Writer of Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Horror and Comedy


            The riot began on the same day as all four of the white policemen that had been caught beating Rodney King on videotape were acquitted of assault and three of the four were also acquitted of excessive violence. It escalated quickly over the next three days, growing in force and volatility, where common citizens’ aggression elevated to committing acts of looting, arson, assault and even murder.

            It was on the third day of the riot, the evening of Friday, May 1st, 1992 when the Magician David Zane was shot in the back with two iron-tipped bullets by his commanding officer.

            Shortly after that, he found himself lying face-first on top of a mortician’s table, the top half of his coast guard uniform disguise removed, and listening to the sounds of the riot around him while keeping one eye on the black vampire looking down calmly at him with a pair of long pinchers in his right hand. The vampire had a 1950s haircut Zane vaguely recalled from childhood, was stout, short, and muscular, apparently in his early thirties or so and was wearing a black apron over a gray t-shirt and jeans.

            His eyes had turned a glowing bright red that allowed him to see in the dark but that seemed hardly necessary considering most of the room was almost illuminated by the fire of a building burning down across the alley at the back. It was probably meant to make Zane nervous, which it did.

            They were in a funeral parlor somewhere in central Los Angeles, part house, part mortuary, old enough to predate the laws preventing a home from being built out of the second floor. It was almost certainly filled with secret places, almost all vampire havens were, with many designed as simple murder domiciles for drifters, homeless, or runaways that could easily disappear. They were nicknamed “murder castles” after serial killer H. H. Holmes’s real-life murder house in Chicago.

            He was in a second operator room on the second floor, the one used for normal corpses in the basement.

            The vampire leaned down, his left hand resting on the side of the mortuary table with its hole at the bottom center below Zane to catch the blood, and showed him his pointed white fangs.

            “Thomas Pearl said you would help us,” the girl he came in with said again from somewhere in the room. The vampire wasn’t hesitating like she seemed to think, he was actually waiting, but Zane didn’t know why. He was certain the vampire trusted Thomas Pearl, but whether he trusted two magicians who just might possibly have a magical spell that could have made Thomas Pearl talk or read his mind to learn the parlor’s location, was another story. “He said—”

            The vampire looked at her in such a way that her voice died in an instant. Then, without looking, the vampire placed his cold left hand on Zane’s neck, his supernatural strength easily strong enough to hold him down even if he hadn’t heavily wounded, and then he slipped the pinchers slowly into a bullet hole. Zane’s body instinctively jerked, the pain so powerful he wasn’t sure he was even comprehending it all, and when his mouth opened to scream only drool came out.

            “Now, why,exactlywould Pearlie dothat?” asked the vampire and then he slowly pushed the pinchers in deeper. Zane groan-screamed and was distantly are of pus pouring out of the wounds and slipping down his back and sides like a science fair volcano. The iron bullet felt like a burning red-hot iron covered in lemon juice and it was festering the flesh around as well, making it savagely nastier as the seconds went on.

            He was in so much pain that his veins began to glow the bright teal of his electric magic all over his body, pushing a bright teal light against the light of the fire.

            “Why did he send you to me?” asked the vampire as the pinchers came down gently onto either side of the bullet.

            The girl appeared near the vampire covered in teal and orange light and said, “He—”

            Zane grunted as the vampire quickly twisted the pinchers in his back. It made him jerk caused so much additional pain he was earnestly surprised he hadn’t passed out it. “Did I askyou, little girl?”

            “No,” she whimpered, her eyes wide with sudden fear. She was not equipped for vampires or anything remotely dangerous really.

            The girl was a recently made magician named Ellen Corey and stood there in nothing but Zane’s coast guard jacket, the jewelry that his commander hadn’t bothered to remove, and her very expensive shoes. She was beautiful too, as young as the early twenties she appeared to be, with very dark skin and straightened hair that hung down one side of her head over her right eye.

            Zane could see the vampire did not like her at all. Vampires and magicians did not like each other culturally since time unremembered even by immortals but it was made worse because she was the absolute opposite end of the social spectrum than he was. Zane did know the vampire’s history but one look said it was a good guess that he the hard life of a working-class black man living in a racist world. His hard, square-jawed face had the marks and shape of a man who had a brutal and unhappy life.

            On the other hand, Ellen Corey was born very wealthy from an affluent black family in New York City, been educated in the best schools, eaten at the best restaurants and never had a moment in her life where she had less than a thousand dollars in her pocket. Her immortal life was no doubt equally as charmed as she was being raised up by the courtiers of the Court of the East for some high position far above anything Zane and most immortals would ever achieve in their equivalent society.

            That life was too good to have remotely prepared her for the kind of savagery that a born-killer vampire could put upon her at any moment.

            The vampire didn’t do anything, though. He just looked at her blankly for a moment then turned back to Zane and said, “You’re a strong one but I know who you work for. Why did Pearlie think I would help you when we both know you work for Carson Wade?”

            Zane used all of his will to keep himself from screaming as tears of pain slipped out of his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, more drool coming out, and then he forced himself to swallow.

            “I had the girl pull out Cotton Weather’s stake,” he hacked out. He had no idea that was his name until Tom Pearl told him but he had heard the name before and he knew it carried weight in the black vampire community. That became obvious as soon as Cotton Weather helped him to Tom Pearl’s home and went his separate way.

            The vampire’s eyes narrowed down at him and pulled out the bullet, the act of which felt like a lemon-covered razor slicing across the inside of his body. Then the vampire jammed the other pincher right up to the other bullet. He pushed through more puss and heavily inflamed wounds creating more pain the likes of which Zane had rarely felt. He was grateful he quickly, though, as it was still infinitely better than the slipping in the slow method he had been using before.

            “Andyourname?” he asked.

            Zane painfully forced his head around to get a look up at the vampire. “Zane,” he said.

            The vampire’s face shifted to a much less aggressive one so quickly it was like water pulling off dirt from a face. “The good one,” he said with a shrug and he looked at Ellen Corey whose lips pressed together nervously and then looked back. “What the hell is going on here, Zane?”

            Zane shook his head. “Alex Walsh is dead—” he screamed when the pincher jerked down in one savage push.

            “That ain’t funny!” the vampires snarled, his fangs bared in the flickering fire-orange light. “Whokilled him? A vampire?” He looked worried and maybe he should have been. Alexander Walsh had been one of Queen Isabelle Delgado’s favorites and as the one black magician Queen of the East, she had ludicrous weight in the black community with magiciansandvampires all over the United States. If that vampire was found to be connected to that murder, there was no place in America where he could hide and no way to return should he manage to escape, which was highly unlikely.

            It was perhaps lucky for him that it wasn’t a vampire who had killed him.

            “No!” snarled Zane as he looked through his hair hanging down over his eyes at nothing while the pinchers spread wide. His veins began to glow brighter and teal electricity was moving without his control over his hands and feet. He screamed when his back suddenly jerked a bit without his control. “Carson Wade! Fucking Carson Wade killed him! Jesus fucking Christ!”

            “Wade.” He grabbed the bullet, yanked it out violently, and tossed it down into the bowl casually. “You sure about that, son?”

            “Ask the girl if you don’t believe me,” Zane told him and he rested his head down against the table with a sigh. His veins drifted back to normal as he laid there and the pain dropped.

            It lowered greatly but he was by no means out of it. It wasn’t the worst he had ever felt and while being a magician he healed faster than normal, he was by no means going to be able to do backflips any time soon.

            He was deeply worried about what he would do then and how he would continue on when he felt Ellen Corey touch his back and a pain-killing warmth spread over it. She was trying to heal him just as she had tried earlier but without the iron bullets, it actually worked moderately well. Before it just inflamed the wounds worse and made him scream and stumble as she helped him clamber through the streets toward the location Tom Pearl had sent them to.

            “Carson Wade,” whispered the vampire softly as he looked into infinity beyond the fire burning across the street. Zane blinked, lowered his eyes and saw see vampire’s left hand was opening and closing in an agitated, angry way. He then looked up at those red eyes, which turned and focused back onto his. “Where is he now?” the vampire asked softly.

            “Fuck knows,” Zane replied.

            “What happened exactly?” His voice was cold and hard.

            “When Wade shot me in the back, the guys holding Walsh became distracted. Walsh got one of their pistols and then Wade shot him and after that, they left me to die.” Zane almost certainly would have died if Ellen Corey had simply kept running.

            “Yeah,” said the vampire as if in thought. “Cotton Weather staked, word out on the uppity rich girl, and you, the traitor, lying in wait with two bullets in your back. None of you would have lived through the night.”

            “Why?” asked Ellen.

            “Word is that Damian’s old army are out tonight. I think Wade must have slipped someone the word about Cotton Weather.”

            “Oh that’s just fuckinggreat,” said Zane with a groan.

            He didn’t know exactly how Cotton Weather fit into all this but John Damian was thelastname he wanted to hear. The Vampire John Damian, often nicknamed “The Demon,” had been a drug pushing, murdering psychopath in charge of Green Tree, a primarily black district of the vampire city of San Allis. He was long dead by the time Zane had found himself on that table but his army was still out there in the world somewhere.

            The new Green Tree master, Victor Lyle, whose personality could be said to be in some gray between Martin Luther King Jr. and a militant member of the Black Panther Party, had purged most of Damian’s army. They were horrible people, all psychopathic dregs of the black community like their dead master. If memory was correct, Cotton Weather was one of Lyle’s closest and first advisors, so Zane supposed that meant he was involved with the purge. That no doubt created a large group of personal enemies who would be out in droves if they knew he was lying staked and helpless somewhere.

