CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Piling into Oz’s van the four teenagers headed toward the north end of town. It was a section of Sunnydale that had never quite been prosperous, yet the small stores and businesses that served the surrounding lower income neighborhoods continued to survive when other more enterprising districts had gone under financially. A few of the buildings had seen the hand of recent renovation, their fading architectural beauty converted over into pricey boutiques or industrial themed shops by entrepreneurs hoping to bring in much needed profits. Sitting among those upwardly hopeful mercantile concerns were several blue-collar bars that continued to eke out a meager livelihood, due in great part to the funding of the local residents and the unnatural thirsts of the working man.

One of the seedier and more infamous of these establishments was Willy’s Alibi Room. The clientele frequenting Willy’s included without a doubt the most unusual cross section of humanity imaginable, mainly because the bulk of the patrons were anything but human. Willy catered without prejudice to the occasional blue collar rough neck or dead beat down on their luck, but on any given night one was more likely to rub elbows at the bar with vampires, demons and all manner of beastly supernatural beings.

Oz pulled his van over to the curb, parking outside the bar entrance with its neon-lit signs and cardboard advertisements for various beers that blocked the windows, screening the interior from curious eyes and any penetrating rays of sunshine. Bidding each other good luck the two teams split off, with the musician and his red headed companion driving away to their next destination, the Sunnydale Mall. The pair planned to investigate every jewelry outlet and boutique in the shopping complex and determine if any of them had done business with the sorcerer salesman at any point, and collect information on how he might be reached. Meanwhile, Buffy and Xander would question Willy the Snitch and see if he had anything to offer in the way of a clue.

Buffy watched her friends drive away down the street. With a tick of her head she beckoned Xander to follow as she turned and marched into the Alibi Room. Inside the bar it was dingy and dark. The few customers that had gathered either ignored the slayer and her companion as they passed, or they surreptitiously slipped into the back recesses of their shadowy booths, avoiding any eye contact with the petite young blonde.

A short, sharp-nosed man looked up from where he stood behind the long bar. As his gaze locked with the slayer’s his eyes noticeably widened with nervous fear. Scanning the faces in the room, looking for some trace of sympathy or someone to protect him, the weasel-like man stepped backward, but there was no place for him to run, or hide.

“Willy!” Buffy sauntered up to the bar, leaning an elbow in one of the less sticky places on its surface. Xander’s lank form postured behind her, adding to the silent threat of her body language.

“Well, if it isn’t the slayer,” Willy greeted her, his voice whining in a distinctive loud and ingratiatingly nasal tone. At the opposite end of the bar a pale green skinned demon with curved horns and a mottled complexion glanced up before slowly vacating his stool to slink away to a less obvious location. “So, what can your ol’ pal Willy do for you?” he asked, exuding a false, slippery politeness that fooled no one. Bringing out a bowl from somewhere under the bar he offered it with a slightly tremulous hand. “Pretzel?”

Reaching over her shoulder Xander snagged a fistful from the dish, nibbling away as the slayer began her interrogation of the bartender.

“Allow me to preface this by saying I’m short on time here,” she said, her icy stare locked on the man’s beady eyes. “Let’s save us both the time and aggravation, dispense with the obligatory pre-pummeling, and skip straight to the part where you answer all my questions. Of course, if you insist on doing things the regular way,” she sneered menacingly. Shooting out a hand, she clamped her fingers around the man’s throat, squeezing down on his windpipe with the slightest of pressure designed to close off his air supply.

“Okay, okay!” Willy croaked. He threw his hands up in a gesture of surrender, his brow breaking out in an anxious sweat. As Buffy released her hold and stood back, he raised a hand to his throat, checking to make sure nothing was damaged. “Geeze!” he wheezed, breathless as he sucked in a deep lung full of air. “Ever think of looking into one of those anger management classes? I hear they really work.”

“Oh, I’m not angry,” the blonde calmly replied. She leaned in again, her voice low and ominous in tone. “Not yet.”

Willy cringed. “What do you want?”

“Information.”

His eyes narrowing, Willy jerked his head toward an empty end of the bar, inviting her to follow. With a bored, resigned sigh the slayer moved with him, Xander at her side.

“Every time you come in here I loose business,” the bartender whined. “It’s bad enough you kill off my customers out there in the streets. Do you have to chase ‘em away from here, too?”

“My heart bleeds for you,” the teen yawned irritably. Displaying a clenched fist she waved it in front of Willy’s face. “And so will your nose if you don’t tell me what you know.”

“I don’t know nothing,” Willy defended.

