Crandall balled his fists at his sides, and then focused on uncurling his fingers one by one. He took a long, slow breath but it leapt out of his lungs, escaping like he knew he should do himself. Too many people in one small room – too many blood-thirsty monsters. Damn, fucking Fangs!
He sucked in another breath, faster than the first and tried to listen to the words being snapped around the room. Mike was pissed off. Ash kept his calm, pretentious air, but his voice squeaked out more like a girl than the pretty boy he tried to be. Max hadn’t said a word that Crandall had heard, since the last vampire entered the room.
Crandall’s gaze crawled towards the door. Rosie and Angelo still flanked it, but Rosie’s attention sharpened. Her eyes wide, she worshipped every move from the cranky older vampire that had dragged Ash into the room. Crandall tried to follow the conversation, but the blood pulsing and rushing in his ears drowned out most of the words. His fingernails dug into his palms as he clenched his fists tighter. Why did so many god damn Fangs need to be in one room for one stupid, fucking demand?
The door didn’t quite fit the frame. The gap at the bottom looked like a black void, as if the door held back more surprises that would put these paranormal beasts to shame. Twilight Zone episodes flitted through Crandall’s thoughts, from unfinished moments of time to watching one’s own death in the reflection of someone’s eyes. He shuddered and sucked in a breath. The air stuck in his lungs like molasses. With a sharp cough and a gasp, Crandall ran for the door.
Someone grabbed him. He struggled. Cursed. Swung a fist and then grabbed at his stake. He heard the wood hit the floor. His vision swam. His ears pounded. Throbbed. Blood rushed in every wrong direction.
“Let him go,” Ash said. Muffled. Distant. From far away. Maybe another room. Or another world. “Let him go…I’ll stay here until…but let him…some air.”
To the throbbing beat of the panic, the hands disappeared. The door disappeared. His pulse filled his ears. Somehow his feet found the exit. He rushed one way. Heard music. Voices. Cheering. Jackson blocked his path. Crandall spun. Ran. Not the dressing room. The emergency door. Opened. Slamming against the outer wall. Bouncing back. Sneakers slapping the pavement. Crisp, cool night enveloping. Tugging. Freeing the panic. Clearing his mind.
Crandall stopped and leaned against a car in the dark side lot reserved for bands and employees of the club. As his racing heart quieted, he heard footsteps. He sucked in a deep breath and looked back the way he’d come. The shadow stopped and a Zippo flickered, lighting a cigarette and briefly illuminating Sidney’s tattooed head and watchful eyes.
“I don’t need a fucking babysitter,” Crandall said.
“After tonight, probably not.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anger, as always, cured the anxiety and covered his embarrassment.
“If you guys agree to do this.” Sidney waved the hand holding the cigarette, dismissing the job, or his opinion of it. “You’ll have free reign in this territory. Angelo’s kin will be prohibited from attacking you. You’ll be considered a full time business partner with the same privileges as when you play here.”
“Yeah, that’s worked out so fucking well.”
“That incident had served to remind the rest that there will be no tolerance for harming you or your friends.”
“Sure,” Crandall spat the sour taste from his mouth. Panic tasted like morning breath after a bender of cheap beer and giggle weed. “Those sally punks playing now didn’t seem to get the message.”
Sidney took a deep drag before answering. “They were testing you. They won’t be prohibited from giving you shit. That would be impossible. You couldn’t do it either. But, they wouldn’t have harmed you. Not even Sunshine would.” Sidney moved forward, grinning. “Not many would stand toe-to-toe with him, and you don’t even have our strength to back you up. That was ballsy.”
“He’s an asshat.” Crandall turned his head, refusing to meet Sidney’s admiring gaze.
“Yes. He is.” Sidney leaned against the car, his sharp eyes casually scanning the surrounding area.
“We don’t have a choice in this. They’ll agree to whatever just to leave. I’m not fucking stupid, you know.”
“Not true. I’ve been in on some of the discussions since I’m responsible for your security. If you don’t agree, Judas in convinced you’ll do it by accident. It’s some kind of prophecy.” Sidney shrugged as if to say he didn’t believe in prophecy, but he bought the faith the older vampire put into the words.
“Accident?” Crandall laughed bitterly. “Like we’d pick a fight with him if we didn’t know his game.”
“Exactly. Besides, he wants to hurry it along.” Sidney dropped the cigarette and ground it beneath his boot. “Look, you can say no and I suppose he’ll try something else. If that’s what you want, then I’ll go tell them for you.”
“No,” Crandall said, but then fell silent neglecting to elaborate on what, exactly, he refused.
Up Next: Questioning of Secrets