Sean Patrick stepped out into the shadows thrown by the setting sun. It was still warm, and he basked for a moment, letting the heat soak into his skin through the heavy wool fabric of his jacket. High summer in Los Angeles was never as hot as Texas or Arizona, but he still enjoyed the feel of a desert afternoon, even in the deceptively moist oasis which surrounded him.
Lighting a cigarette, the vampire strolled down the alley alongside his bar, The Nightmare, toward the edge of the park beyond. Shadows were stretching longer as the sun slid away into the Pacific Ocean, letting the last rays linger as they pierced between the buildings into the city canyons. Already much of the heavily wooded park was deep in dusk, and it was Sean Patrick's favorite time of day.
He'd reached an age where he could allow the sun to briefly touch his skin, but the immediate sunburn he received from such indiscretions wasn't much of a incentive to make him risk it. He remained at the edge of the building's shadow, watching it move slowly as the sun slipped away behind the bulk of the studio west of The Nightmare before he strolled on to the park.
Sean Patrick had purchased The Nightmare based largely on it being so close to the park. He had developed a fondness for forests in the years spent tromping through Europe, forests of trees of the like he'd never seen growing up on the plains of central Texas. Leaning on the shaggy bark of the giant eucalyptus that grew at the end of the alley, he smoked in silence, savoring the early evening. He could hear the light sounds of traffic as his employees began to arrive for the night, their conversations coming clearly to his ears even with The Nightmare separating him from them. He could hear the doors open, allowing music from the jukebox to escape briefly before they shut again.
They'd come looking for him soon, to handle the evening's business affairs before the doors opened and the customers started to arrive, before the headliners pulled up in their vans and started unloading their equipment. Sean Patrick finished his cigarette, tossing the butt into the parking lot where it would be picked up by his cleaning crew during the day. He strolled the edge of the lot, checking on their work. The lot was swept and litter picked up every morning, in keeping with Sean Patrick's notion that as long as they looked high-class, they'd attract a high class clientele, especially for a cowboy bar.
There was someone hovering in the shadows of the big dumpsters that crouched in the alley. Sean Patrick slowed, smelling the sure scent of gun metal and powder amidst crack-high fear-laced blood pounding in the stranger's veins. He cracked his knuckles as he continued forward, deciding it best he take on this problem before it presented itself to any of his paying customers. The figure detached itself from the dumpster and lurched forward, raising what looked like a nine millimeter semi-automatic as he growled, "Gimme your wallet!"
Sean Patrick, holding his hands palm out, slapped at his pockets. "Sorry, son, don't have it on me," he said, keeping his voice calm. It was perfectly true, his wallet was laying on his desk inside the bar. Of course, it wouldn't have helped the boy any, he wasn't carrying cash, but he didn't say that. He was wearing his rings and his Rolex, but the boy, shaking with fury, didn't seem to notice the jewelry.
"I said gimme your wallet!" he raged, shoving the gun at Sean Patrick again, his eyes widening.
"And I said I'm sorry, son, I don't have it-" Sean Patrick was cut off as the gun fired six times in rapid succession, five of the bullets slamming through Sean Patrick's chest, the blunt impact knocking him over backward. He felt each one as it ripped through, one through the stomach, another through his unbeating heart, a third tore through his abdomen and lodged, painfully, against his spine. He felt blood pouring out of the exit wounds as he lay, stunned, on his back. He stopped breathing from the shock and just lay there, staring at the purple city-light washed sky above.
Swearing, the boy jerked back, looked hastily around, shoved his gun in his belt, and dropped to his knees to search Sean Patrick's pockets. Sean Patrick grabbed the boy's right wrist. "God damn it, that HURT," he snapped, using the boy's arm as leverage to sit up. He turned furious, glowing eyes on the boy, who let out a strangled yelp. "This was a brand-new coat, you stupid som'bitch," he continued, giving the boy a shake, his accent thickening with his anger. The boy tried to pull away, but Sean Patrick kept tight hold. "Do you know much this coat cost? I oughta take it right outta your head!" He managed to get to his feet, swaying slightly from the blood he had lost and the searing pain of the bullet nestled against his spine and the one which had slammed against his shoulder blade.
The would-be mugger was starting to jabber nonsensically, his eyes rolling in his head. Sean Patrick growled under his breath and started to turn them both toward the bar when the back door burst open. Matt and Carlos came shooting out, almost falling over each other. The moment Carlos saw Sean Patrick, he whirled around and went back inside, and Sean Patrick heard him say in a cool voice, "Nah, just a car backfiring, that's all."
