I’ll be counting down to the April 27th release of Blood is Thicker Than Lots of Stuff, the next book in The Many Travails of John Smith, by sharing sample chapters, advance reviews, content warnings, and whatever else seems fun. Last week, I shared the prologue and first two chapters, where John’s internet date was interrupted by three very different vampires. Today, we pick up just after he got stuck with the bill. Here is Blood is Thicker Than Lots of Stuff: Chapter 3.
If you haven’t read Investigation, Mediation, Vindication yet, please be aware that some of these sample chapters do include spoilers from that series. Read at your own risk!
IN WHICH CELL PHONES ARE A FRATMAN’S BEST FRIEND…
I sat in my Corolla outside Mister A’s, caught between frustration and confusion. According to the hostess, Carly had left shortly after emerging from the restroom, and well before the vampires’ own departure. If nothing else, that told me she was okay. But it was clear I wouldn’t be seeing her again.
The benefits of wearing a suit had apparently been overstated.
As for Lucia? I had a lot to think about, but there were better places to do that than in my car. With a sigh, I pulled onto 5th Avenue. Some cars roared, like the mid-60s Mustang that my friend Mike was constantly working on. Other cars purred, like the ultra-plush Mercedes E class sedans and Escalades the House utilized. Then there was my Corolla, which sounded a little bit like a seventy-year-old man with emphysema. I wish I could say it at least handled well, but it lurched from pothole to pothole like a drunkard after last call as I made my way over and onto 6th Avenue.
I dodged a pedestrian and pulled out my new phone. When I’d found myself flush with cash after mediating for the House, the first thing I had done was pay off my overdue bills. The second thing had involved a trip to the Chula Vista Best Buy. I’d lost my phone during the crabman attack and when I was finally able to replace it, I went all-in. I’d shelled out several hundred dollars for a brand new, top of the line iPhone with a ludicrously large screen, more processing power than it knew what to do with, and a surplus of genuinely enjoyable time-wasting apps, including the one I’d met Carly on. It felt good to finally be part of the modern crowd. After all, it was almost 2014 and the whole world ran on smartphones. I didn’t know how I’d ever survived before buying mine.
I looked up just long enough to turn back onto 5th Avenue—most streets in downtown San Diego were one-way, making navigation a giant pain in the ass for the tourists—before taking the on-ramp to head southbound on the 5. My parents’ home was fifteen minutes away, and I could drive it blindfolded. Or drunk… not that I’d ever tried. With one hand on the wheel, I reviewed my missed text messages. One was from my mom. The other half-dozen were from my friend, Kayla. They read, in order:
7:05PM: luck 2night with C!! B interested! B entertaining!
7:06PM: But don’t try 2 hard 2 b funny
7:06PM: Maybe skip being funny at all until 2nd date
7:10PM: D wants u to call when date is over. Hopes 2 hear from u tmrw 😉 ;-)!
7:30PM: Heard L is downtown. Might b hunting 4 u
7:35PM: Def hunting. B careful! Call us!
I did the mental gymnastics required to translate her messages back into English while careening around a battered old pickup truck that was dumping sod and greenery onto the highway. Kayla was another femmepire, the newly promoted Captain of the House Watch. Like virtually every vampire other than Lucia, the Aussie had saved my life once. During the coup, I’d gotten a chance to return the favor.
Granted, all I’d done was take her to Darlene, Kayla’s diminutive human firecracker of a girlfriend and blood donor, and the “D” referenced in her texts. On the heroism scale, that ranked slightly above putting on my shoes in the morning and below pretty much everything else. Still, it had sown the seeds of a friendship that survived my estrangement from the House and its queen.
In fact, along with my now-useless bond sense, Kayla and D had been instrumental in alerting me to Lucia’s whereabouts for the past few months. They’d also put an insane amount of effort into getting me ready for my date with Carly. That night had seen both projects ultimately fail, but still. They were good people.
I wasn’t excited to rehash the night’s events, but my friends deserved a response. I cut over into the slow lane and typed out a short message:
9:25: Done with date. No chance of 2nd. Ran into L. Still alive.
There. That seemed sufficient.
It was time to pay attention to my drive home.
Safety first, California!
I somehow managed to avoid the post-date, motherly inquisition and was headed down to my basement bedroom when my wonderphone rang. I answered it without thinking.
“This is John.”
“If you think you can send a text like that and then not follow it up with all the juicy details, then you are an absolute…” Kayla lapsed into a series of Aussie slang words, not a one of which I’d heard before. I looked around for a pen and paper to take notes, but it was impossible to find anything in the disaster zone of my bedroom.
“Are you still there?” the femmepire finally asked, her accent still strong. I could hear Darlene giggling in the background. She loved it when Kayla got on a roll.
“Of course I am,” I teased, “I wasn’t sure if you were done or just catching your breath.”
“That’s exactly the kind of unfunny joke I hope you avoided on your date,” Kayla said tartly. “Anyway, I’m putting you on speaker. We want to hear exactly how things went down.”
The retelling took almost as long as the dinner itself, largely because Kayla and Darlene wanted to know every single detail of the night. How was the restaurant? What did you eat? What was Carly wearing? Upon meeting, did you shake her hand, or give her a hug? When I reached the point in the date where I’d let my housing situation slip, there was a funereal silence on the other end of the line. It was quickly followed by a whispered conversation that I couldn’t quite decipher, although the words told you were both intelligible and prominent.
