Once they stepped inside, Clara’s smile grew into a full on shit-eating grin. This was exactly the kind of diversion she had been looking for and she enjoyed not being compelled to go anywhere. She made sure to enjoy every moment of it.
“Wow!” Clara said excitedly after taking in a deep breath. “That smell.”
Clara spotted someone leaving the counter carrying a tall concoction of crushed ice, caramel, chocolate, and whipped cream in hand. Her grin faded, replaced by a look of utter confusion.
“That’s coffee now?” Clara asked.
Elizabeth laughed. At first, she found the familiarity of this scene and her companion’s response unnatural. Once her eyes settled on her saviour’s face, she figured that the other was playing up that new kid act. Still, she played along, curious to see how far this might go.
Clara continued to wade deeper into the shop, approaching the menu boards. From the look of things, the menu options were cryptic, something many regulars took for granted. To ease things along, Elizabeth walked up to the counter just in time to watch a clerk look up from the register.
“Can I take your order?” the clerk asked.
Elizabeth wanted to make it interesting, so she decided to spice things up by saying, “Triple Venti Soy No Foam Latte.”
The look on Clara’s face was priceless, which only served to lighten Elizabeth’s mood. Concurrently, the look of boredom on the clerk’s face was immediately replaced by glowing embers in those dark eyes. Clearly, she was not amused.
“To think, you were not able to understand me five minutes ago,” Clara said with a sigh.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s order did little to demonstrate how the English language actually evolved. While much of the base was the same, coffee, or at least how to order it, changed a lot over the years.
Clara smiled and asked, “Any specials tonight?”
Elizabeth noticed that Clara’s smile had a disarming effect on the clerk. To be fair, tight leather that propped up her bust accompanied by a flirtatious smile would easily disarm most.
The clerk smiled right back before replying, “Pumpkin spiced lattès are popular this time of year.”
Clara turned to look at Elizabeth. The latter immediately understood how that sentence could confuse the uninitiated.
“They add the spices used to make a pumpkin pie to your drink. It livens things up,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh!” Clara exclaimed. “That’s the bee’s knees!”
“What size?” the clerk asked after giving Clara an odd look.
“Ummm,” Clara said.
Elizabeth decided to further pester this clerk, “Venti, three shot, blonde, five pump, no fat, pumpkin spice, topped with whipped cream.”
This time, the clerk was ready, but as judged by her woeful sigh, she was looking forward to the end of her shift. Clara, on the other hand, was nearly drooling, her mind struggling to follow along. It might have been better had she just taken in the experience.
“Really? I’ve come across incantations to summon demons that were less cryptic,” Clara added matter-of-factly.
Elizabeth shrugged before replying, “We could have used the app, but this was more fun.”
“App? Never mind,” Clara said.
“Will that be all?” the clerk asked.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth then pointed her phone towards a glowing red light. The light shimmered in various shades of red followed by an electronic chime. The tally on the register then dropped to zero.
“I’m so out of the loop,” Clara mumbled.
They walked down to another spot at the counter and waited patiently while their drinks were prepared. Clara seemed surprised at how fast these drinks were being made. The last time she ordered coffee, the server had been busy flirting with any betty who crossed his path. Although, she had to expect some changes since dancing the Charleston with Elizabeth’s potential great-grandfather.
With drinks in hand, Elizabeth winked, grabbed both drinks, and then proceeded to an isolated counter. There she affixed lids, grabbed a few napkins, and found a table.
“Here,” Elizabeth said after sliding over Clara’s drink.
Clara looked at her confection dubiously. She took in the aroma of the drink, then removed the stopper from her lid. The aromas invaded her senses. Clara sighed contentedly and took a sip, putting a large smile to her face.
“Nummy,” Clara said before taking a few more sips for good measure.
Elizabeth did the sam. The familiar bitterness of her drink further served to calm her nerves. The fact that this woman was not concerned about what lurked outside did much to set her mind at ease.
“Have you been able to piece together what happened?” Clara asked.
“Not really,” Elizabeth said. “Could you?”
Clara shrugged before removing the lid from her drink. With a lone finger, she scooped up a bit of the whipped cream, eyed it mischievously, and licked it up with her tongue. Elizabeth could not help but shiver at the visual.
“The brunette was one of them,” Clara said. “We call them vampires.”
“Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula?” Elizabeth spat out.
Clara nodded, “Where do you think he got the idea?”
At this point, Elizabeth was far too rundown to be surprised by any of this. The drink’s caffeine content was sure to provide a boost of energy but that took time. The hours spent watching horror movies late at night with Victoria before exam week taught her that life could be a harsh mistress. These events simply raised the bar, by a lot.
“How did you know?” Elizabeth asked.
“We crossed paths before,” Clara replied. “Although I now see their rotting souls superimposed over their physical selves.”
“How?” Elizabeth asked.
“Comes with the job,” Clara replied, avoiding any telltale detail that could lead to a panic.
“Why were they after me?” Elizabeth asked.
Clara shrugged, sipped her drink, and enjoyed the radiating heat emanating from her belly.
“You tell me?” Clara queried.
Elizabeth tried to think about what happened and what may have triggered this encounter. Nothing came to mind, or at least nothing that seemed relevant. One question did pop into her mind and only Clara could answer.
“How did you know where to find me?” Elizabeth asked, now somewhat alarmed.
