Brimstone Kiss (Page 3)


From my previous fact-finding mission here, I knew I had to get down ten floors and through a ring of decadent vampire druggie-guards to reach the main floor and exit the building.

My silver familiar, which had remained dormant around my throat all through my adventure with Hughes Tool and Vampire Company, crept down my right arm to curl around the bases of my fingers. The silver metal thickened into rings and then grew two-inch diamond-dusted spikes on each finger: the glitzy Vegas version of brass knuckles.

Well! How had Snow's unwanted gift known to produce the glittering knuckle spikes? They echoed the diamond-dust-embedded nail file points I'd used to hold off group-home, half-vamp bullies years ago. Eerie.

Snow had sent me the lock of his albino hair as a play on my name and his enigmatic powers. I couldn't resist petting it in memory of my lost white Lhasa apso's flowing coat. Like a striking serpent, the soft tendril of hair had morphed into a hard silver bangle on my arm with a permanent lock on me, unable to be sawn or burned off. Whether or not the silver familiar taunted me by migrating to various body parts and becoming simply decorative jewelry, changed into protective adornment or transformed into instant weaponry, I resented being protected at the cost of being invaded.

Once again the mobile parasite had worked its bizarre mind-reading magic. Silver knuckles were even better than brass for punching my way through the house vampires at the 1001 Knights Hotel.

It was just like a heartless businessman of Howard Hughes's ilk to have me dropped into his lair, then force me to fight my way out of it. Cesar Cicereau, the werewolf mob alpha boss, wasn't very likeable, but he had a heart as big as the Tin Man's compared to Howard Hughes.

I decided to take the stairs. I'd have the advantage of height when I ran into the vamp patrol. The cowboy heels on my mules were good and thick-great for kicks and full-body shoves. I knew from my last visit that, to conceal his presence, Hughes employed deliberately lame, tame vampires as derelict as the building. Still, even debased vampires were unhumanly powerful.

Of course there was no way to avoid announcing my descent as my shoes clattered down the dozens of concrete steps. The 1001 Knights Hotel, Howard Hughes's hidden headquarters, was supposedly abandoned and ripe for razing. I wondered if it was just Hughes's economic clout or some eerie supernatural mojo that kept this prime property at the south end of the Strip off the rebuilding market and looking deceptively empty.

A savage cry announced a vamp in a burned leather coat charging up the stairs. I grabbed a railing with my left hand, kicked out my right foot, aiming at his throat, and flashed my spiked silver brass knuckles across his brow bone.

The blood ran down in sheets, blinding him as he tumbled backward...

...into a second vamp, who pushed him aside and down like deadwood.

I hadn't expected the blinding flood of blood, but I suppose well-fed vamps are like ticks, gorged and ready to burst.

This new guy's fangs were already rusted by an evening meal too. He seized my kicking foot and tried to twist my leg. I grabbed the railing with both hands and pushed out that leg with all my strength. That knocked him back, but I was going to land supine on the concrete steps, the edges slamming my spine in a couple places, both blows likely to hurt like hell, not to mention paralyze.

I pedaled my legs to give my feet some sort of traction on the stairs. A mule went flying off and upward, right into the snarling vampire mouth. I saw teeth fly, maybe even fangs. The vamp howled and covered his bleeding mouth, backing up too far and falling. The stair edges wouldn't wound his immortal body.

But I was upright again and ran down after the tumbling defanged vampire. It would have been a smooth descent, except something hit me hard in the back. I was stumbling down the stairs faster and faster, out of control, my hands ripped from any grasp I got on the railing as soon as I found it.

I heard a disgusting slurping sound behind me and realized the pursuing vamp was licking my blood off the metal railing. I wished this was happening in the middle of a Kansas blizzard and his blood-sucking tongue would stick to the icy metal...

No, this was a warm spring Vegas night. And blood would be hot too...

At the bottom of the stairs, the blood-blinded vamp was waiting for the others to catch me as I tumbled into them.

I got both feet-one bare-on the same step, bent my aching knees and jumped as high and far as I could. I almost cleared the rapacious welcoming committee, feeling their filthy, clawed hands clutching at my legs as I sailed over. Then something incredibly fast and hard slammed me back... oh, no!

Back into my attackers!

I landed on them hard, sinking into their bones and muscles, their clawed hands closing on my arms and scratching my throat.

But before the lifting hands could capture me, something bit them off at the wrist. Blood, who knows whose, that filled those undead veins spewed over me like warm syrup on a buttered pancake.

White fangs snapped as I heard bones breaking.

Not my own.

That realization got my body going, arms and legs flailing to gain balance, struggle upright and get running again. A last bolt of energy sprang me forward, away from the building's covered driveway toward the street.

I finally collapsed at the curb, panting like a winded marathon runner, too exhausted to move.

Something was coming up behind me. I could barely manage to move, but I did not want to become a half-vamp-something, according to rumor, a single bite would accomplish. Two more and a reciprocal sip from my killer's immortal veins, and I'd be turned. Or so they said. I figured that three vamps were still ambulatory and fanged enough for the job.

I reared up as best I could, teeth gritted, fist extended. Wait! Where were my silver "brass" knuckles? The damned familiar had run out on me! My wrist sported a wimpy charm bracelet now. Damn Snow to Hell!

My redundant curse forgotten, I gazed into two burning blue eyes and a jaw full of grinning white fangs.

The jagged teeth were clamped on some disgusting amputation, black and burnt and dead as... as shoe leather.

I pulled farther back, took a deep breath.


Quicksilver was sitting there, panting hotly and smiling that wolfish grin, my lost leather mule firmly in his teeth. Cinderella had never had a handier Prince Charming.

Good doggie, Irma said.

Quicksilver dropped the shoe when my right hand reached for it, and began laving my bleeding hand with his huge pink tongue. Dog saliva heals doggie wounds over time. Quicksilver saliva heals human wounds instantly, as Ric and I had found out.

In seconds, we were both on our feet, me fully shod, my hand on Quick's wide leather collar. I realized the bracelet familiar now boasted canine figures and that a matching silver-studded dog collar had been coiled protectively around my neck for some time. This was the first occasion that my silver familiar had revealed a split protective personality.

Dracula's sleep spell on the wolf part of Quicksilver had probably evaporated the moment Drac dropped me on Howard Hughes's roof. We were a paranormal K-9 team. My dog could track me through a swamp or a thunderstorm and probably thin air. He was an awesome animal. I'd seen him lick Ric's barbed-wire-shredded hands whole in a couple minutes. Now my once-scraped palm was flexible and smooth. Nice trick.

"Good dog! Good boy." That was hardly sufficient praise, but we humans have talked down to animals for so long it's a hard habit to break.

Meanwhile, I jumped with my two shod feet into the roadway, tried to grin as innocently as Quicksilver, wiped the blood off my pants and looked for a cab to hail.

No way was I walking all the way back to Hector's estate.