Glad you’re back! I’ll be posting chapters on Sundays for the next two or three weeks, and probably posting some additional information (and hopefully a sneak peak of the cover!) once or twice a week. I encourage you to check back, and to comment! I’m working on book two now and some things would benefit from your input. Okay. I’ve kept you long enough. On to the good stuff.
As I head down the stairs to the parking lot, I see the idiot I call my kid sister stepping out of our car. She waves cheerfully at me. My knees give out under me and I fall to the step, trying to slow my heartbeat.
“What’s wrong?” She has the nerve to ask. “Something after us?” She looks around suspiciously, hiding the knife she draws behind the take-out bags she’s carrying.
“Well, you’re certainly about to die,” I say when I regain breath enough to speak. “You can’t just wander out, Lia, I’ve told you. Definitely do bother me if you’re about to leave. Or at least leave a note for fuck’s sake. Jesus. I’m going to be grey by twenty-five, I swear to God.”
“I’m sorry! I saw a place down the street—thought I’d be back well within the eighteen minutes of peace I get when you shower. But then I got to talkin’ and though I may have added more grey to your head, I did get us both dinner and jobs and a few leads in under twenty minutes. I’m the best. You’re welcome.”
I stand back up and look at her warily. One of our mottos is, if it feels too simple, it’s because you don’t know everything about it yet.
“I can’t help but feel that maybe some of that isn’t the sort of news I’ll be happy about, but good work all the same.”
“Let’s eat first, and I’ll fill you in.”
I look down at the shirt that bags around my waist, and the hip bones you can see through my leggings. “Food is good.”
We go back to the room and sit on the floor with our backs to our respective beds. It may not be as comfy, but it doesn’t leave crumbs in the bed, and the one chair in every hotel room simply isn’t comfortable enough to fight over, most days.
“So, catch me up,” I say as I bite into the ham, egg, and cheese sandwich she brought me back. We’ve found that after several days of packaged food, easing back in through things like breakfast sandwiches is for the best.
“Hang on, let me get a bite, too.” I nod and we fall into contented silence again while we enjoy something that has exactly zero soy or chia in its ingredient list.
Soothed by carbs and cheese, I let out a sigh of contentment and allow some of the tension I didn’t realize I’d been carrying to release. I fix Ophelia with a patient stare while I wait for her to finish her sandwich.
“Okay. So the four girls are all part of Chi Kappa Kappa, which we may also be in, Idaho U. chapter.” She looks at me contritely.
I wave aside the implicit apology. “Suspicious. Go on.”
“They all disappeared after a night out…bar, mixer, kegger, bar.”
“And, a couple of the girls at our new place of employment know all of them and saw them the nights they disappeared!”
“Hella convenient,” I allow, impressed at the break. “So, what’s the job?”
“Oop—I almost forgot! I got muffins! Coffee cake or chocolate chip?”
Muffins are my kryptonite. The timing of the offering should put me on guard, but I can’t help it; she’s gone right for my weak spot. It’s almost like she knows me.
“What the hell kind of question is that? We split them, and each have half of both.”
We navigate splitting the muffins seriously, using the age-old customs that separate the cutter from the chooser and settle back down to enjoy our treats.
“So,” I begin again, maw crammed with muffin. “What’s the job?”
She clears her throat. “Ah, beer tub girls?”
I lean back against the bed, staring at the ceiling above her head.
“Beer tub girls,” I repeat, trying the words out loud. Ophelia watches me carefully. We’ve done almost every menial job on the market out of necessity, but there are definitely some I prefer to avoid. Jobs involving hot pants, like the ones held by girls who pour beer and dance on platforms, being one of those.
“It’s sort of perfect, if you think about it,” she says as the silence stretches. “We get to mingle, see their Greek sisters, observe the big players, make pretty good cash…”
I nod along, still looking at the ceiling.
“And it’s not forever,” Lia concludes.
I look her in the eye. “Beer tub girls.” She fakes a too-big smile. “Well, that’s just super, isn’t it?”
The next day we get up and decide to scout out the campus, particularly Greek Row, where all of the fraternities and sororities keep houses.
“You ever miss not going to one of these things?” Lia asks me as we walk onto the quad.
“A campus? Lia, we’ve been to all fifty states. We’ve seen dozens of campuses. It’s not exactly new territory.”
“You know what I mean.”
When most of my peers were sitting for SAT’s and visiting local universities, I was tracking and subduing a vampire pack that had been looking to recruit Ophelia. When others in my graduating class came home for Christmas after their first semester at college, I was fighting to get one of my sister’s friends away from a counselor who turned out to be feeding on her nightmares. You really can’t expect any better from Germanic nightmare monsters.
