When we arrived at work I was relieved to see that neither Mr. Salvatore’s sports car nor Hans’ civilian issue APC were in the parking lot. I needed the breathing room to figure out how to deal with them.
Megan and I walked to my office, but since her desk was outside I was left alone again when I went in. I didn’t like it. At all. But at least my office didn’t have any beds for bogeymen to hide under or closets for them to burst out of. And if they tried through the filing cabinets? Good luck to them; those had been locked and the key lost since before the office had been mine.
I sat down and booted up my computer. Then I stood and sat down again, Indian style, in case anything that might be lurking in the shadows under my desk was an ankle biter.
Then I stood up again and tried to build up enough courage to go under my desk so I could unplug the computer, move everything to the plug next to the door, and not have to sit at the desk at all.
That didn’t happen, though. I pushed my chair back under the desk. I was a little vicious about it, too. If there was an ankle-grabbing goblin over there, I hoped I ran over its fingers.
Then I started to pace. Desks were overrated. Maybe I could get a laptop. That would make it easier to work while sitting on the floor with my back to the wall.
Although, since Hans was going to be my boss – and he knew what I knew, since he’d told me – I could probably count on a little slack if I wasn’t as productive today as I might’ve been otherwise.
I’m not sure how long I spent pacing, trying to get my thoughts together. It didn’t really work; my conscious thoughts are always a little scattered. But I must’ve done some subconscious processing, because abruptly I was done.
I stopped pacing and went to the windows. I usually kept the blinds closed for the same reasons I kept the curtains drawn at home: I really don’t like the idea that someone could be looking in on me without my knowing. Now, though? Sunlight was my friend. I opened the blinds.
Mr. Salvatore’s car was in the parking lot. So was Hans’. I swallowed. All I had to do was get through today and then my terrifying, creepy, vampire boss would be gone. To be replaced by my terrifying, hot, werewolf boss. But that would still be one problem down.
The thing was, I was scared of Hans in an entirely different way than I was scared of Mr. Salvatore. Mr. Salvatore had always creeped me out – but if what Hans had told me about vampires was true, then it didn’t even matter if Mr. Salvatore were actually a great guy and I was just crazy. If Mr. Salvatore got hungry enough, his humanity would abandon him. He would be driven by hunger and primal emotions, and then he might kill someone, or hospitalize them like he’d hospitalized Katherine last year. And it wouldn’t matter how bad he felt about it afterward because they would still be dead or dying and I knew he wanted Megan.
I went back to my desk, took my chair and ran it back and forth a few times in case of hypothetical goblin fingers. Then, without sitting down, I logged into my computer and sent my most recent files to the downstairs printers. Having something to work on would help me get through the day, and having hardcopies to do my translations on would let me sit by the door, with my back to the wall – and ready to leap outside if I heard anything untoward happening.
Then I sat by the door and waited. Usually when I sent files to the printer it was because Fumiko had stopped by with the .pdf of a new book, and she liked to do her rough translations on paper. So I knew that when the print job was done Jimmy would spiral bind it and rush it upstairs so he could make stammering small talk while handing it over to her. Which was good, because even though he was going to be surprised in finding just me instead, I had no intention of taking my eye – or ear – off of Megan while Mr. Salvatore was around. And that included going for a quick jaunt downstairs.
I took a few deep breaths and then I heard something that absolutely destroyed the calming effect I’d been hoping for.
“Hello, Megan,” a muffled voice said on the other side of the door. Not Mr. Salvatore’s voice, but another one that had flayed me into panicked knots over deadlines too often in the past for me to keep my tentative grasp on ‘calm’ when I heard it.
“Katherine!” Megan answered. “Hi!”
I scrambled to peek through the door’s keyhole. Despite the lies propagated by TV, it wasn’t a very good vantage: I could see the corner of Megan’s desk and about half of Katherine standing next to it. Fortunately, my imagination was up to the task of filling in the missing bits.
Megan would be sitting with her legs crossed. Since she was talking to someone, she would be leaning toward Katherine. And since Katherine was her friend, Megan would be smiling.
“How are you?” Megan asked. “What brings you in today?”
Katherine… well, Katherine was pretty if you went for the whole ‘I am the unholy union of a governess, a dominatrix, and that one person in HR who handles all of the off boarding interviews’ vibe she puts off. I couldn’t see her face now, but she’d always had short, dark hair and hard, grey eyes. She would wear long sleeves and high collars even in the summer – today it looked like a black turtleneck sweater and a grey pencil skirt – and usually had on a pair of delicate glasses that did nothing to soften her perpetually severe expression.
Katherine made a casually dismissive gesture. “I heard Mr. Salvatore was back and thought I would see if he needed my services still. However, it seems he has no intention of staying in the long term.”
“Oh, I am so sorry, Katie,” Megan said. “He told us all yesterday that he’d been ill and was moving away.” I could hear the sympathy in Megan’s voice, but that wasn’t what took me aback. Katie? Seriously? I couldn’t imagine Katherine tolerating such informal address from anyone without threatening to switch them with a riding crop.
“It’s fine,” Katherine said. “I wasn’t entirely certain I would want to come back and work for someone who might just up and disappear again, anyway.” She stepped closer and leaned against the edge of Megan’s desk. “But I did know I might be able to salvage the day, however it went with Salvatore, if I stopped in to see you afterward. Are you coming to the club tonight?”