            Zane licked his dry lips and said, “Pearl—”

            “—is no snitch!” stated the vampire in a hard voice that touched deeply on a tone of warning. “I’ve known him since 1972 and his reputation was solid then as now. He’s never ratted out anyone, not even a cracker trash magician like you, and believe me, if he was going to start, it sure and shit wouldn’t be for the pleasure and safety of Carson Wade.” He looked at him curiously. “You a soldier?”

            “Vietnam. Two tours.” It was there how he learned to handle pain. He had lost track of the times he had been in incredible agony during that war in what soldiers called “the shit” long before he healed quicker and faster than any mortal did and the lessons he learned turned out to be rather useful in the world of the immortals commonly called the Underworld.

            “Sucked you in for the Floodgate, did they? I was taken in the early 1950s for the same reason. I had served in World War II so I had the training but mostly I was a medic which is sort of how I ended up in this business.”

            Zane didn’t know what to say to that and had no idea what was going to happen to him as soon as he escaped. He had just shot his CO in the shoulder and his CO had just shot him in the back, with iron bullets, twice right before shooting one of the Queen of the East’s favorites fatally. He had no idea what was going to happen to him once he got back to safety but whatever it was, it sure wasn’t going to be good.

            “It’s not healing right,” said Ellen as she pulled her hands back. “It’s the iron’s effect.”

            Zane forced himself up to his hands and knees, felt better than he would have expected all things considering, and then slipped off the table. He looked back, saw the blood and pus marks leaking down into the hole and imagined it was going to be filtered, bottled and then sold on the black market. Magician blood was very valuable to vampires.

            He felt his back and it still hurt, badly, but it was a tolerable bad. He could move with it and that was what he needed. He grabbed the gym bag with his street clothes and asked, “Shower?” The vampire gestured off in the direction of the back area in general and Zane down into a black hallway.

            In order to halt the riot, the city’s power had been cut off as soon as it turned dark. All the same, Zane was not surprised to find the vampire had some kind of private generator. He turned one light, saw the room was sealed without a window, and then took a quick shower. He was happily surprised to find his wounds were healed enough to not start bleeding again when water touched them.

            He got the blood off himself and put on his mortal clothes. He ran his hands back over his hair and looked at his disturbing reflection.

            He had been a magician since 1985 and since then he had regressed in physical age to the point where he looked like he was almost a boy. Somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four was his guess, with almost perfect skin, dark blue eyes, and dark straight dark hair, which was styled to hang down past his eyes in a lazy imitation of River Phoenix. It was his hope that he did not look like one of the male cast members ofBeverly Hills 90210but he kind of did and the clothes he had to wear made his look worse.

            The early 1990s did not have a kind of classiness that he liked but he made it function. He wore a simple black shirt with the band name of “NIRVANA” written in big blue letters and a long-sleeved black and blue plaid shirt opened at the front and hanging down over faded blue jeans and white sneakers.

            On his belt was a decent stabbing knife with a literal silver lining along the blade’s edge good for killing vampires and lycanthropes alike.

            Hidden at the bottom of the bag was his spare gun, a Beretta M9, with a single ten-round magazine of silver-tipped bullets. He turned, instinctively trying to move it behind his back where it would easily be hidden by his long shirt, and felt an explosion of pain. He grimaced and slipped it into the front.

            Then he went over to the nearby bright red rotary phone on the wall, took it off the handle and dialed a number.

            The first sound he heard was the familiarbeepsound followed by the even more familiar robot-like female voice indicating that it wasn’t a real number.

            “Fuck!” he snarled.

            They had either disabled Ellen Corey’s emergency number or she herself had inexplicably given him the wrong one. He called his emergency number next and none other than Aloysius Boone, the right-hand man of the high matron of California, Bonny St. Claire, answered himself.


            “Boone, I—”

            “Do you have any idea what you’ve done, David?” he asked in a bitter, hard voice. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused your high matron?”

            “I don’t give a rat’s left nut about Bonny St. Claire!” he snarled. “I don’t have time for any of this elitist bullshit, Boone. I need—”

            “Why should I believe ordoanything you say?”

            “Because the magician Ellen Corey and the centuries-old Vampire Cotton Weather will back up my story and there is no goddamn way in hell I could have bought either of them off!” he cried and then grunted with the pain his cry accidentally caused his back. “Damn it!”

            “I see.” Aloysius Boone did not sound particularly happy or particularly convinced but Zane had the feeling he did believe him and did not like it one bit. “What do you want?”

            Zane had the sudden inexplicable feeling that Boone was offering him some kind of bribe, which seemed odd since Zane wasn’t in any position of power that he could see. “What do you think I want? I want an escort out of this hellhole! There’s a riot going on and—”

            “Ellen Corey isnotour problem,” he said bluntly. “She’s under the protection of Alexander Walsh.”

            “Walsh’s dead.”

            “He’sdead? Are you sure?” His voice was quiet, controlled, and unreadable but Zane would have bet a large sum of money that he already knew.

            “I saw Carson Wade put an iron bullet through Walsh’s forehead so, yeah, he’sdefinitelydead!” Zane did not know what Isabelle Delgado would do when she found out that one of her favorite courtiers had just had his brains blown out by a man Bonny St. Claire had under her protection but it wouldn’t be good.

            Whatever was going on with Damian’s people and Cotton Weather would also be an unpredictable nightmare for whatever major black vampire the pureblooded Romanian vampire overlord of Los Angeles would pin the blame on.

            Zane didn’t know what the best of course for him was except maybe to get as far from Los Angeles as he possibly could. “Look, Boone, I know everyone hates me but I really don’t give a rat’s ass right now. Just get me a helicopter or an entourage of knights oranythinghere, now, like fucking yesterday! Oh hey!” he added suddenly, “Here’s a fucking idea! Call Walsh’s people and get them down around—” he hesitated “—somewhere I can get to!” If he gave that vampire’s address to a high-ranking magician like Aloysius Boone, he probably wouldn’t get out of there alive so, wounds or no wounds, he was going to need to walk.

            “Are you sure she’s alive?” he asked Zane softly. “Is she with you right now or did you just assume she’s alive when you fled for your life?” Zane didn’t like that Boone knew everything and was playing dumb. That didn’t bode well for anyone.

            Zane thought he knew exactly what he was asking but he didn’t really want to believe it. Boone seemed to be indicating to Zane that it would better for all those involved if he were to abandon Ellen Corey to the army of vampires looking to kill, rape, and hopefully, ransom her. He seemed to also be implying that it was beyond his control or fault if she was “unable to keep up” or something. It was obvious that without her, all the political damage would be far easier to manage.

           All that in one sentence, Zane thought and felt tired as he came to a conclusion. The situation was simple: they would not ransom her. If Boone thought they would, letting her be caught was the worst thing he could do because eventually, she would get home and with even more abuse to complain about besides.

            No, they would kill her. They would rape her, many times, drain her valuable blood dry, toy with her mind with false promises but, in the end, they would murder her and Aloysius Boone knew it.

            He also knew that Ellen Corey could never get through this city on her own.

            “David?” Boone asked softly.

            “She’s right here,” said Zane bitterly. “She’s just fine and I damn well intend for her to stay that way.”

            “I see.” His blank voice sounded disappointed if it sounded like anything at all.

            “Yeah, I fucking hope so,” Zane said in the same bitter voice. He wasn’t about to let a pretty, young girl be raped to death because Bonny St. Claire couldn’t control her commanders. “Boone—”

            “You’re on your own.

            “No, I’m not!” Zane snarled. “Walsh’s line has been cut! I just need you to contact Walsh’s—” Boone hung up on him “—motherfucker!” He almost smashed the phone on the wall but then put it down calmly instead. He didn’t need an angry vampire on top of all this.

            He opened his brown wallet with his highly authentic fake I.D. labeling him John Thomas, born in 1973, pulled out the card with the words “Blue Swan” on it and then called up another number. It picked up instantly and Zane somehow guessed exactly who it was just by his picking up.


            “Zane, the black immortals in my club are going bat shit! What the hell is going on? Carson Wade crashed a private meeting between Alexander Walsh and Cotton Weather and now Alexander Walsh is dead andyouhave his girl! What the hell are you into?”

            “Why don’t you tell me! You’re the one who seems to know so much!”

            “Hardy fucking har!”

            “I need a safe house. Anything in South Central. I’ve been shot twice with iron and while Corey can heal it, she can’t heal it perfectly. I’d be in less pain if I was on fire and someone is coming for her—”

            “Someone isalwayscoming for whatever, Zane, but in this case,everybodyis coming for her! You need to lay low or get her here orsomething! My black friends tell me Damian’s people are swarming all over South Central like cockroaches but they can’t get into West Hollywood!”

            That made sense. The mortal policemen would see them as dangerous black rioters and even they wouldn’t dare reveal their true nature to them.

            Zane wondered if Mallory knew that Aloysius Boone just blew him off or just guessed. Mallory was supposed to know things. It was how he survived after Bonny St. Claire destroyed his reputation and sent him penniless and friendless to the streets of the Underworld to die.

            “Everybody…” whispered Zane and he sighed. “West Hollywood then. I’ll be there with the girl as soon as I can. I may lay low until dawn.” He did not look forward to this journey in the slightest.

            “Good,” Mallory told him. “That is the smart decision. Just be careful.” They hung up and Zane turned and went back to the upstairs operating room.

            Ellen was standing in front of the vampire wearing a leopard skin shirt that fit tightly against her body tucked into tight jeans and tall black boots that laced all the way up to the top. His blood was all gone from her body, possibly by magic, and her hair hung down around her head halfway down her back in a different style, a poorer woman’s style.

