If you haven’t already read the first piece of our Choose Your Own Adventure story, go do that! The following is a tie-in to my novel #iHunt, but you don’t really need to know anything about #iHunt to read and enjoy this. However, I like eating and paying bills, so I’m obliged to tell you that if you want to read #iHunt, you can totally do that. Also, I have free samples up of my first three novels, Blood Flow, iHunt, and Transylvanian Prince in Southern California. This package includes a couple teaser chapters of my next vampire novel, Blood Letting. You should go check that out. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, please consider it. I’ll be doing contests and freebies through it.
First off, some bookkeeping. This is a Choose Your Own Adventure, and I had fans vote on the second chapter. This is the results:
Now, if you were one of the 50% of people who voted for Big Wolf on Campus or Who Knows What in the Museum, don’t fret! If this story gets popular, I’m going to go back and fill in all the blanks to make this a full experience like we grew up with, except with more drugs, sex, and violence.
I double-check the gig listing.
Vampire in Ava Blue. Stalking client, feeding from her, enchanting her. She must be able to do her job unimpeded and with full energy. Vampire must be dealt with. Killing optional. $3,000 if completed by the end of the weekend. $5,000 if by Friday.
I swipe right. I leave the other two gigs open in case I get some extra time on my hands. Gotta do it by Friday? I think that’s doable.
A few moments later I get an update with the contact information. It’s a private residence in Ava Blue. That’s to be expected—Ava Blue’s largely a residential area with multimillion dollar mansions. There aren’t really a lot of businesses, the neighborhood’s zoning laws are right around the level of “we put violators’ heads on pikes,” health inspectors are about as meticulous as your average KGB enforcer, and a liquor license costs millions of dollars.
I drive on out there. I always hate driving in Ava Blue, because they have private security patrolling all day and all night, and they like to pull over and accost anyone who’s in a car that costs less than the current US mean income. These security guys don’t have any real authority, but if you don’t do what they say, they’ll have cops swarming faster than a protest trying to assert that black people deserve to not be killed in the streets. Cops mean drug busts and weapon seizures and random assaults. When you’ve got to carry illegal drugs and weapons to do your job, cops can be a death sentence. So, on the way I stop by the car wash and get a $20 detailing job. It doesn’t make me look rich, but every little speck of dirt is something to draw unnecessary attention to my car. I can’t really afford it, but I also can’t afford to get abused by cops.
The place in question is a mansion. It’s a classic-style mansion, meant to look like an old castle or something. It sticks out like a sore thumb, but that doesn’t really matter when it’s got a couple of acres of hedge mazes and swimming pools and shit all around it.
Let me just make this clear: San Jenaro was incorporated in 1850. There weren’t any mansion then. It was all just missions and huts. There definitely weren’t any goddamned castles.
When I get to the door, a man that looks just about as old as this house is supposed to greets me at the door. “Ms. Moreno? Mister Mancini is awaiting you.”
“Ms. Moreno. I could get used to that. Um, how’d you guys get to know my last name, though?”
The man shakes his head as he walks me through the house. It’s more gorgeous than any house has any fucking right. The floors are shiny, polished marble. There are all these fountains and fish aquariums all over the place. This isn’t a house—this is a super villain lair. I wonder briefly if I’m hunting a vampire for another vampire. That happens sometimes. The old man doesn’t respond.
He takes me out back, to a small pond with a stone walkway around it. The pond’s full of gorgeous, colorful fish. Mostly koi. Other stuff too, but I don’t know much about fish. I know vampires. Werewolves. Witches. Demons. Not fish.
A younger man with slicked back black hair sits on a lawn chair which looks like it was bought in a store I could step in without funny looks. He’s in a red bath towel with gold trim, and he’s got slices of cucumber over his eyes.
The old man clears his throat, and the young man stands, removing the eye vegetables.
“Ms. Moreno. Pleased to meet you.”
“Lana. Please. And how’d you know my name? #iHunt’s supposed to be fully anonymous.”
He shrugs. “You say tomato, I say there’s no such thing as anonymity to the rich. Anyway, you’re here to do a job, not discuss agnomen and cognomen awareness levels.”