I look at her and smile. “Nah. We’ve probably listened to more lectures than any of these sheep ever have, about more subjects than they’ll cover by their third change of majors.” I look around at the students sitting on the lawn, throwing frisbees, repeating conjugations or arguing over last week’s insert-network-cable-show-here. “Plus, I’m only twenty-four. If I want this, I got time.”
We walk on in silence for a minute. “Why—do you?” I ask her.
She laughs again. “Yes. A place with lots of people who probably remember their childhoods, all running around talking about how they’re gonna start really living life once they ‘make it.’ Totally my scene,” she says sarcastically. “I’m already an artist, I don’t need people trying to learn to be like me to tell me how to be me.”
“That was a super bitchy art thing to say,” I tease as we walk up to the house for Chi Kappa Kappa. “I’d graduate you.”
I gotta say though, it is true about the artist thing. Lia’s sold around three thousand dollars’ worth of her work over the past couple of years. If we could sit still long enough to make any connections, she could probably do her own gallery show.
I ring the doorbell, and a lanky brunette answers the door.
“Can I help you?” She asks.
“Hi! Me and my little are visiting my cousin here, and I had to stop by the local chapter!” I exclaim, introducing Lia as the new sorority pledge my persona is mentoring. “Summer, Chi Kappa Kappa, Idaho U. chapter.”
“Oh, yay! I’m Katie, come on in!”
We enter the old Victorian house into a vibrantly green foyer.
“Great house,” I say, taking in the shockingly hued rooms radiating off the central hall. Lia raises her eyebrows significantly at me from behind Katie’s back.
“Aw, thanks! We have a couple sisters who are design majors? So every year one room gets an update. Taking into account, of course, the aesthetics of the sisters who all live here.”
“Oh, of course,” Lia adds brightly.
“This is my little, Lia.” We’ve decided to play this as sorority sisters rather than biological ones in order to gain the trust of our most promising witnesses.
“Well the two of you must, must, must come to our mixer tomorrow. It’s gonna be awesome,” Katie says. “Seriously, though,” she gets a little less bubbly and steps a little closer to me. “It’s sort of a bad time for the chapter. If you’re new, I wouldn’t want you getting into trouble.”
“What do you mean?” Lia asks.
“I mean…” Katie’s face falls. “I mean that four of us are missing right now…I don’t know who could do this. Chelsea and Brittany have been missing for almost a month.”
“Oh my God, that’s horrible,” I say. “What happened?”
“We don’t know. They all went out, people saw them throughout the night, they said they wouldn’t be home that night, and none of them have been seen since.” She looks at us worriedly and I put my hand on her shoulder. “It’s been a really sucky time overall, but especially if you wanna get lucky,” she adds with a small laugh that turns into a shudder.
We commiserate a little longer and head back out into sunlight with promises that we’ll try to come to the mixer.
“Missing a month. That doesn’t sound great,” Lia remarks once we’re out of earshot.
“No joke. Kinda doesn’t sound like it’s our sort of thing after all. Maybe we should call in one of those people who interview serial killers.”
“Oh God, I hope we don’t need Charlize Theron or Tom Hardy to play anyone for the movie based on this.” Lia looks at the time on her phone. “Shit. It’s almost three, I told the manager that we’d both stop by to fill out paperwork and pick up our uniforms.
“If it’s not our kind of deal, do we still need to show up for uniforms?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did you have some sort of emergency snub-the-tub money squirreled away somewhere I wasn’t aware of? Or perhaps you’ve converted the car to breathatarianism?”
“No, I ha— wait, what? Breathatarianism?”
“Yep. Some sort of new age cult that thinks that nutrients of all kinds are a hoax.”
“Darwin is right—not all of us are meant to pass on our genes.”
We head back to the motel to hooch up a little before going to the bar. Lia and I are highly trained in several key areas like firearms, hand-to-hand combat, knives and various blunt-object weaponry. I’m a licensed electrician, and she’s got a knack for tech support. We both know first aid like the back of our scarred hands. We are also both pretty good at disguises, which is the macho word for “makeup artistry.”
Ten minutes later in skinny jeans and crop tops, fully coifed and painted, we peel out to the local college sports bar, Finnegan’s. A guy out front is dispiritedly washing down the sidewalk, but stops moving the hose as we walk up. I can imagine the effect. We’re both practically the same height, around five-four. She’s let her natural curl take over, tawny hair spiraling around a face that looks like it could have been a painting itself a hundred years ago—she has milky white, flawless skin, her makeup giving her the slight impression of permanent bedroom eyes. I have straightened my hair, my sun bleached highlights shining red in the late afternoon sun. I’ve pumped up my eyelashes so that my already oversized baby blues now look big enough to dive into, my deep red shirt emphasizing the tan I’ve encouraged from long hours outside.
We flash him near identical smiles—she’s got a slightly better cupid’s bow, I’ve got slightly fuller lips, but I don’t think most people notice that distinction as much as we do.