            Even though all her jewels and clothes were gone, she still looked very out of place and sophisticated somehow. If he could see it, then there was no chance in hell in fooling the locals but, then again, they were pretty busy that night.

            There was something glowing in the air in front of her when he entered, a circle of magical water glowing pink, which vanished the instant he saw it. The vampire stepped back and, for an instant, Zane saw something flash metal from behind the girl’s back.

            They were using her magic to watch and listen to him, he guessed, and not by her choice judging by the fear in her eyes. It didn’t surprise him.

            “He made me do it,” she told him softly.

            “It’s fine,” Zane replied.

            Ellen Corey wrapped her arms around his waist, carefully avoiding his back, and leaned up against him and started to cry softly. He patted her gently and she kissed him on the cheek as she shook there like a leaf. “Don’t leave me!” she whispered.

            “I won’t,” he told her. He had the distinct feeling that the vampire told her what the other vampires would do to her if she was caught.

            If Zane had any doubts about how she was built, he lost them then. She really was the exact age she appeared, nineteen, maybe twenty, and a proper lady with no emotional or physical training for the kind of savagery that was all around her. Alexander Walsh had no business taking her anywhere in South Central Los Angeles at such a time but then again, she was supposed to have a group of protectors more battle-ready and nearby.

            Besides, Walsh really hadn’t made erred, had he? It wasn’t Cotton Weather or any vampire, black or white, who had caused this. It was a fellow magician, Carson Wade, sticking his nose into someone else’s business.

            The vampire mortician waved the nasty-looking custom-made blade at him, somewhere between a short sword and hunting knife, with a smile and said, “I would have killed you, son, if you sold her out.”

            “You would have tried,” Zane replied and lightning moved over and around his hands for a moment. He saw a flash of light on the weapon and saw the silver along the bladed part.

            The vampire saw that he saw and it made him smile. “I’ll make up for your silver immunity with a much harder slice,” he said with a wink. There was another explosion outside making Ellen jump while the two stared silently and unblinkingly at each other. When they both grinned, it seemed to deeply confuse her. The vampire spun the blade around, slipped into a sheath behind his back and held out his hand. “Johnson Penn.”

            Zane stepped forward and shook it. “David Zane.”

            Penn leaned back against the table and crossed his arms. “I can hold you up to morning and then you can deal with our ghouls instead of the real thing. The riot is dying off anyway and might even be over by then.”

            “What about Pearl?”

            “For the last goddamn time!” Penn replied with a quick, hard and moderately irritating voice. “Pearl is no snitch!”

            “I’m not saying that he’s a snitch.”

            Ellen stepped forward and said, “I think he’s asking you if there is someone who could make him snitch and, uh—”

            There were suddenly flashes of yellow lights below the back window, lights as a vehicle moved into the alley. Zane pulled out his gun, moved up to the window, and saw a black 1981 Oldsmobile appear followed in an instant by a 1984 green Buick Le Sabre. They both jerked to a stop facing each other in a barricade fashion at the back entrance of Penn’s safe house. “No fucking snitch, eh—”

            “Say that again and I’ll gut your cracker ass!” snarled the vampire, his fangs out, his eyes blazing angry as well as red. He didn’t look at him as he moved to the window and Zane moved to its side with his gun ready just out of sight of anyone below.

            Zane honestly didn’t know what to do. If Penn could get rid of them, they were safe and they could leave in the morning, which would be infinitely better in every possible way, but if Penn could not, they would have to run out into a night where all the vampires would be out hunting them amidst whatever God only knew the mortals were doing.

            It was clear that Penn was deeply bothered by the appearance of those vehicles. When he saw black men, mostly young in appearance wearing the color red, which Zane knew was the color of the gang known as the Bloods, he tensed. When Penn saw them, he reached out behind himself, took the two extended fifteen bullet magazines from Zane’s other Beretta M9 that had been on Zane’s coast guard uniform, and tossed them to him.

            Then he made a “watch” and “wait” motion with his hands below the gang’s sightline without changing his position at the window.

            Zane did not know gang members’ looks or styles but he sensed the leader quick enough: a tall, muscular black man appearing to be in his early twenties wearing a plaid red and black shirt, a red bandana over his forehead, and loose jeans over shining white shoes. His eyes were a glowing red vampire’s and many of his friends had them too, but not all, the group evidently being a mixture of vampires and the servants of vampires known as ghouls who, as long as they drank some vampire blood now and then, were supernaturally strong and did not age.

            “Penn,” said the leader.

            “AJ,” Penn replied and Zane mouthed the word “fuck” at the sound of it. He put his extended clips into his pockets and took a deep breath. “What is the problem, son?”

            “I’m not your son, old man,” was the reply.

            Zane had been briefed that AJ, birth name Alan Jenkins, who was one of Damien’s old enforcers on what Wade’s team called the “do not fuck with” list. An immortal crack-pushing rapist psychopath who had a police record a mile long under every fake name the Society had given him. A cursory glance at any of his records showed a man capable of murdering children and raping girls as young as twelve should he wish to do so. He was so extremely bad, in fact, that he was not even allowed in the vampire city of San Allis anymore.

            “Don’t do that,” Penn said in a warning tone and several ghouls stopped moving toward the door. Zane was immeasurably relieved to see they were cautious, maybe even scared, of Penn. “Why are you here, AJ?”

            AJ smiled in a toothy way that did not reach his eyes. “A little bird told me you have a couple of visitors.” He stepped back toward the Oldsmobile’s left passenger door, pulled it open, and then reached in.

            Zane saw Penn flicker a bit, a hint at some unnatural speed power, which indicated he was probably a member of the vampire group called the Horde although that type of grouping tended to be ignored completely by black vampires. “Did it?” Penn asked AJ asked very softly.

            “Oh yeah,” said AJ and then he pulled out something.

            Penn flinched as if he was punched in the gut, Ellen Corey shrieked and dropped the spell she was using to watch them, and Zane moved forward and fired three times.

            AJ grunted from the hit and the head of Thomas Pearl fell to the ground with a wet thud, the look of horror still on his face despite both of his eyes gouged out. They looked like two black screaming pits set on a handsome face that still had the 1950s hairstyle that black men favored during that age.

            Zane’s second and third shots hit two ghouls and then he jerked back out of the way just as vampires starting firing into the building. They were quick, raising their pistols, rifles and automatics the instant he had appeared, but he was in enough pain that he almost got himself killed.

            The shot at AJ wasn’t perfect, hitting him only in the shoulder instead of the head due to his back wounds throwing his aim off. However, he hit the two ghouls well enough that they were definitely out of the fight if not killed outright.

            “Kill that motherfucker!” screamed AJ as soon as they had emptied their magazines into the secretly reinforced walls. “Kill them all!”

            Zane had barely blinked and found Penn was gone from his spot, leaped over or teleported beyond the table, and had both fists thrust into the wall at the back. Ellen shrieked in shock and jumped back as Penn pulled out a full military machine gun from a hidden compartment beyond the plaster.

            It was a fully loaded M16A1, which was the same gun from the movieScarfacestarring Al Pacino.

            Penn leaped across the table in a blur, landed in front of the window with a loudthudsound and started to firing like a madman. He had been so fast that several of them were still reloading when he started firing and easily killed whatever ghouls remained.

            He was screaming as he fired, rage overwhelming him, and when bullets hit him he did not seem to notice.

            Zane grabbed Ellen and charged down the hall to the black painted window.

            “Jump!” he told her and jumped first but he knew the instant he did it he was going to be sorry. He tried to slow himself with a spell he had not quite mastered and, predictably, he screwed it up. He mostly managed to land well and would have been fine normally but his back exploded in an astounding level of agony from some misplaced motion. He couldn’t manage a roll so he instead ended up crumpled up like paper on the ground.

            Ellen’s own spell did not fail and she floated down surrounded by pink water and then put her hands on his back. The warmth came back and he started to feel better when she was suddenly yanked off him.

            She shrieked as big hands in red windbreaker sleeves wrapped around her. When her legs went up Zane fired from the ground and hit a vampire’s leg that was there. There was a roar of pain and when she was dropped, he fired again, above her horizontal legs, hitting the knee, and the vampire came down.

            He crumpled down in the direct line of Zane’s sight and Zane saw his face covered in a red bandana from just below his red eyes. Zane fired right into the center of it.

            The vampire’s gun went off at the same time, slicing across the top of Zane’s left shoulder, stinging him like fire as an iron bullet sliced across its top. Under all the other pain, he barely even noticed it was there.

            He forced himself up before Ellen could help him, her look of surprise clear on her face, and saw AJ appear. Zane forced Ellen behind his back as AJ raised a Tec-9 automatic pistol but his gun only clicked empty.

            AJ screamed out the word “fuck,” turned, and looked shocked as one of his vampire friends went flying over his head in an arc and landed sideways on a pointed spike section of the metal fence that surrounded a little yard on the side of the mortuary.

            Penn appeared as a blur of supernatural speed and AJ couldn’t match him. Penn sliced him several times with his blade, shoved him backward into the fence his friend was screaming on, and then he punched him so hard Zane thought he heard his ribs break.

            “Run!” cried Penn and suddenly half a dozen vampires in red jumped on him but he was so supernaturally strong he was actually able to keep them from dragging him down. AJ was reloading as Penn was spinning around with them clinging to them, his blade jerking up into one of their faces, but that was the last Zane saw of that.

            Zane took her out the side gate and disappeared down an alley alongside the funeral home. They were soon near the street dodging people who were moving through them with their arms full of things. Zane crossed several streets carefully as he moved westward, lit only by the burning cars and buildings that occasionally appeared.

            “What’s happening?” asked Ellen.

