MAN TROUBLES (part 2)
a short story by Alexis Morgan
Silas breathed in slowly, drawing the night air deep into his lungs. It held a touch of winter in it, reminding him of home. Not that he actually had a place he could claim as his own anymore. Maybe someday that would change. But for that to happen, he needed to survive the coming days, something that was doubtful to say the very least.
He might have to be content with dragging as many of his enemies kicking and screaming into the afterlife right along with him. With a definite emphasis on the screaming part. That thought had him smiling, but it was the kind of smile that sent most people stumbling backward to get the hell out of his way.
A glance at his cell phone said it was time. Joseph had told him the restaurant closed at eleven on weeknights and the last of the staff should be gone by eleven-thirty. He needed to get there in the small window of time between when the last employee left and the owner retired to her own quarters above the restaurant for the night.
He'd scoped the place out the past two nights while he'd been waiting for a special delivery to arrive from the East Coast. A quick check of his pocket verified the small envelope was still there. If he'd lost it, he might as well send up the white flag and finalize his own obituary to make sure the bastards got the details right. He'd been working on it for several nights now. Granted, mostly as a private joke…but not completely.
"Silas Varg, alpha werewolf, regrettably dead at age two hundred and thirty-five due to unnatural causes. If anyone asks, he's damn sorry that he didn't take even more of his enemies with him."
It was doubtful that anyone besides him would find it funny, but in these dark days it was important to find humor wherever he could.
Rather than risk being seen by the departing staff from the restaurant, he retreated farther back into a narrow alley to hide in the deep shadows cast by the surrounding buildings. Unfortunately the cover offered by the location came with some serious downsides, starting with the combined stench from the garbage and unwashed human beings scattered along the length of the alley.
The goddess had gifted his kind with enhanced senses. He was grateful for that most of the time, but right now the impact of the smells had his gut churning. It didn't help that he was already weakened from days of being constantly on the move, always looking over his shoulder, and hating the sense of vulnerability that came from having no one left in his life to watch his back while he watched theirs.
He'd been an alpha warrior in his pack for over two centuries, and being alone was an alien concept. He hated it.
For now, he'd see if the strange coin he'd been given really would buy him a few days of sanctuary from a total stranger. His old friend, Joseph Bondi, swore it would. Regardless, it was hard to believe a woman he'd never met would treat him more kindly than his own family would. Even a couple of nights would make a huge difference in his chances of survival. He desperately needed a few hot meals under his belt, enough hours of sleep in a row to beat back the exhaustion that had settled bone deep in his body, and a chance to let his wounds heal.
The soft click of a door opening signaled his wait was over and gave him a new surge of energy. It wouldn't last long, his reserves all but gone, but it would keep him going until he was safely inside and off the street for the night. His enemy was closing in. He could almost feel their hot breath on his neck as they swept through the city following the crooked trail he'd left for them.
The sound of voices laced with laughter floated down the street in his direction. He couldn't quite make out the words, but it was clear the two people were on friendly terms. The man's voice was deep with a touch of the South in his accent. The woman, though, her voice held the warmth of a summer's day. She couldn't quite hide the hint of fear underlying her words. He hated that she felt that way, especially when he suspected his presence in her vicinity was at the root of her worry.
There wasn't much he could do about that except to promise to disappear from her life as quickly as he came into it.
A few seconds later, he heard a car start up and drive away. Good, the chef was gone. Showtime. Silas was only too glad to leave the alley behind. He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt forward enough to hide his face but not so much that it blocked his peripheral vision. Shoving his hands in his pockets he stepped out onto the sidewalk. After a quick look up and down the street, he started toward the restaurant.
He strolled past his actual destination deliberately, resisting the urge to look in the windows on the first pass. By the time he reached the far end of the next block, he had to lean against the building to keep his balance. To disguise his reason for stopping, he looked at his cell phone and then pretended to type a message as if responding to a text until the wave of dizziness backed off a bit. At least that bought him enough time to make one more sweep of the area, first with his eyes open and then with them closed to concentrate on the soft murmur of the city sounds. Nothing out of the ordinary.
It was time to see exactly what Joseph's gold coin would buy him. He turned back toward the restaurant. As he walked by, he was relieved to see the woman was still inside. He didn't know much about her except that her name was Lydia Bartok and that she was another of Joseph's eclectic bunch of friends. The vampire had gotten to know her when she'd worked for him at this same restaurant. When it had been time for Joseph to move on, evidently he'd sold her the restaurant for the price of five gold coins, owing her old friend a favor for each one. To date, she'd earned back four.
Once she redeemed the fifth one, she'd own the restaurant free and clear. Silas could only hope that was incentive enough for her to risk taking in a hunted man. Only one way to find out. He drew one last deep breath of air, tasting it for the taint of his enemy's scent. Relieved there wasn't even a hint of danger floating on the wind, he pulled the coin out of the envelope in his pocket.