Megan’s chair swiveled slightly as she fidgeted. “Yes,” she finally said. I was a little surprised to see her so hesitant: usually the prospect of being social makes her all bouncy and chipper. “Um. I was going to stop by with Abby for a while before we came to the office party, and then maybe come back again afterward.”
“Oh,” Katherine said flatly. “Will Abigail be coming back as well?” The cool animosity in Katherine’s voice was not a surprise – I’m paranoid that most people secretly revile me, but in Katherine’s case I’m pretty sure it’s not paranoia. Or a secret. I’m not sure why she dislikes me so much – but I’m also not entirely sure she needs a reason. Katherine seems to think poorly of most people; I’ve always had the impression that she thinks of most of humanity as some sort of slimy grubs, and the only reason she doesn’t crush us out of sheer revulsion is that she doesn’t want our guts to splurt out on the bottom of her heels. In retrospect, I have to say it’s kind of shitty for her to have such a ‘better than you’ attitude when she’s basically been living out the life of an undead abomination’s equivalent of the office water cooler.
I frowned, struck by a sudden thought. Maybe it wasn’t that Katherine didn’t like people… maybe it was that she didn’t like ignorant people. She knew the truth about vampires and werewolves and magic and everything, so it made a sort of sense that she wouldn’t have patience for the people who didn’t – and that people who were afraid of completely made up things, like I was, would piss her off to no end.
Oh, hell. If she was supposed to help Mr. Salvatore maintain his ‘normal’ cover, then I’d probably infuriated her when I’d accused him of being a vampire back when I didn’t even really believe in them. And Katherine would have probably found out about it from Megan since she and Megan were friends and Megan was the one with whom I shared – often and loudly – my made up speculations as to the unholiness of our creepy-ass, actually is a vampire, boss.
Hell. Oh, hell. It made sense that I seriously annoyed Katherine. But she was friends with Megan. My mouth felt dry. If Katherine was friends with Megan, what did that mean?
“It’ll just be me after the office party,” Megan told Katherine while I quietly freaked out. “Abby won’t want to stay up that late, and she prefers a quiet evening at home to parties, anyway. Oh! And she seems to have a thing going on with the new manager, so if she’s out late with anyone tonight it’s going to be him.”
“Really?” Katherine asked with more incredulity than I thought I deserved.
Well, maybe not.
“Yeah,” Megan said. “And he’s a real looker, and charming, and a genuinely nice guy as far as I can tell.”
Katherine seemed to relax a little. “I’m sorry, Megan,” she said. She didn’t really sound sympathetic – but that was fine because sympathy wasn’t needed. If Megan wanted Hans she could have gotten him, and we all knew it. Megan waved Katherine’s apology away.
“No, it’s okay,” Megan said. “I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to work out between us. Shoot, I’m even the one who hooked them up! So I’m glad it’s working out for her.”
“Well…. Still,” Katherine said. She paused in thought. “Look, Emma didn’t go home for the holidays this year, so, how about I try to convince her to come out tonight? It’ll do her some good, I think, and she and Abby can hang out and… well, I’m sure we can find someone who won’t mind helping take your mind off the one who got away.”
Megan laughed and stood up. “Okay, Katie,” she said. “I’ll see you two tonight, then.”
Katherine straightened as well and she and Megan exchanged hugs. I sank back and shifted to my spot against the wall. Normally if I overheard a conversation like that the pit of my stomach would be full of worry about meeting someone new and screwing it up – I had no idea who Emma was. But instead I was too freaked out about what Megan’s friendship with Katherine might mean – and the pit was a goddamn chasm.
Fact: Megan’s inheritance meant she didn’t need to work – but she came in here every day anyway.
Fact: Megan and Katherine were friends, and Katherine at least used to manage Mr. Salvatore’s blood supply.
Fact: Megan had told me she was looking for something long term in her next relationship.
Fact: Megan hadn’t seriously tried to date anyone since college graduation – which coincided with our starting to work for Mr. Salvatore.
I hugged my knees against my chest and tried my best not to throw up. I choked on my fear instead. You couldn’t get more long term than the immortal undead. Except that just because Mr. Salvatore was going to live forever, it didn’t follow that Megan would, too. After all, that was the point of my last fact. I’d caught Mr. Salvatore and Megan making out at last year’s office party – apparently, according to Hans, right before Mr. Salvatore had almost murdered Katherine.
Megan was in danger. Serious danger. And if those facts really did add up the way I thought they did… if Megan was already one of Mr. Salvatore’s willing thralls… Then it was only a matter of time before she would end up like Katherine had: bled dry, dying; maybe not making it – all because of Mr. Salvatore’s eventual and inevitable overindulgence. And then, even if she did survive, she’d just risk it again. After all, hadn’t Mr. Salvatore already almost killed Katherine? And wasn’t she here now, having just tried to get her old job back?
Okay: Maybe I just didn’t know enough about how vampires worked to really guess what Mr. Salvatore was up to – but he had to be up to something because he’d been gone for a year and I didn’t really think he’d come back because of the publishing house. Which made me pretty confident – afraid, really – that he’d come back for personal reasons. Like transferring all of his personal finances. Or shipping his coffin out to the country. Or stocking up on his favorite brand of toothpaste.
Or his favorite vintage of nubile, slavishly devoted victim. If Mr. Salvatore had claimed Megan then he was going to kill her. Eventually. It was just a matter of time. And I had no idea how to stop him.