            “Not now,” Zane replied. He felt calm and better but by no means safe. His back was burning but in combat, he found he could ignore it provided he wasn’t directly hit there or impacted indirectly like when he ripped it open while landing.

            As for the riot, it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. He had a gun so he wasn’t going to end up like Reginald Denny, or so he hoped, but at that point, in the dark, it didn’t seem as much of a problem. No one seemed to be paying attention to the white man and a pretty, black girl moving through the alleyways. They were all too busy looting and stumbling in the dark and, inexplicably, burning down their own neighborhood.

            There was something else as well, which he hadn’t quite expected.

            Hispanics were in the midst of some kind of street fight with the blacks. While he was moving in the shadows, he saw groups of Hispanic gang members fighting off black gang members who were trying to get at some Hispanic-owned businesses, which clearly distracted either of them from anything Zane could have possibly meant to them.

            The front of a Hispanic-owned grocery store alongside an alley he was aiming for, burst into fire and five Hispanic boys, maybe eighteen to twenty-two in age, charged down the street after the three black boys close to the same age. He had seen out of the corner of his eyes, two or all three of them throwing Molotov cocktails into the buildings.

            As Zane entered the alley, he saw someone stumbling out completely on fire screaming, falling and then dying while an older Hispanic woman, maybe fifty, shrieking something in Spanish and trying to get someone’s attention.

            One of the Hispanic boys had turned back toward her and she turned into him and started shrieking into his chest as he forced her to turn away. An older black man with a beard and white hair had thrown his jacket over the burning man in a vain attempt to put it out and save his life.

            “That was her son!” whimpered Ellen, who evidently knew Spanish.

            Zane said nothing and did not let himself get distracted. As he passed another street to another alley, he saw a theatre between two very heavily looted stores, specifically a Payless ShoeSource and a Radio Shack. The theatre had the moviesThunderheart,Ferngully: The Last RainforestandThe Babeon the marque.

            Time passed without incident and Ellen Corey started to calm down.

            “Why do they want me?” she asked and then shrieked as a black 1986 Honda Accord jerked in front of the alley.

            Zane almost fired before he saw the man’s hands fly up in the air. “I’ve been sent by Cotton Weather!” cried the black man inside. “Get in!”

            Ellen threw herself into the back door without thinking and Zane got in the front within the same instant. He would not have leaped into a car at simply the word of a stranger but he didn’t dare let her stay for a second in that car without him, lest the man take off before he could get in.

            “Oh Jesus Christ they’re burning down my town!” cried the man as he started to drive.

            “Be thankful you’re not a Mexican,” Zane replied as he felt his back burning as he leaned up against the seat.

            “They’re giving as good as they’re getting, son,” he replied.

            Ellen leaned up between them from the back. “You’remortal!” she gasped.

            “I’m a ghoul,” he told her. He was a slender man, maybe twenty in appearance, black, with buzz-cut hair, with handsome, slender features on his face. He was dressed like someone around that area but he didn’t sound like them at all. “I was promised to graduate to vampire if I pulled this off. No one else wants to touch it.”

            “West Hollywood.”

            “You want to gothere? The cops have totally sealed that place.”

            “That’s the point,” said Ellen.

            “Just get us as close as you can,” Zane said.

            “You trust Mallory Matthews?”

            “I trust him more than I trust you.”

            “Why do they want me?” asked Ellen. “Do they even wanthim?” She gestured with her head to Zane.

            “Oh they want him alright but they want you a whole lot more,” said the ghoul.

            “They’re just going to kill me,” Zane told her. “You, on the other hand, are an official member of the court and a member of the House of Corey, one of the great American magician houses, who are one your queen’s biggest supporters.”

            “Damian’s people have no interest in ransoming,” said the driver. “They’ll rape, mutilate and torture before they murder you and then send your head to Delgado to humiliate Tevon Barton. He’s allied with Victor Lyle, you know.”

            Tevon Barton was the Master of South Central Los Angeles. All Zane knew of him was that he was a vampire master of said district and black. He had never met or seen him once in his life and only knew he was black by the colorful racial slurs his commander used to describe him with.

            “This is a nightmare!” she whimper. “Is there any help from the vampire we helped?”

            Cotton Weather’s vouched for you both but Barton’s men have been lying low till this riot blows over but even if he ordered everyone out now, they couldn’t possibly get here in time to help either of you.”

            “Well, what about the magicians then?” she asked.

            “This is Bonny St. Claire’s town,” said Zane bitterly. “She wants you to get caught and killed. Carson Wade isherman. You living means you, a Corey and respected courtier, will testify against him and, by association, her. After the death of Alexander Walsh, some peoplemightjust ask why Bonnie St. Claire kept a notably dangerous racist in a position of authority. If you die, however, it’s Carson Wade’s word against a vampire. Mine doesn’t mean shit.”

            “Carson Wade,” she said with a gasp and then softly asked, “Is he looking for me out here too?”

            “Oh yeah,” Zane replied. Ofthat, he had no doubt.

            “He thought you ran,” said the driver. “He stumbled out with his men and went looking for you after he shot Walsh and Zane here. If you had run out and not still been in that building, he would have caught you.”

            Ellen leaned back and let out a breath of nervous air.

            Zane reached over, pulled out the ghoul’s cigarettes from his shirt pocket, took one, and lit it with teal electricity from his fingers.

            “Magic,” said the ghoul in awe.

            “I lit a cigarette, friend. That doesn’t make me David Copperfield.” He took a deep intake of smoke, groaned and tossed the cigarette out of the window as soon as he cranked it open. “Goddamn menthols.” Zane turned back to the driver. “Where is Cotton Weather now?”

            “Recovering,” said the man. “They jammed that stake practically out through his back. There’s nothing he can do.”

            “I didn’t think he could. I’m just happy I don’t have the death of a respected vampire authority on my hands.”

            “Whoisthis Cotton Weather?” asked Ellen. She seemed to have known that he was the vampire they were meeting, probably that he was some kind of big shot, but nothing more it seemed.

            “Victor Lyle’s closest advisor,” said the driver. “He was a black regiment soldier during the Civil War.”

            “You’re joking,” she said with a gasp.

            “Nope,” Zane replied. She was still so young that she still had a mortal’s perception of time.

            “I shit you not, my dear,” said the driver. “He’s got weight in this town and San Allis and a lot of his enemies are among Damian’s old crew. They thought they had him this time but you two saved his life.” He sounded reasonably educated, which was a sure sign that someone like Victor Lyle was grooming him to be one of his San Allis or Los Angeles vampires. Many of the black vampire masters sent potential leaders through college before turning them.

            “What’s AJ’s game?” asked Zane.

            “He just hates Victor Lyle. He wants him out of the picture so some new leader can take over Green Tree and retract his exile. Probably still angry about the purging of his friends as well. He only got left out because he was just a low-ranking troop in their army fresh out of ghoulhood.” He sneered ahead of himself as he went down the road. “He’s trash.”

            “This makes a great deal of depressing sense, actually,” Ellen said softly.

            “They haven’t forgotten your part in San Allis in ’85 either and how you helped bring Damian down,” the ghoul told Zane. “I think long after the girl is dead, you’ll still be around as a dismembered living blood bank.”

            Zane had been told a magician would regrow a missing limb but he had no interest in testing that theory.

            “It gets worse,” the driver added. “There are a bunch of rival vampires pretending to be Crips who had hoped to deliver Cotton Weather to the Master of Inglewood and they are going to want you both dead for robbing them of that. Like Damian’s group, they also want to humiliate Barton by killing her. Their master wants South Central and thinks humiliating Barton might be the key to getting it but for that to matter, his people need to be the ones who do it.”

            “Lovely,” said Zane with a laugh. “Any other great news?”

            “I’m reasonably sure your teammates are out here somewhere and it is in their best interest to kill you and girl so the two of you don’t snitch out their part in what Carson Wade did.”

            “Oh my God,” gasped Ellen. “How do you live this way?”

            “With difficulty,” said the driver.

            “Just another Los Angeles night,” said Zane with a laugh.

            A bullet suddenly took off the rearview mirror and Ellen screamed again.

            “Down!” Zane cried as the ghoul floored his vehicle. Zane lowered his head and shoulders as soon as he saw her do it.

            The sounds of automatic bullets firing into the Honda filled his ears, the windows shattering around them and then the feeling of the vehicle suddenly going out of control. The Honda hit someone, blood hitting the windshield, and then more bullets came.

            The vehicle went off the road, flew toward a wall, and hit it at an angle. There was a powerful, long screechingcrunchsound as the car went scraping along the wall on the driver’s side and then hit another car parked on a perpendicular street and slowed to a stop as it pushed the car out into the street.


*          *          *


            Zane did not blackout but he was stunned for several seconds against the dash where he felt unaware of his surroundings.

            There was the sound of a female screaming and sensed a knife moving at his throat. He caught the arm as the knife dug into the left side of his neck and sent a burst of electricity through it and the man or vampire who held the knife began to scream for several moments as he was being electrocuted.

            The knife fell and Zane grabbed his gun on the floor from between his legs and stumbled out of the car. The vampire in Bloods colors had fallen over and was clutching his right arm and calling him a “motherfucker” a few feet away. The vampire’s arm healed before his eyes and then he jerked to his feet with fingernails that had turned into elongated nail-like claws.

            Zane shot him in the forehead and turned to the other vampire in red holding Ellen tightly with one arm around her middle and a gun to her head.

            “Try it, motherfucker, I want you to—” Zane sent a bullet into his head as well and he slipped to the ground already dead. His gun fired a moment after the barrel had turned away missing Ellen’s head but causing a concussion blast that made her grab her skull in agony.

