An Excerpt from
The Company You Keep
Vampires: Dracula and the Legions of the Undead
from Moonstone Books
Whitey Kroun hits St. Paul; St. Paul hits back.
Inga the waitress didn’t get huffy when Gabe mentioned his hotel room might be a good place to have a conversation. He took it as being only fair when she mentioned she’d like more than a forty-cent tip. They settled on a sum and a time to meet so he could walk her over, then she asked if he wanted another cup of coffee. Inga had finished his.
“A glass of water is fine.” He gave her dollar tip for that one, and she seemed to glow a little brighter. If things went well, they’d both have a fine evening ahead.
He smiled fondly after, enjoying the view all over again as she went back to the bar. Inga had dark hair, which was a contrast to her name. He thought she must have some Swede in her, but weren’t they all blond? Were they different from dark-haired girls once the lights were out? He’d not had opportunity to look into it. That had to do with his future, one of the things he’d come here to think over, though he now had a chance to talk it out instead.
He hoped—afterwards, of course—that Inga would be a good listener. He could always pay her extra. Didn’t crazy people give head-doctors lots of money to talk about their troubles? Gabe didn’t want a doctor who would take notes and give advice, he wanted a pretty girl who would lend a sympathetic ear for an hour or two. What she heard wouldn’t matter; he’d make sure she forgot everything before she left. Using hypnosis often gave him a headache, but he needed only a few seconds, well worth the risk. She wouldn’t even wonder about the marks on her throat.
His improved mood was spoiled when the man from the shadows came over. He looked down at Gabe for a moment, then sat as though invited. He seemed not to notice when Inga came up with the glass of water. She shot Gabe a nervous look, which told him just what kind of man was across from him. Gabe gave her a brief smile and quick, subtle wink. He had everything—whatever it was—well in hand.
“Yeah?” he said, just to get things rolling.
“I know who you are. Whitey Kroun.”
Gabe no longer thought of himself by that name. The bastard was dead and good riddance.
“I’m Harry Ziemer,” the stranger announced. He seemed to expect some kind of reaction to that fact. He was solidly built, just starting to go bald. His mud-brown eyes had that soulless cast some guys get when they’ve killed one man too many or hadn’t killed nearly enough. Not a face one would forget, but still unfamiliar.
Gabe had learned early on that the best way to compensate for a memory that didn’t exist was to not respond and let the other guy do the explaining. “Oh, yeah?” It was a useful phrase he’d picked up in Chicago.
“Things are gonna stay friendly and quiet here, no need for you to trouble yourself.”
“My friends and I are gonna do our deal.”
“We got an understanding?”
“Whatever you say, Harry Ziemer.”
Gabe felt a shifting inside him, like the throwing a switch.
He’d just found out something new about his reborn self: he hated that name, but it was still his and he’d not given this bozo permission to use it. He didn’t like the accompanying smirk. He didn’t like the man throwing his weight around as though he owned the world. If he’d shown even an illusion of respect Gabe would have let it go, but he hadn’t.
And, since to some people he was still Whitey Kroun, he couldn’t ignore it.
Ziemer left the table, returning to his three friends. It was no surprise that they were the mugs Gabe had spotted earlier. Of course they’d be armed like their boss. Ziemer’s shoulder rig was blatantly visible through his suit.
Gabriel was also armed, having a revolver in his overcoat pocket. Six shots. If it came to it he could miss twice or—more likely—have two bullets left over.
He had to only look at a target to hit it square; you couldn’t learn that particular talent. You were born with it. Whitey Kroun had been born with it; when he died and Gabriel Kroun emerged, the talent had carried over.
This is nuts. I was imagining it. He wasn’t…
Ziemer looked right at him, smirk firmly in place. He murmured to the mugs. They chuckled and looked as well, smiling as though they’d put something over on Gabe so slick that he hadn’t yet caught on.
His long fingers went around the base of his water glass to pick it up. He let it slip, and water slopped over the table. He grimaced and waved to Inga, pointing at the mess. She hurried up with a towel.
“I’ll get you more,” she said.
“Never mind that, cutey. Who’s Harry Ziemer and why is he here? No, don’t look at him, just do what you’re doing and smile at me.”
“He wants to be a big shot. He’s been moving in on things, takes ’em over. Garages, taverns. He’s been loafing here for a week. There’s rumors we’re next.”
“How’s he operate?”
“He talks the owner into signing over the deed.”
“At gun point?”
“I wouldn’t know about that. The owners always get out of town right after. Leastways no one sees ‘em again. If Harry Ziemer’s got a beef against you, you should maybe leave, too.”
“You’d think so. Relax, cutey, we’ve got a date.” He winked again, but her walk wasn’t as bouncy when she returned to the bar. Couldn’t blame her. Any time now she could have a new boss or be out of a job or worse. With guys like Ziemer there was always a worse.
Ziemer and his cronies were gone from their table. The last of them was just walking into some kind of passage off the main room. Maybe it was the call of nature.
One way to find out....
Copyright © 2009 P.N. Elrod The stories and excerpts posted are not released from copyright, under creative commons or any other licensing procedure. They are not for reproduction elsewhere, with the exception of small excerpts for the purpose of linking or commentary and other purposes covered under fair use.
THANK YOU for respecting this. -- P.N. Elrod