Sean Patrick gave his mugger a shove at Matt. "Take this guy in hand, would you? Seems I have to change my clothes." He looked down at his ruined shirt and jacket ruefully.
"What happened?" asked Matt, getting a grip on the boy's collar before Sean Patrick let go. "What happened, son?" Sean Patrick turned the question on the mugger.
"I shot you, man, I shot you," the boy managed to jabber, his pasty face trembling. "I did. I know I did."
"You do know murder’s a far worse crime than robbery, right?" asked Sean Patrick, taking the gun from the boy's belt and tucking it into his jacket pocket. The boy started to twist wildly, trying to get away from Matt, who wrapped one thick arm around the boy's neck in a firm headlock.
"Do you want me to call the cops?" asked Matt quietly, as they steered the would-be mugger into the back entrance of the bar. Carlos had run interference, so no one was hanging around to see the boss covered in blood.
"Nah, just give him a drink and see if he calms down, then let him go. He won't be too effective without his piece," replied Sean Patrick with a sigh as they entered his office. "I doubt anyone would believe his story even if he were inclined to tell all about his sadly curtailed career as a mugger and murderer." He looked down at the tattered ruins of his cream-colored shirt and the beige jacket dripping with fringe and heavy with rhinestone appliqué. "Manuel's gonna kill me," he said with a sigh, taking off the jacket with a wince and looking at the back with a mournful face. "And he gave me a discount, too." Three holes ripped through the back and dozens of rhinestones were missing. The fabric was soaked in dark vampire blood, stains which were rapidly turning black as the blood dried.
"How many times did he shoot you?" asked Matt, looking at Sean Patrick's chest. "I see five went in, but it looks like only three came out." He spoke in a casual tone, as though long accustomed to the oddity of a companion who could mourn his clothing after taking five bullets to the chest. He held the mugger under one arm with all the ease of a football player holding a ball.
"Five. There's still two inside," said Sean Patrick. He shifted his shoulders, wincing again. "One up against my shoulder blade and the other against my spine. I guess a lesser man would be paralyzed."
"A man would be dead," Matt remarked. "Are you gonna be ready for opening tonight?"
"Yeah, don't change anything for me," said Sean Patrick. "I'll change and be ready in two shakes."
“Sure you don’t want the cops?”
“And tell ‘em what, Matt?” asked Sean Patrick. “If the moron spills, most folks are gonna think he’s crazy, anyway.”
"True. I’ll come back to check on ya in a bit." Matt steered the mugger out of the office. Sean Patrick waited until they were gone before pushing against the wall in the corner. A panel snapped and a hidden door swung open. Sean Patrick vanished inside, closing the door behind him.
A carpeted stairway led down into what had been built originally as a wine cellar. Sean Patrick had converted the subterranean rooms into his apartments, complete with richly paneled walls, thick carpeting, and décor that took him back to Texas every time he walked in. He dropped the bullet-ripped and bloodstained jacket on a bullhide-covered chair that marked the entrance to his living room and flicked on the television to GAC to see what was playing. "Damn it," he muttered, as some scantily-clad pop diva wiggled across the screen singing a song that had nothing to do with country music. He changed to CNN and pulled off his shirt, equally tattered, and dropped it on top of his jacket. His chest bore five distinct marks where the bullets had gone in, angry red circles surrounded by wicked-looking dark purple bruises that showed clearly through the dried blood. He couldn't see his back. He rubbed absently at his forehead as he went to the bar and took out a bottle of whiskey, then to the refrigerator for a bag of blood. He mixed the two in his favorite mug and drank most of it in one gulp before filling the mug again with blood, straight this time, and warming it a bit in the microwave.
The blood made him feel less lightheaded. He stripped out of the rest of his clothes and found his jeans were likewise bloodstained, but could probably be cleaned. His belt was black, but the dark stain showed on the underside. He tossed it on the chair with the jacket and shirt and went into the shower.
He was standing in his living room dressed in fresh jeans watching the news when Matt came down the stairs. “Damn!”
“Does the back look as bad as the front?” asked Sean Patrick.
“Turn around,” replied Matt. Sean Patrick complied. “No, the back is much worse. There’s only three exit wounds, but they look like hell.”
“Play mirror,” commanded Sean Patrick. Matt rolled his eyes, but did as ordered.
“They look like big splats of red ink where the holes were and the new skin’s grown back,” he said, “all ringed around with purple and black bruises, practically covering yoru whole back. There’s a lot of swelling just at your spine, above the belt line. I guess that’s where the bullet’s still inside, right?”
“Yeah,” said Sean Patrick, cracking his neck. “There’s another one under the shoulder blade.”
“You want me to call Dr. Baker?” asked Matt.