            “That’s the second time I’ve done that tonight,” he said and he turned back to the car.

            The ghoul was lying against the wheel, a hole in the back of his head, dead as dead can be.

            “There goes our only friend,” he said sadly.

            “I can’t hear anything!” cried Ellen and then she made that pink water and slipped into her ears. A second later, she pulled them out, let out a breath of air, and said, “That’s better.”

            Zane heard an explosion and a 1970s lowrider coming up behind them was fully engulfed in fire and looking powerfully bright in the darkness. There were rioters who were running through the streets that stopped dead, illuminated by the yellow light, and Zane turned, grabbed Ellen’s arm and started to run.

            He got almost twenty feet when two cars jerked to a stop in front of him. He jerked back to see two more cars stop behind him. Everyone stepped out at the same time and faced each other at the same time.

            Fifty feet apart at an intersection, with David Zane and Ellen Corey in the center, the Bloods in red were standing behind and their rival gang, the Crips in blue, were standing ahead. Both of the cars were packed and, with no red eyes anywhere, it seemed that both sides were filled with hapless mortals.

            That meant no magic.

            “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” snarled Zane and then he saw somebody move. He threw himself down on top of Ellen Corey and a bullet went clean through his side as he went down. Someone fired into the other side instead of him, a real ganger who was too jumpy for his own good, and suddenly everyone fired at each other.

            They mowed each other down in seconds, bullets flying above the two magicians in the center, and only when they fired empty did they stop and by then anyone who  wasn’t a vampire was dead.

            “Fuck you AJ!” cried a Crip who was on one knee clutching himself. He was wearing a blue football jersey with various holes through it, black jeans, white shoes and a bright blue bandana over his forehead. “Motherfucker!” he cried out after a moment of pain, his white fangs coming out and his eyes turning blazing red.

            Only one vampire was standing uninjured, a man nearly seven feet tall built somewhere between skinny and strong with no fat on him whatsoever. He looked so dark he could have passed for a full African in one of those older films where they were trying to make them look scary.

            He was wearing a white tank top, a blue windbreaker, blue pants with white lines down the sides, and white sneakers. He was staring at Zane in a semi-dead kind of way and Zane thought he knew who he was. He was covered in bullet holes but there was no blood on any of his clothes and only one vampire of his description could link himself to such a power.

            “Kill the cracker and bring me the girl!” snarled the Crip that had spoken a second before.

            “They’re mine!” cried AJ and Zane saw him spit out blood and fell to one hand while clutching his bullet-ridden torso. The bullets were not silver but there were enough of them to do some serious damage for a few minutes at least. “Titan!”

            The tall man dropped his Uzi casually and started toward Zane just after Ellen healed him and helped him to his feet.

            “Titan!” screamed AJ again and then he stumbled over onto his face as he tried to get up. “They’re mine, you fuck!” he cried into the asphalt.

            “You’re dead, nigga!” cried the Crip. “You’re fucking dead!”

            Zane and Ellen stumbled toward an alley where the tall vampire almost casually followed. Zane had been right on who he was and that gave him no comfort whatsoever. Titan was a vampire who was reputed to be almost indestructible. He was one of Damien’s heavy hitters back in the day, a juggernaut said to be able to take almost any amount of damage with supernatural strength besides.

            At least he was slow. Zane had no intention of fighting Titan or any other vampires behind him if possible. Of course, he needed to get far away from them before they healed and that would be harder than it appeared.

            Zane looked back, saw Titan grab a wood pallet with his right hand from beside a wall and watched him throw it like a Frisbee.

            Zane turned and threw out his magic in an attempt to block the object with a magical force field spell he was working on but it went through the teal-colored barrier easily enough to hit Zane with enough impact to explode the pallet into shards. His chest took most of the damage though, exploding in new pain, and it jerked his back hard enough to explode in greater older pain.

            A shard of pink-colored ice hit Titan in the shoulder as he walked toward them but he flicked it off with his hand like dust on his shoulder. Zane cried out in rage and pain and then fired a teal-colored lightning into him. He kept it on Titan for several minutes as he approached without slowing or even seeming to burn him. His tank top and the entirety of his jacket above the elbow soon fell off in burnt shards.

            Zane formed a blade out of teal-colored lightning and he swung at him as hard as he could with both hands.

            Titan caught the blade in his bare left hand easily.

            Zane ripped it out with all his might and something like emotion cross over Titan’s face. It did not seem to be pain exactly, more of some kind of displeasure and irritation, and when Zane saw his hand, he saw only a minor cut there.

            Titan grabbed Zane’s chest and then shoved him backward. He flew through the air for several feet, landed on his back with an explosion of pain almost as bad as when he was shot, and then went sliding across the cement ground into a thin metal trashcan that’s top exploded in trash when Zane hit it head first hard enough to dent it.

            Zane registered almost none of that. The pain in his back was so great he could barely feel anything but that. When he forced himself up a moment later, he looked down and saw a long trail of blood from where he had landed all the way to where he ended.

            Ellen threw another spike, then another, and another. She was too close to Titan, only ten feet, and he knew he would get her, sensed it, but before he could cry out, it happened. Titan made some surprisingly quick move, a kind of jump where he was suddenly next to her, and Zane saw his foot go down diagonally onto her ankle. It made a loudcrunchsound and she shrieked as she crumpled over.

           No one said she had to be healthy to be raped,thought Zane.

            He pulled his pistol out from his pants, pointed and fired. Titan jerked, his head knocking to the side, and then, slowly, turned back to reveal a hole where his left eye had been.

            Titan’s one remaining eye grew wide and his hands opened, then closed and then opened again. Then they closed very tightly and Zane could hear the sounds of all his knuckles cracking at once. As he started forward, Zane raised the gun again and fired at that big, remaining white eye, but missed and made a groove across Titan’s forehead.

            He fired again, heard the click, and he knew he was about to die.

            Titan’s footsteps sounded loud as he walked up to him, his one-eyed face cold but determined, and ready. He would reach down, pick him up, and began to tear Zane limb from limb.

            At five feet from Zane, Titan grimaced in irritation, tried to turn around and Zane then saw a black man in a suit with glowing yellow veins on his neck stabbing down onto Titan’s shoulders with a glowing yellow blade. He was trying with all his might to get it through Titan’s skin.

            “Arthur!” cried Ellen in relief as she wrapped her ankle in pink light. “Oh thank God!”

            Titan spun around and from the shadows, another black man in a suit minus the jacket charged forward with a long, glowing green spear. He stabbed Titan as hard as he could in the stomach, twisting the blade hard as he could, but it did not go in. A third man who had no veins glowing, fired into the vampire’s sides, silver pellets most likely, but it did nothing and Titan threw his arm out and knocked him flying with one hit. His shield spell, purple colored, was fully ready and professional cast, but it did no more than Zane’s did.

            “What the hell are you?” cried the one with green magic, pushing his spear with so much effort that, like his friend with yellow powers, his veins began to glow green.

            Ellen stumbled over to Zane and put her hand behind his back. “We’re safe now!” she told him as she started to heal him.

            “Not yet, we aren’t.”

            A fourth magician in a suit jumped off a roof with a glowing orange axe and it almost bounced off the Titan’s head. That magic was made of an earth element, one of the sturdiest and most solid elements there was, but it didnothingbut create a trickle of blood from a minor slice across the skull.

            A fifth and sixth magician appeared. One sent white spells of ice into titan while the other unloaded a silenced pistol and, while Titan seemed to have gotten bruised and even a little hurt, it was far from anything close to actual damage.

            Seeing that, Zane could really believe the man was truly invincible.

            At least, Ellen’s guards had found them. Courtier guards, a specific form of magician knight, wore suits and ties and functioned as secret service for members of the court and every member of the court some them. Where they were when Carson Wade popped up was a mystery but they found them then at least.

            The green one jerked back when his magical spear broke, threw out his arms, and sent fire into the vampire with a flamethrower’s level of intensity. It only hit Titan’s chest and he almost seemed to be genuinely hurt.

            He knocked the green away with one hand, sent him flying away off his feet, spun around, grabbed the yellow one and threw him up into the air. The man tilted upside down in the air, hit a wall, and dropped forward onto his neck and shoulders.

            “Oh my God!” gasped Ellen.

            Titan grabbed the axe man when he stabbed him in the upper chest using the hook side of his magical battle axe and casually snapped his neck. It was no harder for Titan than it would be for a man to rip off the head of a doll.

            Ellen’s hands flew to her mouth and she let out a shriek of horror that filled the alley.

            “Run!” cried one of the men in black and the green one had come back and set the Titan completely on fire as soon as his companion was out of the way.

            Zane grabbed her and ran toward the alley’s exit. From above, he heard a snarling hiss, looked up to see a vampire dressed as a Crip on the roof, and was about to throw a lightning bolt when a green fireball hit him and he was suddenly shrieking as he was engulfed in green fire.

            “Well, it sure works on normal vampires,” said Zane.

            The street was burning down from looters and Zane forced himself to an awkward sprint across it. As he did, he remembered his gun, and he dropped the magazine, put it in his pocket, and stuck in the extended one and pulled back the chamber. No one seemed to notice or care that a bloody white man was packing heat in South Central Los Angeles during the riot but, sooner or later, someone would and then there would be trouble.

            “He killed James!” Ellen whimpered. “He snapped his neck!” She started to cry. “It’s all because of me!”

            “No!” replied Zane bitterly. “It’s all because of Carson Wade!” If Carson Wade appeared at that exact moment, Zane would have put a bullet in his forehead. If he ever met him again even after living a thousand years, it would be too soon.

