hair sticks. A business lady, and pretty enough to have passed as runway model in her younger years. The glow came from the screen of a tablet computer resting on a table folded out from the side of the car.
Within the light, Nine found another occupant sitting beside the woman. A handsome man with raven hair, long and wavy. He gazed out the window beside him.
“Miss Nine Thyme,” said the woman, tasting the words. “I like the sound of that. Little bells tinkling as one speaks. Nine Thyme.”
“I always thought my parents were weird naming me a number.”
“I like numbers. I can manage great things with numbers.”
Nine began feeling uncomfortable with the way the woman spoke, superior, and somehow reminded her of a serpent.
“You may call me, Yasmine. That’s with a wy, because my silly mother couldn’t say it right with a jay. She was from the south, and everyone mispronounced everything down there. I swear I can’t understand half the things Southerners say.”
Nine tried on a polite grin.
“For years now, Thyme Funeral and Stratton Enterprises have enjoyed a cooperative relationship, one that I wish to continue.”
Turning a corner, weight shifting in the car, Nine felt disoriented. The timing of the lean didn’t match the changing view making her stomach tumble until the car straightened out.
“Since you’re the new head of Thyme,” said Yasmine, “I’d like to offer you my support in ensuring your success.”
“Is this about my father?”
Pushing the tablet computer aside, Yasmine set her hands on the table and leaned closer. Slowly licking her upper lip, the woman revealed her fangs: dangerous compared to Lamia’s tiny teeth.
“To the point then,” said Yasmine. Her blue eyes roving, she studied Nine from head to toe and top again. “I’d appreciate it if you could keep your employees in line and out of my hair.”
“He shouldn’t have murdered that Itoril man.” It wasn’t a lie exactly. Her father had intended to kill.
“That I don’t mind, sweetie. I have no issue with you little persons managing to kill one of our big and nasties. I say good for you.” She nodded. “Well done.”
The slow, condescending speech made Nine feel like she represented the human species.
“Sebastian Thyme has killed before,” said Yasmine. Sitting back, she folded her arms. “I admire his skill and perseverance.”
Hearing her father had made murder a habit surprised her.
“You’re new and cute as a button, so let me explain.” Yasmine licked her lip, mouth wide revealing more of her impressive teeth. “Fangs and venom in our world are sort of like men and their penises in your world. Not really, but so you understand. Those of us with venom rule the shit out of those without.”
Nine closed her eyes as she mentally scolded her father with an I-told-you-so look. He had known, though, hadn’t he? He had killed them before, but more importantly, Sebastian was a Thyme.
“Taking our venom, or worse our fangs, is more than a tad disrespectful.”
“We extract venom from the dead to send back to you!” said Nine, clamping her mouth shut before uttering anything about Vampire Thyme and his quota.
Raising a hand, Yasmine pointed her finger in the air. “Only when our cleaner sends you a body for disposal do you harvest for us. That’s our agreement.”
The tablet screen went out, and darkness consumed the interior of the car.
Looking at the windows, at the lack of light penetrating inside, Nine realized the view was a generated image. The windows weren’t windows at all, but digital screens. As long as the doors remained closed, no sunlight would pierce inside this vampmobile.
Yasmine’s eyes creeped out of the darkness like glow-in-the-dark dust with flickering red embers at the very center of her pupils producing a chromatic dazzle through the wispy shapes within her irises, beautiful and eerie. The other occupant’s eyes did the same only his orbs darker. Nine had seen Itoril orbs flicker before, but never with Hell’s rage.
A lump in her throat, Nine swallowed. The Thyme’s had attracted the attention of someone important, a venomous Itoril ruler taking time out of her busy day to chat and offer her—a nobody—a ride home.
She studied the window screens, paying close attention to the shifting weight of the car out of sync with the view, and began to doubt she was heading home at all.