“You don’t have to say anything,” I grumbled, “Juliette already rubbed it in my face.” I shrugged out of my suit jacket and hung it next to the glorious leather jacket I’d inherited from the city’s previous mediator.
“So, you did run into the Council dinner party? They’re not back yet, so I haven’t gotten Steve’s report.” Steve was Kayla’s mohawked second-in-command, who had apparently been heading up the security detail for the night’s excursion. I liked Steve a lot, and not just because he was ninety percent ninja, but he was still getting a spot on my shit list for having left me to Lucia’s tender mercies.
“Run into? That’s one way of putting it, I guess. Another would be that Juliette interrupted my dinner, mojoed Carly into telling me exactly why she had no interest in a second date, and then sent her away to, and I quote, powder her nose.”
“I hope Carly interpreted that as go freshen up in the restroom and not go find a key of coke and party like it’s ‘85.”
“Me too, D,” I admitted. Not that Darlene or I had been alive in 1985. “I think she’s fine though. Whatever happened, she was lucid enough to have already blocked me.”
I’d made that discovery very soon after parking my Corolla.
“Yeah.” I flopped onto my unmade bed with a sigh. “Anyway, after Juliette dismissed Carly, Lucia dismissed Juliette. Then your lovely queen ate Carly’s dinner. And stuck me with the bill.”
There was another long pause. “We did try to warn you she was on her way.”
“I know, although I would have had a hard time convincing Carly to leave Mister A’s. Apparently, it was one of the only reasons she even showed up. Regardless, I’d turned off my phone so I could be attentive and engaged.”
Those had been just a few of the watchwords drilled into my brain over the past few days by my two friends.
“What about your Spidey sense?” Darlene had never read a comic in her short life but loved superhero movies. The fact that she went to bed every night with a real-life superheroine probably had a lot to do with it.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I was looking straight at Lucia, but she still didn’t show up on my Queendar.”
“Well, that’s not good.” Darlene echoed my own sentiment from earlier in the night. “What are you going to do? And what did she say? And did you kiss anyone tonight?”
“I have no idea, I’ll get to that in a second, and absolutely not.” I paused to reconsider the last answer. “Unless you count my mom. She gave me a kiss on the cheek for good luck on my way out.”
“You are never getting laid,” sighed Darlene.
I resumed my blow-by-blow recap. Juliette’s conversation provoked more than a few laughs at my expense, but Lucia’s two apologies—both the mediocre pseudo-attempt and the apparently genuine follow-up—were met with stunned silence.
“In my twenty years with this House, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Queen Lucia apologize… for anything,” murmured Kayla.
“Maybe that’s why she sucks at it? How bad have things been up there anyway? She said something about an incident?”
“Well, yes. We had a little snafu with a tribe of gnomes that were in town just before Halloween.”
“Why didn’t you ask for my help?” I dimly recalled Kayla being busy that weekend but had assumed it was normal job stuff. I mean, she was Captain of the Watch. Her position came with innumerable responsibilities, and her predecessor had been a workaholic. And a perfectionist.
And a traitor, which was how Kayla had inherited the role.
“You’d made it clear you were done working for the House.”
“Yeah, because Lucia tried to make me her thrall! But I wouldn’t have just sat back and let people die!”
“Whoa! Hold on a second! Who said anything about people dying? It was a business meeting, John. When it became obvious that we weren’t going to come to an agreement with the foul-mouthed pygmies, we shipped their arses back to Idaho. I’m sure they’ll organize an angry letter-writing campaign in retaliation or something, but violence really isn’t the gnome way.”
“Nobody died?” Lucia was, quite literally, unbelievable.
“That’s what I said.” Kayla’s voice changed. “Have you been drinking, John? Because we’re happy to call you a cab. Are you still at Mister A’s?”
I shook my head, forgetting that she couldn’t see the motion. “I’m home, and I haven’t been drinking… much. Let’s just say someone may have stretched the truth a bit while trying to make me feel needed.”
Silence. Then Kayla spoke. “Oh.”
“Oops.” That was Darlene.
“Yeah. When magical conscription doesn’t work, lies are clearly a queen’s next best tactic.” I sighed heavily. “Anyway, that was my night. If you ladies don’t have any more questions, I’m going to get some sleep. I’ve got a new case starting tomorrow.”
“No worries, John. Do you think you’ll still be able to make brunch on Sunday?” I could hear the hopeful smile in Kayla’s voice. “We can wander South Park afterward and find you a woman that puts this Carly to shame.”
“Someone who doesn’t mind me living in my parents’ basement? That’s a big ask, K. Anyway, I’m going to have to skip brunch this weekend. I’ll be on stakeout for that new case.”
“Sounds exciting!” chirped Darlene.
“If only. I’ll bring you along sometime so you can see for yourself, but I start bright and early tomorrow and really need to get some sleep first. You ladies sleep well, okay?”
“Oh, John,” purred Darlene, “you’re on the phone with two mostly-naked women, who are at this very moment lying in bed together. Do you really think we’re going to sleep?”
“Yes,” I said firmly, conjuring up an image of the two fully clothed in burkas and muumuus. “And I don’t want to hear anything to the contrary, or I’ll never get to bed.”
With much laughter, the two ended the call.
Tomorrow’s stakeout was going to be boring, but it would be a day without awkward first dates, manipulative vampire queens, or letter-writing gnomes.
That sounded an awful lot like heaven.
On Thursday, I’ll be back with the next sample chapter. See you then!