Then he turned to face the woman on the other side of the door and pressed his hand against the glass. With the coin trapped between his palm and the cool, smooth surface, he met her gaze head on and waited to see what happened next.
Lydia stared at the coin and then at the man for several long seconds, her pulse beating like a drum in her head. So this was it. The trouble she was expecting had arrived. If she opened the door and did as the stranger asked—no matter what he demanded of her—the restaurant was hers. Still, she hesitated, held prisoner by the impact of those pale eyes staring at her as if he'd wait forever for her to make the next move. If only her instincts weren't screaming that it would change everything in her world. However, the bottom line was that she had no choice. Too many people depended on her and the restaurant for their livelihood for her to turn coward now.
Finally, she took that first step over the precipice and unlocked the door. The stranger stepped across the threshold, taking up too much space and all of the air in the room. At least that's what it seemed like. She wasn't exactly a small woman, but he dwarfed her. Her best guess was that he topped out at four inches or more over six feet. That oversized sweatshirt he wore did little to disguise those broad shoulders, and his jeans clung to powerful thighs. He was built for both strength and speed. As he walked deeper into the restaurant, the way his body moved brought one word to mind—predator.
She retreated two steps for each one he took toward her until she ran out of room. He stopped a short distance away, still managing to crowd her.
He held out the coin and patiently waited for her to take it from his hand. The brief touch of his skin against hers sent a flutter of awareness dancing up her arm. She ignored it.
"I'm Silas Varg." He paused as if waiting to see if his name meant anything to her. When she shook her head slightly, he added, "Joseph sent me."
No surprise there. The only questions at this point were what this particular favor would entail and what it would cost her.
She straightened her shoulders and braced herself for what was to come. "I'm Lydia Bartok. What do you need from me, Mr. Varg?"
"For starters, something to eat would be greatly appreciated. After that, a place to sleep for a few days." His stern expression softened just a little. "For what it's worth, I promise I will try not to stay long enough to bring my troubles to your door."
"You don't sound very confident that you'll be able to keep that promise."
He shrugged. "I would rather be honest than lie to you. If you want to return the coin to Joseph and ask if he'll consider asking for a different favor, I will understand."
That wasn't the deal she had with Joseph, and he probably knew that. Still, she thought better of him for having made the offer. At least she could start with the easy part.
"Come in the back where I can fix you a meal."
He followed in her footsteps, still taking care not to crowd her too much. She motioned him toward a stool at one of the work counters. After getting him started with a caprese salad, she quickly heated up a double serving of lasagna, some garlic toast, and then added a few meatballs on the side. Silas thanked her and dug right in, consuming the enormous amount of food with great relish.
"Seconds? Or would you rather have dessert instead?"
His pale blue eyes lit up. "I'd love some dessert, whatever you have that wouldn't be a lot of trouble to fix."
Considering how he'd wolfed the food down and seemed to still have room for more, she cut him a large slice of apple pie and topped it off with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. While she had a lot of experience feeding hungry people, she couldn't remember the last time she saw someone consume his meal with such intense enthusiasm. When the last bite of the pie was gone, he pushed the plate away.
"Thank you for that, Ms. Bartok. I haven't eaten since"—he paused as if calculating the time—"yesterday morning."
She wanted to ask why, but she already knew the answer. The man was on the run from something or someone. And if whatever was haunting his footsteps had him nervous, she knew it had to be pretty scary. It might be safer for both of them if she didn't get too curious about what had brought him to her doorstep.
"If you've had enough for now, I'll take you down to where you can sleep. It's Joseph's old apartment downstairs. I'm sorry to say the furnishings are pretty minimal, but the mattress is new and the linens are clean. There's a small kitchen, too. I'll gather a few food supplies to get you through breakfast in the morning. You'll be welcome to have lunch and dinner here at the restaurant, of course, but the kitchen doesn't open until eleven-thirty."
She put a dozen eggs, some bacon, butter, and bread in a basket. "Is there anything else you'll need to get through the night?"
"A first aid kit if you have one handy."
That's when she noticed his skin looked clammy and his hands were shaking. Why hadn't she noticed that sooner? "How badly are you hurt?"
He slowly stood and peeled off his sweatshirt to reveal the blood-soaked T-shirt beneath it. Before she could ask what happened, he swayed from one side to the other. He cursed as made a grab for the counter to steady himself. Unfortunately, he missed.
Then those stunning blue eyes rolled back in his head. She watched in horror as Silas pitched forward to hit the floor hard, leaving her staring down at her unwanted guest and a pool of his blood as it slowly spread across her kitchen floor.