“Faith,” Clara said.
“Faith?” Elizabeth repeated.
“Yes,” Clara said. “It guided me to a truck, which in turn led me straight to you.”
Elizabeth’s beliefs were mixed like her heritage. Her father was superstitious but had no defined religious affiliation. Her mother was a Christian who dragged her to church a few times but that quickly fell by the wayside. Until now, she had not considered that major religions might actually have some truth behind all of that doctrine. Never would she think it possible for them to have a legitimate reason for being beyond the indoctrination of their flock.
Clara sensed there were a lot of questions that would need answers, so she pushed on with her own, “Why were they after you?”
“I dunno,” Elizabeth said. “They just came out of nowhere.”
“So, you’ve done nothing to deserve their attention?” Clara asked, while suspecting this was not a random incident.
“I was just heading home after having lunch with a friend,” Elizabeth countered.
Clara trusted her instincts and kept probing. Evelyn would not dare risk this level of exposure without a good reason.
“What do you do for a living?” Clara asked.
“Social worker,” Elizabeth said with pride. “I work with runaways and exploited children.”
“Would any of your clients warrant that level of response?” Clara asked bluntly to force the other to consider every aspect of the situation.
“Well… No,” Elizabeth replied.
“So, it’s not your job… not your eating habits… think Lizzie! Is there a hatchet hidden under your bed that I should know about?” Clara pressed.
“A hatchet?” Elizabeth asked.
Clara did not reply. Instead, she hummed a tune that reminded Elizabeth of a folk song. The reference was pretty dated, although recently revived when they released a television series based on the incident.
Elizabeth’s eyes glowed once she realised that Clara had been toying with a variant of her name to play on that theme. This woman may talk as though starred in an early silver screen movie, but she clearly had an abundance of wit and intelligence.
Why would Evelyn be after her? They only dated during college and she showed little interest in her friends. In fact, she always had an excuse to leave when an acquaintance showed up.
She doubted it was related to her job; the children she interacted with were not well-known, wealthy, or prodigies. Runaways tended to get in trouble with the law and sometimes involved criminal elements, but from the supernatural?
“Did anyone pass away recently?” Clara asked.
“How do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.
Clara leaned over the table which gave Elizabeth an eyeful of cleavage. Her steel-grey eyes were locked on hers and, for a moment, Elizabeth wondered if she was being judged.
“You are not thinking outside the box,” Clara said in a near-whisper. “You obviously knew Evelyn and your mind is clouded by your past… interactions. That’s not who or what she really is.”
Clara took a sip of her drink and pulled back, intent on letting Elizabeth stew for a bit. Was Elizabeth unconsciously masking the truth? Or was she simply oblivious to it?
“Again,” Clara said. “Did anyone you know die recently?”
“Just… just some private investigator that I hired,” Elizabeth said.
“Just?” Clara prodded.
“Well… I hired him to look into the disappearance of a friend,” Elizabeth answered.
“Go on,” Clara said, sending they were on the right track. “How did he die?”
“Why the sudden—,” Elizabeth started before realising where this was headed. “Police say anti-tank mines went off when he started his car.”
“That’s not a mundane occurrence around here, I gather?” Clara asked.
Elizabeth was sipping her drink when the picture came into focus. She spat out the contents of her drink and guffawed.
“No!” Elizabeth answered.
When she saw the smirk on Clara’s lips, Elizabeth realised that she had been played.
“Oh, you’re good,” Elizabeth said.
“Great-grannies always know best,” Clara said nonchalantly. “Do you know if he was working other cases? Or just yours?”
“Nothing that deserves this level of response,” Elizabeth said.
“You think? Or are you certain?” Clara asked.
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked in return.
“Elizabeth, you need to think big,” Clara said. “We all have instincts, so you just need to trust yours and stop looking at my cleavage.”
The second statement made her cheeks feel warm. Pretty soon her entire face would flush with blood and all of those telltale signs of embarrassment would be on display, her face flashing like a glitzy billboard of guilt.
“Victoria?” Elizabeth absentmindedly asked.
“Your friend?” Clara asked.
“Wha—Oh! Yes,” Elizabeth answered.
Elizabeth described the whole story related to Victoria, namely how she vanished after the funeral and left few traces of her whereabouts.
Clara listened to every word, only breaking her focus every so often to have a sip. Elizabeth talked so much that their drinks went cold before the full story was given.
“We should take a look at her place,” Clara said then looked around to discover the staff were busy cleaning up for the night. “Think we should call it a night?”
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.
“You are running on fumes,” Clara said. “So you need time to recover. I can sleep on the couch or even the floor. Assuming you don’t mind…”
Elizabeth was both anxious about the imposition and relieved that Clara would stay nearby. However, the conflicting emotions caused her head to swirl. Given the fatigue, her mind was too numbed to adequately deal with it.
Clara got up and grabbed Elizabeth before she passed out, finding it helpful that she was stronger than the average gal. Her new friend was tall, an amazon, easily towering over Clara, and that would have made it difficult to keep her steady under normal circumstances.
After a few minutes of rifling through the chaos in Elizabeth’s purse, Clara found exactly what she needed, a home address, and with some luck, enough mad money for a cab.
“Berries,” Clara said. “Now it’s time to get me a dimbox.”
Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!