Friday, September 5, 2008

Phaze Fantasies, Vol. IV

Ryan Nixon had survived hunting vampires for the past decade for one very good reason. Looking at him, nobody would ever assume that the bookish fa├žade, the clear eyes, and the unabashed grin that always made him seem like he was barely out of college--instead of in his mid-thirties--hid the heart of a killer. It was why vampires made the mistake of thinking he was easy prey before finding themselves crumbling to dust by the stake they never saw coming. It was why he was able to stroll through the nearly deserted Grand Central Station without even a casual glance from a passerby. It worked for him. Ryan wasn't one to argue with advantages when it meant life or his death.

At nearly midnight on a Wednesday evening, only a few people dotted the main concourse. A security guard who looked older than the terminal stood near the ticketing booths, and for a moment Ryan frowned. The old ones were almost worse than the new. While young guards were usually quick on the trigger, older guards had a tendency to have antiquated notions about honor and doing the right thing. It was nice, really, but Ryan had seen too many good people lose their lives "doing the right thing." Sometimes, survival meant you made decisions that made you unpopular or brought the demons out in your sleep. Ryan didn't worry about either anymore. He'd lived with demons nearly every day since Jeannie had been killed. Nothing his dreams conjured could scare him any longer.

And being unpopular simply meant he didn't have people he cared about living in constant danger. That was equally acceptable.

He glanced at the clock in the center of the terminal. Five minutes. Ryan had little doubt that the vampires would arrive precisely at midnight. There was supposed to be a meeting between the clans to discuss territorial boundaries, and the clan heads were notorious for their meticulous attention to detail. Whatever new war between them that might have sparked such a discussion didn't matter to Ryan. All he cared about was that five of the most deadly vampires in the United States were convening in a single place for one night. Such an opportunity could not be overlooked by any respectable demon hunter.

With long, languorous strides, Ryan wandered around the terminal, his eyes constantly on the lookout for the vampires' arrival. He meant to look as if he was just killing time as he waited for a train to pull in, but the way the old guard kept glancing at him made Ryan's neck itch. He shot him a friendly smile, hoping to put the guard at ease, but all it did was make the man's bushy brows draw together into a tight line and his hand go to his belt.

Damn it. The last thing Ryan needed was to be distracted so close to the designated hour. Angling his body away from the guard, he pretended to look at a watch he wasn't wearing before walking toward the bathroom, whistling under his breath to enforce the picture of nonchalance. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the guard track his movement, but within a few feet of the bathroom door, the man dropped his hand from where it had been poised over his weapon.

He went inside anyway. He'd wash his hands and be back out before the clock struck midnight. It might be worth it to do a quick weapons check as well.

The sterile room was deserted, the walls echoing his footsteps back to his ears as he crossed to a sink. Turning on the water as hot as he could stand, Ryan ran his hands beneath it, warming his chilled skin as he tried not to notice his reflection in the mirror. There were slight shadows beneath his eyes, and his light brown hair could be labeled grunge chic by any reputable fashion magazine. For a brief moment, he considered running his damp fingers through it to try and make it a little more presentable, but quickly dismissed the vain notion. He wasn't here to look good. He was here to stake vampires who should have been killed long before now. His hair was only going to end up looking worse by the time the night was through.

A swift pat-down of his clothing confirmed that everything was in place. Stakes were strapped to each calf and more tucked into his jacket. A bevy of sharpened pencils were hidden in an inside pocket, and the breath spray he always carried held holy water instead of minty freshness.

He was armed. More importantly, he was ready.

Resuming his low whistling, Ryan walked back out into the terminal, grateful that the old security guard had his back to him, giving directions to a slim, dark-haired woman. He had taken three more steps before his head snapped back to the pair.

Ryan faltered.