Inside is that strange smell of disinfectant, wet wood and beer that seems to attach itself to all dive bars.
“Lia,” a man in a short sleeve black button up shirt walks up to us, smiling and taking her in. “And this must be Summer,” he says turning to me. I see that I too pass the examination. I smile like I don’t notice that I’ve just been appraised.
“Thanks so much for letting us work here, Mister…”
“Steve, just Steve,” he says taking my outstretched hand. He gives a quick look of surprise when my grasp is too firm for the normal serving wench—I mean beer tub girl. I always forget one detail. I throw in a small giggle, hoping that covers it back up. Lia shoots me a look of horror, like she thinks I may be having a stroke, which makes the laugh more genuine.
His smile widens again and he looks down at the podium to his side. “Here. Sorry girls, just some routine paperwork. You can sit at the bar and fill them out.”
We sit down and I take stock of the environment. You can see how it’s set up for happy hour now, with small high-tops giving people a place to store bags and place drinks. You can also see how those tables are meant to be moved to the edges of the floor when the bar starts really filling up in order to provide more space for awkward standing, and that there’s a separate area by the front raised platform for dancing. Around the room are four tall stools behind four enormous kegs of different beers. Our new domain.
We finish our paperwork as honestly as we can, sometimes copying answers from the other that seem more plausible, finessing responses to questions like “have you ever been arrested” and “were you ever fired?” Our lives are just a little too shades-of-grey to fit neatly into small boxes on such simple things as applications.
We finish our signatures ten minutes later as Steve comes back with a Lycra monstrosity that would make Hooters waitresses blush. It’s gonna be ever so much fun hunting monsters with my pants trying to cut me in twain.
“And uh, not that I’m saying anything about how you look, but the other girls advise that dressing to impress leads to noticeably greater tips, so, keep that in mind.” Steve looks at his phone. “Damn, we’re actually opening in half an hour, do you want to stick around? Get the tour, shadow some of the other servers through happy hour?”
“We would love that,” Lia quips, grinning with bewildered amusement at the uniform and back at me.
I give her a sour look, and we head to the bathroom to change. I start to put mine on, but my legs are pretty well scarred. Nothing too disfiguring, but there are small white marks that cover my knees, and an obvious animal scratch on my left calf, most noticeably. So, I make a covert trip to our car and fish around in the detritus that seems to accumulate in all lived-in vehicles. Bingo.
Soon, I meet up with Ophelia in the central powder room. While her obsession with sunscreen makes her look a little spooky in daylight, in the dim lights of a bar, in a black leotard and Converses, she looks like she’s never met a manticore, or dug herself out of a cave. I, on the other hand, have had to put on fishnets to mask the fact.
“Wow, really playing up the flash-dance stripper look, huh Summer?”
“Bite me, Ho White.” I scowl at my reflection in the mirror. “Oh, awesome. Aaand it’s basically see through.”
“Only when the fabric is stretched that much. Damn girl, those real?”
“Why are you so gross? Also, be careful how you bend over, I think you may be experiencing a similar problem on the flip side, but at least my exposed bits are used to seeing daylight.”
It’s too much, and we both start laughing. She comes to stand next to me in front of the full length mirror while we look ourselves over. I, for one, am thankful for the roadside yoga and for the fact that this feels like a costume.
“I pick the job next time,” I say after a moment of quiet reflection.
“Maybe not the worst idea,” Lia says mournfully. “Sorry. But now we’ll have a bitchin’ story. Selfie!”
“Ophelia, NO!” Before I can finish protesting, the picture is taken.
“Maybe this can be September’s text-to-mom-so-she-knows-we’re-alive.”
“A good plan, if matricide is your end goal.”
Once we’re done confirming the worst of our suspicions about this job, we head back out to the floor where other girls are sharing in our humiliation with a lot more grace. Not to be outdone, we get it together and meet up with Maggie, who is to be our tour guide for the evening. She gives us the rundown of the place, which is like every other bar, honestly, and hands us both a tray of shots as the first of the happy hour crowd start trickling in. As she does, I notice that the charm bracelet around her wrist has the Chi Kappa Kappa emblem on it. I pass the message along to Ophelia in our secretive sister language. I don’t really know what to call it, but you probably know what I mean—that combination of motion and meaning that allows you to pass information along unspoken with someone close to you.
She nods understanding and we both start mingling. This not being our first rodeo, though definitely our most exposed one, we do well, and soon our trays are empty. We circle back to the bar, where Maggie is chatting with a bartender.
“Out already?” She asks, looking at both of us. We fork over the cash we’ve collected.
“Heavy drinking crowd,” I add by way of an explanation.
“It totally reminds me of that party at pledge week last year, remember Summer?” Lia begins.
It’s amazing how many of our work skills could be picked up in an improvisational comedy class.