“Tomorrow,” answered Sean Patrick, wincing as he pulled on a plain black silk shirt. “Don’t want to call him out tonight and put me down the rest of the evening. I can manage for a night.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” Sean Patrick shrugged into a white jacket, heavily embroidered with horses and barbed wire fences. “How’s our mugger?”
“He babbled for a while and finally stumbled out. Everyone thought he was drunk.”
“Bout as I figured.”
“Need anything else?”
“Are there any applicants tonight?” asked Sean Patrick, combing his fingers through his damp hair and checking it by feel.
“Send in the best one for an interview. I think I’m gonna need human blood tonight. The beef just ain’t cuttin’ it,” said Sean Patrick.
“Right.” Matt gave a nod and trotted up the steps. Sean Patrick flicked off the television and followed, tugging his lapels into place and straightening his collar. He’d long developed the ability to tell whether he was presentable or not without a reflection. It was a talent grown from long use, but it always was nice to have someone to be a “mirror” for him.
Sean Patrick closed the panel behind him and sat at his desk, finishing the whiskey he’d carried with him. He tapped the intercom that connected his office with the main office at the front of the bar and said, “Any time, Matt.”
“All righty,” came the confirmation.
Seam Patrick tapped his password into his computer and logged on, watching with annoyance as his spam filters worked overtime to filter out the unwanted email from the wanted. He opened his browser as a knock came at the door. “Come,” he called.
A pretty blonde girl with vibrant blue eyes tentatively opened the door. “Mr. O’Connor?” she asked hesitantly, offering out her resume.
Sean Patrick smiled his most charming smile and stood, reaching to take the resume with one hand and take hers with the other, shaking hers in a firm grip. “Howdy, welcome to the Nightmare. I’m Sean Patrick O’Connor, and if we hire you, you’ll call me Sean Patrick just like everyone else.”
She smiled winningly. “Both names?”
“That’s how I grew up, and it’s kinda stuck,” he replied. “Have a seat.” He took her resume and glanced over it. She was a more than qualified bartender, with service experience and pretty much everything he looked for in an employee by regular standards, now for the tough tests. He looked over the edge of the paper at her. “Well, Miss Holman, this looks good. Or may I call you Cody?”
“Cody is great,” she said.
“So, what kinda music you like?” he asked casually.
“Well, country, of course. That’s why I came to this bar.”
“Hmm. And just who do you think of when you say country music?” he asked.
She grinned, a little impishly. He liked her. “This is just about the last great country bar in the Los Angeles area,” she said. “Don’t worry, I don’t mean that stuff they play on the radio. I mean the real thing. You know, Waylon and Willie, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn.”
“Good answer,” he said with a grin. “Twain?”
“How about Tim McGraw?”
“Hey, best answer yet,” he said, and laughed. He set her resume down on the desk, and turned to fully look at her, keeping his smile in place as he caught her eyes with his. Her expression fixed. “You have all the right qualifications, Cody. I hope you don’t mind just a little more intrusive questions.”
“Not at all,” she said. Her voice had taken on a breathless tone. Sean Patrick leaned in close to her, moving her gaze from his eyes to his fingertips. She watched them without blinking.
“Are you married?” he asked, gently tilting her head so her neck arced out of the top of her collar.
“Nope,” she said, and let out a little yip as his fangs pierced her skin. Sean Patrick drank slowly, tenderly holding the back of her head with his left hand. She tasted young and clean, no drugs and very little alcohol, a test better than any standard drug test. Then he gently licked the wound clean and dry. The skin closed behind his tongue, leaving only tiny reddish points that would rapidly fade with time. He drew back and slowly motioned her eyes back to his face.
“I like you, Cody. If you wanna work at the Nightmare, then I’m prepared to hire you,” he said, and she immediately shook off the hypnosis. She smiled winningly at him, as suddenly fond of him as most people he drank from were.
“That’s great!” she said, trying to restrain herself from jumping a little in her chair.
“I assume you’ve been looking since the Golden West was closed,” he said, tapping on her resume.
“I have. I was getting desperate enough to try for an Applebee’s or something.”
“Well, no need,” he said, then checked his watch. “You don’t have to start tonight, but you’re welcome to hang out and get the feel of the place, meet the folks, relax a little. I have to get out on the floor here, so I can’t show you around myself, but if you go out to the main office and find Matt, I’m sure he can give you all the specs.”
“His name’s O’Connor, too. Is he related?” she asked.
“Yep. He’s my cousin,” replied Sean Patrick, a lie told so often it felt like the truth. He offered his hand to her again. “Welcome to the Nightmare, Cody.”