Glass shattered. A hush fell over the bar. Brett’s head jerked up.
The sound of breaking glass was not all that uncommon. In a bar as busy as The Cliff was, accidents happened often enough, and Brett had a line in his budget specifically for broken glass. It was rare for said breakage to be the fault of Wallace, the bartender, or Chloe and Kelly, the two waitresses. The three of them were good at what they did, and their promptness and smiles earned them generous tips from most patrons. Usually, an accident was a sign that someone had had a drink too many, although Wallace was also pretty good at cutting people off when he thought they had had enough. If the sound was more ominous, John, the bouncer, had a knack for calming potential problems before they could escalate.
Tonight was John’s night off, however, and while Brett was supposed to have kept an eye on the mood of the place, he had been too caught up in his accounting spreadsheets to realize trouble was brewing. Now, he could only curse his own inattention under his breath and hurry to the bar. Wallace was nowhere in sight; a glance to the back, where the staff room door stood open, answered the question of where he was, though it did not explain why he hadn’t asked Brett or one of the waitresses to cover for him rather than leave the bar unattended.
About halfway down the counter, a man was towering over a woman seated on a high stool. The broken glass was at their feet, and even as Brett approached the man grabbed a glass from the bar and threw it to the floor, presumably the same way he had thrown the first.
“You bitch! Answer me! How many people have you killed?”
The woman uncrossed her legs, setting her high heels on the foot rest as though ready to step down and stand, but she said nothing in reply to the odd question. She merely stared at the man, one dainty eyebrow arched in a silent accusation of the man’s rudeness.
“What seems to be the problem?” Brett asked in his best ‘I am in charge here’ voice.
A couple of patrons on either side of the argument shifted back, probably glad that they wouldn’t have to get involved. The woman’s face remained blank save for that raised eyebrow, the relief Brett would have expected conspicuously absent from her expression.
The man whirled toward Brett, his mouth twisted on a grimace of rage. His eyes weren’t bloodshot as Brett had expected, nor did he slur his speech or waver on his feet.
“You work here?” the man demanded, his finger pointing toward the bar’s logo embroidered on Brett’s polo shirt.
“Actually, I own the place,” Brett replied coolly. “And like the sign on the wall says, the management reserves the right to remove disruptive patrons.”
Movement at Brett’s side drew his attention, and he glanced at Wallace, catching a brief look of apology. Later, Brett would ask where Wallace had been, but for now he was grateful for the backup.
“Why don’t you remove that thing, then?” the man said with a jerk of his head toward the still silent woman. “Let her know that her kind isn’t welcome here, or in Haventown for that matter.”
Brett’s frown was one of pure confusion. What on earth was this guy rambling about? Brett looked at the woman again, intending to ask her if she knew the man and if he had some mental issues, maybe. For the first time, however, he caught a glimpse of the mirror affixed high on the wall behind the bar. He could see himself there, and the angry man. He could see Wallace and the other patrons observing the scene. But the woman was nowhere to be seen. She was still sitting on the high stool, now with her back to the counter as she watched Brett with that same cool look, but she cast no reflection in the mirror.
The man’s ramblings, suddenly, were starting to make sense. He had asked the woman about killing people. He had called her a thing, talked of ‘her kind.’ She was a vampire; that was what the guy meant.
For a split second, Brett hesitated. He had been to a blood bar, once, one of those places that not only served blood to vampires but also allowed vampires to meet—and feed from—humans who had a biting fetish. He’d left again before talking to anyone, his fear getting the best of his curiosity. The Cliff wasn’t a blood bar, but neither did it have a policy against the presence of vampires. Discrimination against vampires wasn’t technically legal, but there were loopholes that allowed anyone to refuse to serve vampires if they so chose. Brett felt a little uncomfortable at being so close to a vampire, but until she actually threatened someone he couldn’t in good conscience throw her out.
Turning his attention back to the man, Brett met his eyes and asked, loud enough that other patrons would hear, “Did she bite you without your consent?”
The man scowled. “My consent? Like I’d let her get close enough to even try!”
Brett nodded once. “All right. Did she threaten you, then? In words or in actions?”
“Don’t you fucking understand? She’s a vampire! She’s a killer!”
“I am a vampire,” the woman said, speaking for the first time. Her voice remained calm, but there was an edge to it, like a sheathed blade waiting to be drawn. “I am also a paying customer of this establishment. A tax-paying citizen of this town. A legal resident of this country. But I am not a killer.”
Brett had heard enough. Squaring up his shoulders, he indicated the way to the exit.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you to leave the premises.”
The man stared at Brett in shock, his mouth working soundlessly for a few seconds before he found his words again.
“Me?” He sputtered. “Don’t you get it? She’s the one—”
“She’s not the one making a scene here,” Brett interrupted, raising his voice to talk over the man. If you are unhappy with the kind of persons who frequent my establishment, by all means take your business elsewhere. Now please leave before I am forced to call the police.”
“She’s not a person,” the man said, then pushed past Brett, bumping against his side, and strode out and into the street.
Brett looked around the bar, checking whether more trouble was likely to arise. Some people were already turning back to their drinks and conversations. A few raised their glasses to him in a congratulatory toast when he met their eyes. Two—no, three—were standing and getting ready to leave, including a woman Brett recognized as a regular, but there was no way to tell if they had been about to leave when the altercation started or if they were doing what Brett had suggested the man do and taking their business elsewhere rather than condone Brett’s stance.
Even if it cost him some customers, though, he couldn’t regret the way he had handled the situation. Had the woman been threatening in any way, Brett would have called a Special Enforcer at once. One of his friends upstate was a S.E. and he had given Brett the name of a reputable agency in town. The number was taped by the phone in the staff room. The woman had done nothing wrong that he could see, however, and she had as much right to be there as anyone else in the bar. Still, he hoped neither his wariness nor fascination showed through his smile when he approached her.
“Sorry about the commotion, miss. If you want to take another seat, we’ll get this mess cleaned up and serve you another drink. What were you having?”
The woman held out her hand, not for a handshake but for help climbing off the stool. After a second of uncertainty, Brett offered her his hand, and she rested her fingers lightly against his as she stepped down. They were cool, though not as cold as he would have expected.
“Thank you,” she said, looking down to avoid stepping in the glass debris and spilled alcohol. “I was about to leave, actually, but maybe I’ll stay a little longer.” She tightened her fingers briefly before letting go. As she looked at Brett again, a smile brightened her eyes. “Will you share a glass of wine with me?”
… continued in Before The Edge