“You’re so right! Put grain liquor in enough jello, and you can off-load shots like candy.”
“You’re both in Greek life?” Maggie asks.
“Yeah, we’re visiting Chi Kappa Kappa,” Lia says, flashing her own pledge pin. I look incredulously at her. What happened to “not stealing?”
“No way! We’re Chi Kappa Kappa,” Maggie explains, motioning to the bartender.
The bartender comes over and we spend a few minutes bullshitting.
“Let me reload, see if the masses are thirsty again,” I say. Lia signals her understanding of my unspoken intent again and helps me refill the tray.
I go back on the floor, working the tables, pandering mercilessly for tips. My mama always said, never half-ass a job. Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s never said the word “ass.” And I’m not sure if that advice applied to jobs where literally half my ass was showing. But the work-ethic of our adolescence is hard to beat, is what I’m trying to say.
Lia eventually rejoins me on the floor.
“Learned some stuff,” she mutters to me as she passes. We begin an intricate dance, passing each other at every other table.
“You mean like pick pocketing?”
“It’s not stealing if I intend to give it back before it’s missed.” She sniffs snootily. “At worst, it’s conversion.”
“You watch too much Law and Order.”
Over the course of the next ten minutes, I learn that both the bartender and Maggie were with each of the girls the night they disappeared. They mentioned dark haired men with devilish eyes and lean bodies that met up with each victim, and with whom each girl intimated she was intending to spend the night.
“So it could be one or two guys?”
“Definitely between one and four guys, so far,” Lia confirms.
“Well, those are good odds. Do we think ‘guy’ guy, or…” I leave the rest of the sentence unfinished, wary of anyone who may be listening.
“I’m not so sure any more. I think we should try to look at the tapes.”
Ugh. Security tapes. Usually, our inconspicuous personas are valuable. People remember talking to the cops, or some other authority; no one remembers another waitress. But sticky things, like autopsy reports, security tapes, and other secured information require a higher pay grade than the one we’re clinging to, most days.
“Okay, first things first. We gotta see if Steve has them or if the bouncers are independent security.”
“Done.” My sister turns on her heel and goes up to one of the guards off to one side, making instant conversation. I would normally classify her as sort of shy and introverted, but give her a situation where she feels like she’s just playing a part, and she’s the feistiest flirt in a hundred miles.
She laughs coyly and walks away from the guard, shaking her head minutely. “Nope,” she mouths silently.
It is on me, then, to work in close proximity to Steve. After a few minutes of pretending that I’m pretending not to notice him as I work, he comes over to me.
“Hey! Just checking in. You and Lia doing okay?” I try to smile what I would imagine comes off as gratefully, but who the hell really knows. I’ve got no poker face. It seems to work though, as he smiles back.
“Um, I think so! I’m a little nervous though that table seventeen maybe left without paying…do we have tape?”
“Very thorough,” Steve says, his eyes beginning to wander a little south. I try to keep my smile going but ugh…sometimes my work requires more effort than others.
He motions for me to follow him towards the back of the restaurant, and I allow myself a therapeutic grimace once his back is turned.
By the cash register there are a few cycling camera feeds, and a shelf of DVD’s labeled by the date. “So to watch the tapes, you just control it like this…” Steve presses a few obvious buttons, using it as a pretense to slide closer to me. I am going to punch Lia when our shift is over.
“Okay! Think I got it!” I try to sound like I really learned something from him, and while he seems to buy it, another waitress turns to me when he leaves.
“Think you can remember all that? Fast forward? Stop, rewind, play?” She asks teasingly.
“Why, however will I manage?” I ask in my best Scarlett O’Hara impression.
Once she leaves, I quickly switch the tape to the most recent abduction, and fast forward until I find footage of Melanie, the girl in question. I watch it at increased speed as she and her friends drink a surprising amount of alcohol for a bunch of people who weigh maybe a buck twenty sopping wet. I speed it up a little more as I watch some peel off to dance, as men walk up with pick up line swagger, and there! Finally. Someone dark and lean coming to talk to Melanie. Even on grainy security footage, it’s clear this guy is denim-wrapped sex. I’ll take two, please, serial killer or not.
The waitress who had seen me looking at the footage earlier starts to walk back towards the cash register, so I quickly switch the DVD back and duck out of the area.
“So? Everything all right?” Steve asks right in my ear. I jump involuntarily and then force myself to laugh, uncurling the fist that automatically springs up when I’m startled. “Oh, yeah! Looks like Maggie got the tab and I just didn’t see! I’ll double check that from now on.”
He claps my shoulder and moves away to handle something else that’s caught his attention.
I think about the video feed. Not to disrespect the many fine human specimens out there, but it’s my experience that beings that pretty are usually more thing than human. Especially if they’re in some place like Finnegan’s in Roanoke, Virginia.
Which means the hunt is on.