            “Through there!” Ellen said suddenly and pointed down into an Asian neighborhood to their left as they neared W Olympic Blvd while walking down S Vermont Ave.

            “Hell no!” Zane replied. Several people were rushing around Koreatown but considerably less were going in there, which was no doubt why Ellen had suggested it. Zane could see some people on the roofs in white bandanas above him to the left and knew they were armed.

            The news explained that after the police force had been pulled out to protect Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the Korean-American citizens took their rifles and shotguns and became their own police force. They had been targeted by the looters and had been heavily robbed and attacked which meant by the time Zane had arrived they were ready for anything.

            “What the hell is happening here?” asked Ellen.

            “What do you think? It’s a riot—” Someone hit Zane in the head with a bottle as he walked, just some mortal for no particular reason, and Ellen grabbed his head as he crumpled over onto one knee with blood leaking down his neck and shoulder. “Son of a bitch!” he cried and forced himself up and shambled onward. “What the hell else can—”

            A man stepped out of the next alley holding an assault rifle in his right hand.

            “Oh dear God!” whimpered Ellen.

            “You’ve got to be shitting me,” said Zane.

            Kensky was still dressed as a coast guard and still carrying the same weapon, a tall soldier from the 1980s, blue-eyed, blond-haired, muscular and square-jawed with a claim that he was once part of the Iron-Contra Affair. Zane did not know if he believed that or not but the man was a soldier and very dangerous. He did not like Zane or blacks and was a perfect fit for Carson Wade’s little confederacy.

            “Where is Carson Wade?” asked Zane.

            “Running,” said Kensky. “Turns out your little treasonous stunt made him a bit of a target by the bloodsuckers in this town.” He sneered at him and then turned to the girl. His eyes darkened, his hand gripped his gun tighter, and he added in a very cold voice, the words, “Step aside.”

            Ellen moved behind Zane.

            “I’m not going to do that, Carl.”

            He was alone. Zane would stake his life on that. They lacked subtly among many other things and if there were more of them around, they would have appeared. Sensing was what Kensky did, using his air magic somehow like radar or something, and he was probably looking around for his friends when he found Zane and Ellen wandering on by.

            “Get out of my way, Kensky.”

            “You going to visit that faggot boyfriend of yours?”

            “Maybe.” He obviously was. Mallory Matthews was the single only friend Zane had that wasn’t directly connected to Bonny St. Claire and therefore the only one who had any interest in keeping Ellen Corey alive.

            Kensky stepped forward. “Give me the fucking girl, Zane.” His eyes narrowed and Zane could feel the air moving around with his magic. “Cotton Weather has vampires and ghouls all over the city looking for Carson Wade and that nigger bitch is—”

            Somebody who did not like the word “nigger” heard him and slammed him in the back with a baseball bat at full force as he cried out, “Motherfucker!” Several others joined in and were soon kicking and beating him on the ground with an extraordinary level of violence.

            “Not a smart word for the situation,” Zane said as he grabbed Kensky’s gun and started walking away. He wasn’t sure how much more he had in him but it wasn’t much. If he died in the next few minutes, he felt happy to at least have had the pleasure of knowing that Carson Wade was running for his worthless life. He might even get himself killed but Zane doubted they would get that lucky.

            Kensky did something magical, Zane and Ellen both felt it and turned at the same time to see everyone on Kensky go flying off in a dozen directions. Several hit the street, several more the wall, one hit a dark lamp post and almost certainly died when his back snapped and another went through a store window that was already broken and disappeared inside.

            “Are you fucking crazy?” cried Zane. He had just used an obviously magical ability on a half-dozen mortals, which was punishable by death.

            Kensky sneered up at him with a bloody face with a broken nose, several major cuts and missing teeth. He held out his right hand and Zane felt the rifle in his hand jerk toward him. He held on as tightly as he could, a feeling like there was an invisible rope connecting the gun to Kensky’s hand.

            “The girl needs to die, Zane!” he snarled with a mouth full of blood. Zane pulled the trigger but Kensky sensed it the instant before it happened and the barrel was moved a split second too early to fire bullets harmlessly into the concrete and asphalt to Zane’s right. Kensky screamed in sudden rage and yanked the gun hard.

            Zane flew forward, landed on his chest on the cement and heard the gun land in Kensky’s hand as he was clambering to his feet.

            “You piece of—” he jerked and looked down to see a long piece of pink ice was sticking out of his chest “—you—” he looked at Ellen whose hand was over her mouth in horrible shock “—you nigger—” he fell to his knees and blood poured out of the wound “—nigger—nigger—bitch!” He pulled out the ice shard with a cry, an almost full inch of blood on its tip.

            Zane forced himself up, very painfully, and then stumbled away with Ellen Corey.

            “Traitor!” cried Kensky as Zane disappeared down the street.

            Zane could not imagine what else could possibly go wrong. All of Los Angeles was burning down all around him, his entire life was falling apart, and, even if he succeeded, he wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t going to end up blamed for all of this.

            A great deal of time passed, or what felt like a great deal of time passed, where nothing happened to them. They were moving away from the main riot areas just past Beverly Boulevard when a bullet went through Zane’s side again.

            It was also iron but it was from a much more powerful rifle and it went straight through his body right near the hole on the side where he had been shot before.

            Zane jerked in a shambling run into the nearest building, the door forced open by something Ellen did with her magic, and then went stumbling on inside. He felt her healing his side as he walked, felt the pain subsiding, but not nearly enough. He knew she could not keep doing that with any real results. Sooner rather than later, he would either die or it would no longer be enough and he would lie at the mercy of whatever came along.

            He looked around to see he was in some kind of white floored office reception area. The stairs upward no doubt let to offices with cubicles.

            “Hide,” he told her and then stumbled down behind a long, red round secretarial desk that reached to the floor. He felt instant relief the moment he stopped moving and sat down beneath it where he couldn’t be seen from the entrance.

            The instant he did, he was suddenly worried he wouldn’t be able to get up again.

            The door burst open behind with a breaking sound. Evidently, Ellen had locked it behind them somehow as well.

            “I know you’re there, Zane,” said AJ.

            Zane was on the opposite end of the receptionist’s desk from him, Ellen somewhere else. Zane used a weak magical trick to send his voice everywhere, or almost everywhere, through electricity in the air when he said, “Hey Alan. How goes it?”

            “You’re one dead honkey fuck,” he said in a cold, hard voice. He sounded very upset and he was stumbling and still deeply injured. “How the fuck did you get past Titan?”

            “You should relax,” said Zane. “The riots are going to be over soon and everything will go back to being normal and Titan was nothing but a big old sweet Teddy Bear.” Zane was not going to be able to hide for long. If Alan couldn’t hear through his voice trick, he would soon follow the scent of his blood.

            “You’re just like them, aren’t you?” He was moving up along the desk slowly, suspicious of where he was. “Four bad cops beating some poor black man just minding his own business.” He jerked around the table and saw him gone, the blood trail guiding around the table. “Cute.”

            “You sound a bit more educated than I like, AJ,” Zane replied.

            Actually, Zanereallydidn’t like that. It meant he was more dangerous than he appeared, very much not the stupid simple reckless gangbanger he might have taken him for and been able to take advantage of. It was no longer inconceivable that AJ could put on a nice suit, tie or polo shirt and shorts and then follow him up into Beverly Hills.

            “Tell me,” Zane asked, “If this was about race, what did Fidel Lopez do to earn the wrath of the black community? Do you think put on white face makeup or something so he could moonlight as a member of the Ku Klux Klan or something?”

            AJ stopped for a moment and seemed earnestly thoughtful. “Nothing,” he said in a very different voice, a voice that indicated even more of that education. “Riots are never about that. Riots are about tantrums. They’re about knowing we’ve lost and so we hurt our neighbors because we need to hurt someone but no longer believe ourselves capable of hurting our enemy. It’s the ultimate failure.” Zane seemed to sense that he was sneering. “Ask Koreatown and the Hispanics what this has to do with Rodney King who, by the way, deserves what he got. He was a fucking retard to throw a move at four pigs who were obviously looking to beat the shit out of him.”

            “Who the hell are you really?”

            “Do you have any idea what that shit with the Crips is going to cost me?” He sounded close and his accent was back to the west coast gangbanger style if not the vernacular. “Do you any idea just what the hell you just fucking did to me?”

            “I really,really, don’t.”

            He was deeply upset and Zane could sense more than hear the quiver in his voice. “I was waiting a very long time to kill that Uncle Tom and Carson Wade was right there ready for the blame!” He jerked around the table once more but Zane wasn’t there again. “You little bastard, you!”

            He had moved around the table out of his sight leaving another trail of blood. Zane held his gun tightly with two hands that were covered in blood.

            “You think this is about my time working for Damian, don’t you?” He saw the blood trail mix back with the original and sighed. “David, really?” He shook his head. “Seriously, man, this is getting lame—”

            He jerked back when he sensed Zane, threw out his hand as he spun around, and knocked the gun awkwardly from Zane’s hand. As he raised his fist, lightning-quick, Zane formed his blade and shoved it right through his chest.

            It came out crimson on the other side, the cross-guard pressed against AJ’s ribs.

            AJ’s eyes were locked onto his, close enough to kiss, and Zane twisted the blade. AJ screamed and he punched Zane in his iron-wounded side hard enough to send him stumbling away in agony.

            The blade vanished into the air and as Zane fell backward onto the ground, AJ threw himself on top of him. He looked to Zane like he was dying but Zane was pretty close to that himself. Zane might heal very quickly, but he was still alive. He couldn’t take nearly the amount of damage a vampire could and come back from it.

            Vampires were already dead, after all.