I can’t help but to blink at his use of ridiculous language. He had to have prepared that. “Yeah. The job. Who am I hunting? Who is the client I’m protecting? What else do I have to know?”
“To the point. I like it.” He says, walking toward the house. I follow. “You’re hunting a man. We don’t know his name. I’ve got pictures though, from some of the local businesses around Palo Verde where she works.”
“Okay. Then who is she?” I’m getting impatient. This kind of place always leaves me on edge. I don’t belong here. They know I don’t belong here. I’m at their mercy in more ways than one. If I walk away, they can just find another hunter. I can’t necessarily find the rent money. If they decide to kill me and bury me in this giant lawn, nobody will ever find me. If I attack them, they’ll have a SWAT team at my apartment and another at every one of my family members’ in ten minutes.
He takes me inside, to a bar with a huge picture window overlooking the pond and the hedge maze. Do you know who has a real, honest-to-god hedge maze? People who need to hide bodies. “Eliana Caruso. Her stage name is Emily Carpenter.”
“Emily Carpenter? Like, the Emily Carpenter?” Emily’s a mid-list actress who’s a lucky break or two away from a big name. She could be the next Scarlett Johansson with just a little twist of fate.
“Yes. The Emily Carpenter. I’m her agent. And I’d very much like it if the public didn’t find out that she’s being stalked by a vampire. I’d like it even more if she wasn’t murdered by a vampire.” He gets out a tray of drinks from a fridge hidden away in the wall decor.
“Okay. Secrecy. I can do secrecy. You said you had pictures?”
He holds up a crystal decanter of… something. Something yellowish. Maybe whiskey? The decanter’s quickly growing frost crystals from the California humidity. I give it a moment’s thought and nod. He pours two glasses, pushes one across the bar to me, and then he goes to another room. “One moment please.”
I hate whiskey. I especially hate expensive whiskey. It tastes like moss and shit, and you have to stomach this ridiculous, horrible, overpriced taste for way too long before you get as drunk as you might get with a few cheap beers. But, it’s free, and I don’t want to look rude. Maybe there’s a rich person etiquette thing about this. Maybe if I don’t drink, he’ll assume I’m untrustworthy and withdraw the job.
He comes back a few moments later with a manilla folder, which he tosses down on the bar. I pick it up with my free hand, sipping the whiskey with the other. I try very hard to not give a disgusted face as I drink the overpriced swill. I flip the folder open. A lanyard and badge fall out. It’s a personal assistant pass for Keller Pictures, one of the few mid-level movie studios that’s still centered in San Jenaro. Then there’s a stack of grainy security shots of a guy in a trench coat. Nobody wears a trench coat in San Jenaro in 2016. At least outside of a goth night at a shitty bar. He’s definitely a vampire. I can even see his fangs in a couple of shots—he’s not exactly the cream of the crop.
“Alright. So. I find him. Kill him. Try not to let anyone know she’s being stalked. That means dodging paparazzi, I guess?”
He nods. “Her career’s taking off. You’ll have to be extra careful. You’ll want to meet with her. See what she feels is best. Perhaps you can act as a bodyguard. Or a publicist. Or a makeup artist. I don’t know. You’re the expert here. I feel like she knows more than she’s telling me.”
I’m taken aback slightly. Not used to rich people acknowledging my expertise. “Great. I’ll talk to her. See where that goes. Where can I find her?”
“She’ll be at the studio this evening. You should go quickly. Come nightfall, I’m sure he’ll be on her trail again.”
“Sounds good to me.” I say, taking my pass and the photos, then I head out.
As I get out to the car, I realize I’m shaking a bit. I’m both tired and anxious. The whiskey didn’t get me tipsy—it just made me sleepy. I fish through my kit for something to take to help out, but I realize I probably shouldn’t take something for both problems.
I could take some Celexa for the anxiety. It’d be nice to not be paranoid, and to have a steady hand.
I could take some Adderall to keep my attention alert. I’d hate to fall asleep or not be able to focus.
I could also try to rough it, see if the problems go away on their own. I could always reassess my situation later.
(Alright! There we go. Chapter 2. You have three choices: Celexa, Adderall, or Nothing. Go vote, and I’ll see where we go with chapter three!)