            Zane saw AJ pull out a small iron blade and thought he could hear AJ’s wounds healing, a kind ofsquish-squish­sound of regeneration, and he had pulled out his own knife as quickly. Both blades were no bigger than hunting knives.

            His gun was lying on the ground too far to grab.

            AJ shoved his blade down while Zane shoved his blade up. Both were in agony, both incapable of doing much more than what they were doing, each shaking with their last amount of will and physical strength.

            “My God!” said AJ, his mouth opening wider to reveal a fanged grin on the borders of madness. “You, David Zane, arereallysomething else!” He started to push down harder. As a vampire, he was naturally stronger, and the iron-tipped blade was coming down easier every second.

            AJ was also healing much faster and Zane could feel himself losing their fight.

            “Let me tell you something because we’re such good friends now,” AJ said and Zane felt the iron blade enter his skin just below the collarbone and start to burn. “I wanted that nigger deadrealbadly. I’ve wanted him dead since before I was made a vampire. He may act like a sweet old man, some veteran of our great American conflict—” he twisted the iron blade and Zane screamed “—but heisn’t.”

            He leaned close, his eyes narrowing as his lips pulling back farther from those red teeth to create a kind of raging sneer. Then, after a space of maybe two or three seconds where Zane halted the blade’s descent, somehow, his eyes turned red and he spat blood and spit in Zane’s face.

            “That piece of shit murdered my friends! My mother was an alcoholic, my father left us, my brother was dead and all I had was a gun and my friends! He killed them, all of them, on Friday, October 6th, 1967, because of that old bat Tommy killed! Just how the fuck were we supposed to know he was sweet on that old woman in that fucking liquor store we knocked over! We were goddamn kids, for fuck’s sake!”

            Zane started to electrocute him again but he didn’t seem to notice. Even as his face skin started turning red and bursting open in places, he did not even slacken slightly.

            “He murdered them in the night with his bare hands when I was fourteen years old and left me on the street to die! They were all I had then and his death was all I had now andyoufucking saved him you piece of honkey shit!”

            He screamed and shoved the blade into Zane’s shoulder hard enough to push it out the other side. Zane screamed, the blade burning like a red-hot iron, and felt what must have been the greatest agony in his life.

            AJ opened his mouth with his fangs ready to bite him when a lamp broke across his head. It stopped him for a second, only a second, and Zane felt the warmth of the bite on his neck when it came a second later.

            He had never once been bitten by a vampire before and it felt better than he had ever imagined. They weren’t kidding when they told him it was like being loved to death. It didn’t arouse him but it would have if AJ had been a woman or he gay. It felt like a wondrous massage and all his pain was starting to pleasantly melt away. The more blood he lost, the better it felt.

            AJ grunted when, due to that pain melting away, Zane had been able to stab him in the side with his own blade.

            He pulled his teeth out of Zane, pulled him up with both hands and slammed him down again. The explosion of pain broke the old record of the worst pain he ever felt in his mortal life. He thought he would die with that pain in his back, his shoulder, and side. They felt like open wounds filled with acid.

            AJ picked him up again, pulled back his fist, and then sent it forward right into his face.


*          *          *


            Zane did not lose consciousness that time either but he almost wished he had.

            His face was a bloody mess, pain was everywhere, and he saw his gun where it had somehow fallen from his person onto the white tiled floor. He looked around, saw Ellen Corey was being lifted into the air by AJ, who he noticed had a half dozen pink shards sticking out of his back.

            Zane stumbled over to the gun, pointed it, and saw AJ grab Ellen’s neck in a snapping position. He fired, hit AJ in the ankle, and when he dropped her, he fired again and missed.

            Ellen screamed and stabbed AJ in the thigh with a pink ice shard in both hands screaming like a banshee, her eyes filled with horror and fear, and then when he knocked her away, Zane fired a third time and missed again.

            Zane was at his end and AJ knew it. He started forward, walking right toward the barrel, ready to dodge if Zane fired. He didn’t. He threw the gun between his legs and Ellen leaped for it, grabbed it, and raised it in both hands.

            AJ turned and then cried out in surprise as Ellen Corey unloaded the rest of the magazine, twelve silver-tipped bullets, right into his chest. Zane wasn’t sure how many hits made its target but enough did to take the fight out of AJ. He stumbled back, tripping over Zane, and then clambered to his feet. He threw his fists into a window, shattering it, and then clambered out like a spider crawling over an edge and then disappeared into the riot-ridden night.

            “Wow,” said Ellen and then she went up to him and healed him. Like before, he was healed fairly well but the iron damage kept much of the damage. Despite her best efforts, he was no longer in fighting condition. “Are you alright?”

            “I’m not going to dignify that with an answer,” he said with a weak laugh and she laughed back. His face fell almost immediately. “That one is going to come back to haunt me someday,” he told her.

            Ellen burst into tears. “Is this ever going to end?”

            “For me, no. For you, yes.” He held out his arm, unable to help himself up, and she helped him to his feet. He almost fell back down, grimacing, and said, “Fuck you, Carson Wade.”

            She unexpectedly kissed him, right in the lips, and then held him gently. “You can really bounce back.”

            “I don’t think I can, actually,” he replied weakly. “I’m just very good at taking pain.” He cracked his neck once, felt incredible pain he hadn’t realized was in his neck, and then said, “Gimme.” She handed him the gun and he took it, dropped the clip, put in his last replacement, and pulled back the chamber. “Let’s go.”

            They left the building and Zane almost instantly got the impression they were near the very end of it. The riots were behind him and he was moving much closer to the area where the police were more situated.

            Within an hour or so, his pain making time harder to calculate, he made it to Hollywood or Beverly Hills or something more expensive where all those police officers the Korean-Americans of Koreatown had needed were carefully guarding against rioters that might have headed north. At that point, most of the intensity of the riot seemed to be fading.

            He was immensely relieved to see the familiar Hollywood streets he remembered as a young man. It was Melrose Ave where he finally saw policemen, and quite a few at that, armed and looking around.

            “You think we can get past them?” asked Ellen.

            “Not here,” said Zane.

            “Let me talk to them.”

            “It’s a bad idea. I’m not one hundred percent sure, they won’t let either of us pass. You look very much like a normal black person who they’ll probably take as a looter—” Zane actually had no idea how they would view Ellen but he thought there was at least a seventy percent chance her education and clear level of sophistication would allow her to pass “—but I will definitely not be let past unless into a hospital plus I’m armed and I don’t have a license to be carrying this thing.”

            Zane was not, for a second, going to throw his gun away unless he absolutely had to and if he ended up in a hospital someone might find something off about his blood and he would end up executed by the Society more efficiently than any other immortal group could manage.

            “If you go alone—”

            “No!” she said instantly.

            “Okay.” Zane was glad but he had not been insinuating she should go alone. The elite upper class white vampires living in Hollywood and Beverly Hills might want to ransom her which was what he was building up to tell her. As Zane understood it, many white vampire groups, the powerful Horde and Gentry of the west coast among them, resented Isabelle Delgado’s superior control over the black vampire community, which they considered their own by right. Some, a few of which he knew personally, were quite friendly with Carson Wade.

            Zane led her through more alleys, cautiously finding a spot where he could see an opening with a clear sight of a police car. He used his magic to get ahold of the electricity within and overpowered it from about fifty feet away.

            The front of the car exploded and several police officers jump jerked from the vehicle in dumbstruck shock.

            While the officers were simultaneously pondering the mystery of their car engine exploding while putting out its fire, Zane and Ellen slipped through some buildings, made it onto Melrose Avenue and then upward and onward out of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.


*          *          *


            “Holy shit, David,” said Mallory with wide eyes.

            He was outside the back door smoking, wearing a dark gray, long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and white sneakers when he saw Zane coming. His gold hair was impeccable as always, combed back and to the side in a way that made Zane think of Cary Elwes who was apparently on Mallory’s “Top Ten Sexiest Men Ever” list ever sinceThe Princess Brideand his “not so shabby performance” inLady Jane.

            “It’s just been one of those Los Angles nights,” Zane told him.

            Mallory laughed, walked up to Ellen, and took her hand. He kissed it, elegantly, and she bit her lower lip and blushed instantly. How women never saw that he was gay was a mystery to Zane because he was as gay as Liberace and even one of his lovers if Zane was to believe one of his more popular drunken tales. “Now this is a lady,” he told him.

            She blushed deeper.

            “Don’t get too attached,” Zane told her. “He’s—”

            Mallory made a weird “bububu” shushing sound complete with arm gestures and said, “Don’t go ruining everyone’s fun, Zane, just because your night wasn’t perfect.” He gave her a half-smile that made her blush yet harder and led her through the back door.

            “Contact her people,” said Zane. “I’m just going to change and relax a bit in the back room.”

            The Blue Swan was a gay club but it was a very classy one. From what Zane knew, Mallory owned a bunch of such establishments whose clientele were almost universally gay but he did have other more conventional ones as well. He also owned some clubs in Miami, gay and straight, which Zane had been to a few months in 1986 just after that nightmare in San Allis and when he was first made into a magician.

            He quickly put that thought out of his mind. His night was bad enough without bringingthatinto it.

            He cleaned himself off, put on a new t-shirt and jeans, a gray raglan shirt with red sleeves, and let Mallory’s nurse friend patch him up. After that, he fell forward onto a bed on the back and fell asleep for some unknown amount of time.

            He was awakened in what felt like a split second later by a gentle hand on the back and looked up to see one of the men in suits with Ellen Corey in the corner drinking some kind of tea in the back. He tilted his head higher and saw Mallory smiling down at him in that fatherly way of his.

            He helped Zane into a sitting position when a female, dressed in a very classy way that looked like a black leather jacket ensemble complete with a black turtleneck dress-skirt, a high collar that up to her ears and a green and orange belt tied around the center, entered the room. She went straight toward Ellen and looked horrified at what she had gone through.

            She was very clearly Ellen Corey’s mistress, the female version of a master who trained her in magic, and very clearly a maternal figure in her life judging by the way she was doting on her. She wasn’t nearly as pretty as Ellen was but she had courtier written all over her.

            Zane thought she might be another member of the House of Corey. There were a dozen of them or so and each one was a big deal. Isabella Delgado’s close friend, and rumored lover, John Corey had founded the family centuries ago and followed their children, grandchildren and other descendants looking for new magicians.

            Mallory noticed Zane looking over the mistress’s clothes and said, “That’s Gucci with a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry and—”

            “Stop talking about me,” the woman stated coldly.

            “Career courtiers are just so serious,” Mallory said half-humorously and then popped off the top of a Heineken bottle and handed it to Zane.

            Zane immediately began to drink it and said nothing. Four of the six courtier guards had seen in battle were in the room looking almost as beat up and tired as he was still dressed in the ruins of their suits with cuts and slices everywhere.

            The mistress was speaking quietly to Ellen Corey who was nodding meekly, clearly under the woman’s power and influence. “Good thing you had all that nice combat experience from Vietnam, San Allis and Miami, right?” said Mallory. He grinned and added, “And after tonight you won’t talk about this, either, will you?”


            “Where are the others who saved us from that—” Ellen couldn’t come up with the word for a moment “—juggernaut vampire?”

            “Arthur, Nate, Miller and Mark barely made it out,” said her mistress. “John and James did not.”

            Ellen’s face crumpled. “I didn’t want any of this to happen.”

            Her mistress’s hard face softened and she held Ellen tightly against herself as she wept. She said, “It’s not your fault, baby.”

            “She’s so young,” said Zane.
“It really isn’t all her fault,” Mallory said as if that was an unusual occurrence. “It’s Carson Wade’s fault. He killed Alexander Walsh and he did so while under the command and protection of High Matron Bonny St. Claire.” The mistress looked at him with an unreadable expression. “You do have a reliable witness now, yes?”

            “I’m not at liberty to speculate what my superiorsmayormay notsay in what I can only describe as an incredibly sensitive situation.”

            “A true politician,” Mallory said with a smile that did not touch his eyes. “What does John Corey have to say about this?”

            “The Patron of House Corey will do what is required of himself and our family,” she said in a hard voice that touched on more than a little tone of warning.

            “What a fine, well-thought, political response,” Mallory replied bitterly.

            “Such is very much common and very much expected,” she replied in that same warning tone and blank expression.

            Ellen kissed her on the cheek and moved toward them. Mallory turned to her as she did. “You don’t like Bonny St. Claire.”

            “You wouldn’t either if you knew her,” he replied simply.

            “Is it because you’re gay?” Apparently, she figured it out sometime between the time Zane fell asleep and woke up.

            Mallory’s face shifted to something between cold and hard. “Until I revealed my sexuality, I had a very respectable record in our community,” he told her and then he turned to her mistress. “A far more respectable record than Carson Wadeeverhad, I’d like to add.”

            Zane knew very little of Mallory’s life before he ended up rogue. All he knew for sure was that Bonny St. Claire had done her best to destroy him utterly somewhere in the 1960s or 70s. It seemed somewhere in that period, perhaps when he knew Harvey Milk, he had decided to become “openly” gay and that was all it took to set her off. She preferred the older fashioned habit of keeping it secret.

            Since that time, Mallory has had to balance his own immortal secret life without the Society’s protection or assistance butnotwithout its laws or consequences for his failure to obey them.

            Zane’s thoughts vanished as an unpleasant woman named Anne Woodburn entered the room. He knew her as one of Bonny’s cronies, a tall, slender woman, who was not too bad looking but made ugly by being a mean and sneering interior personality. She wore an expensive gray suit with her dirty blond hair tied behind her head in a simple knot.

            Her black eyes locked onto Zane’s the instant she walked in and he could read accusation and loathing hidden behind the careful, cool expression she wore.

            Several men were behind her, Boone’s men and Bonny’s knights, all in suits and ties but Boone himself was not among them. Some of Zane’s former teammates, Kensky, Alberts and Smith, were there too, all three looking at him like he was the world’s most worthless piece of trash. Who knew where the other two and Carson Wade were.

            Kensky was still in bad shape, limping a little as he walked in with a face covered in cuts, bruises, and breaks but his teeth had mostly grown back.

            It was probably a good thing Carson Wade wasn’t there. Zane suspected that if he had appeared, the men around Ellen Corey, law or no law, would have killed him on sight. Their expressions of intense hate and rage were very clear on faces very experienced in hiding emotion.

            “Hello Anne,” said Zane as he clambered weakly up to his feet.

            She walked up to him without a word and slapped him across the face hard enough to send him stumbling back down onto the bed. It was the least amount of pain he had felt that night but it was by far the most telling. It had the word “guilty” written all over it.

            They were going to try to roll as much of the situation over onto him that they could.

            “We have very conflicting stories, David,” she told him in a cold, hard voice. “You say one thing, a vampire another, soldiers’ a third and a courtier a fourth.”

            “Listen to the courtier. She’s got no reason to lie and has the ear of the Queen of the East.” Zane licked the blood off his lip and wondered if they even bothered to get something from Cotton Weather.

            “Oh there are reasons,” said Smith coldly, the soldier’s green eyes locked on Zane. “Maybe you want to look into Walsh’s history of recklessness and aggression before you try to turn him into some kind of hero.”

            All four of the knights around Ellen Corey started forward but her mistress stopped them with her arms. If one on either side threw so much as a punch, everyone in the room would fight and, considering the volatile nature of both parties, would end in a bloodbath.

            “Bitch,” said one of them, “You had a man so savagely racist that even former slave hunters in the South could not tolerate, break into aprivatemeeting between ourselves and the vampire community! Two of my men and a professional courtier aredeadbecause ofyourman!”

            “I don’t care,” she replied simply. “That meeting was not authorized and you got what you deserved.”

            The man’s eyes widened, two white circles on a very dark face, and Zane could see the green magic in the form of some kind of fire flicker over both of his hands. He did not move forward because the mistress said something that stopped him but he clearly wanted to. In fact, he was so angry that his veins were beginning to glow green.

            Mallory sighed and began rubbing the bridge of his nose in irritation. “Anne,” he said and she looked at him, “I would really appreciate it a great deal that if you have, for whatever reason, a desire to start a war with the Queen of the East that you do thatoutsideof my club.”

            “Your dominion rights were removed by law as you well know and I will do as I please where I please.”

            “The Queen of the South differs in the opinion of your sainted Bonny St. Claire,” he said coldly and Zane felt a tenseness in the air. Mallory did not like her any more than he liked her mistress apparently.

            Anne turned to Zane stiffly. “It’s time for you to come along, Mr. Zane. We have questions for you.”

            “I know,” he replied and he finished off his drink.

            “You’re going totrialhim?” asked Ellen incredulously.

            “Yes,” said Anne and her eyes narrowed into a look of hate focused on her. “He saved your life so he won’t be killed but his previous behavior must not be overlooked. It is quite possible that his actions caused theneedto save your life in the first place.”

            “You’re either an idiot or a li—”

            Her mistress silenced her by putting her hand gently on her shoulder and looked at Anne coldly. They said nothing to each other but Zane got the impression there was history in their icy stares. He had seen that look once or twice before. It was the look one woman gave another when she did something so wrong that they would never forgive her.

            Zane handed the empty bottle to Mallory and started forward.

            Ellen placed her tea down, threw her arms his neck, and hugged him tightly. “I’ll do what I can for you,” she told him.
Zane smiled weakly. “It’s alright,” he told her. “They can’t kill me or lock me up and I never liked working for these pricks anyway.”

            “Come along, traitor,” said Alberts.

            Ellen hugged him as tight as she dared and tears starting slipping out of her eyes. “I’ll tell the queen.”

            “I’ve got a pretty strong feeling she already knows,” Zane replied with a weak smile.

            Alberts pulled him away, turned him around, and handcuffed him behind his back. Zane grunted in pain because it caused movement in his back and Alberts, purposely, pushed right on his wounds to get him out of the door and out into the very early morning light of a new Los Angeles day.

            “Hey!” said Ellen. “Stop that!” Her mistress stopped her before she could follow and Zane was outside.

            “I don’t care what that nigger bitch says,” whispered Kensky in his ear. “You’re going to burn for this.”

            “You killed one of the Queen of the East’s favorites,” Zane said as he was being taken toward a sleek, black stretched 1990 Lincoln Town Car limousine on a side alleyway. “I’m not the one who should be worried.”

            He took Zane past the passenger door, along the side of the limousine and popped open the trunk. “Whatever you say, Zane,” said Kensky.

            “The trunk? Really?”

            “Yeah. Really.” He shoved him back first into the trunk, then maneuvered him painfully around onto a fetal position. Looking up, he saw his three former teammates and Anne Woodburn staring down at him. “Enjoy the ride, traitor.”

            They slammed the trunk down on him, hard, and when it didn’t close because of how little space there was so they continued to slam until they squeezed him down far enough for it to do so.

            And then they drove off as casually as ever.

            They didn’t drive straight to whatever location was needed. They first drove to a hotel, changed their clothes and took showers, presumably and then they ate at an expensive sit-down restaurant.

            He let out an agonized, weak groan within the trunk as the heat of the day made it sweltering and thought, Just another Los Angeles night.