“Then start learning stuff fast,” Buffy growled. “Or I’m going to be your new interior decorator. I’m looking for someone. Guy. Bald, tacky suit, crappy tie. Well stocked with the latest in magical mystical accessories. Know him?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell. Got a name?”

“We were hoping you’d tell us that one,” Xander mumbled around a mouthful of salty pretzel knot.

“He was in town Thursday night,” Buffy continued. “He was with some vampires.”

“So, go ask them who he is,” the bartender smartly retorted.

“I would,” the teen replied. “Only none of them will talk to me, on account of they all had unfortunate accidents with sharp, pointy wooden objects.”

“Look,” Willy scowled, lowering his voice to a plaintive, hissing whisper. “I’m goin’ broke here. A guy’s got a right to earn an honest livin’. Yeah, okay,” he quickly recounted at her withering glare. “A livin’, anyway. How am I supposed to pay my bills?”

Reaching into a back pants pocket Buffy produced a folded twenty-dollar bill. The bartender’s outlook immediately brightened. He made a grab for the money, but the slayer snapped her hand back, keeping the bill just out of arm’s length.

“Talk first,” she said. “Then we’ll discuss your business expenses.”

“Right.” Willy thought a moment. “Thursday, huh? Yeah, there was a guy in here. Short and bald, just like you said. I didn’t talk to him. Mostly kept to himself. Sat over there,” he said, pointing to a corner across the room. “I recollect he did have a couple drinks with this vampire. Tall guy. Skinny. Lives in one of those abandoned houses out on Pleasant Street, I think.”

“Skinny vamp,” Buffy muttered, thinking aloud.

“Real skinny,” Willy nodded in confirmation. “We’re talkin’ like Bone Daddy Thin.”

As the slayer contemplated the information the bartender tentatively reached for the twenty in her hand. When Buffy didn’t move to withhold it, he greedily snatched the bill from her grasp, transferring it to his own pocket before she could change her mind.

“Always a pleasure doin’ business with you,” Willy smirked. “Actually, it’s not,” he confessed, shrugging blithely. “But I’ve been tryin’ to brush up on my interpersonal relationship skills. A friendly smile, a cheerful thank you brings back the return business trade. Customers really go for all that crap.”

“I’ll remember that the next time I have to bust your face,” the slayer responded sardonically. “Come on, Xander,” she ordered, turning to stalk toward the exit. “I want to check out this place on Pleasant Street while we’ve still got daylight on our side.”

Nodding, the dark haired teen seized a final handful of pretzels to take along, then hurrying after his companion, followed her out the door. Behind them the quiet bar suddenly came back to life. The green, horned demon returned to his stool at the bar, and a comely female creature with shocking pink hair and moist, glistening flesh made her way across the room to sit with him. Soon the two beings were engaged in friendly conversation, and the horned demon waved Willy over to buy his newfound acquaintance a drink.

Dispensing the special stock he kept behind the bar Willy filled a tall glass, adding a paper umbrella swizzle with a tiny attached plastic monkey. Sliding the drink across the bar top he smiled warmly at the pair, accepting the horned demon’s cash payment and ringing the sale up at his register. Breaking the larger denomination bill, he slipped a few singles and change back across to the male demon.

“Keep the rest,” the demon grinned, leaving behind part of the payment.

Slamming the register shut with a jingle, Willy swept his tip into a special bowl as the couple got up and strolled away arm in arm. After a beat he added a cheerful smile. “Thanks!” The demon acknowledged him with a wave. “Yup,” the bartender chortled gleefully. “Likin’ what them interpersonal relationship skills do for business.”


They had no trouble finding the old abandoned house Willy the Snitch had described to them. The structure’s outside showed years of neglect with its worn, peeling paint and the growth of waist-high weeds. It had once been a grand and stately home, but now the downstairs windows were boarded over to keep out vandals, and the second floor openings were draped in dark curtains pulled tight against any possible penetration of sunlight. Everything about the place screamed vampire, especially the location. Convenient to at least two cemeteries the older neighborhood had many other similar empty dwellings nearby. Without many people around to notice the strange comings and goings through all hours of the night it was a definite draw for undead residents.

Climbing the dilapidated porch stairs the teens approached the front. There was a good hour or more of daylight left, giving them an advantage in their plan of attack. They were counting heavily upon the element of surprise. The vampires would be sleeping and slow to awaken, tilting the odds in their favor during those first critical moments of battle. Still, no time was ever good to face the undead and they had to stay alert and prepared for anything.

Buffy peeked through the cracked oval pane in the front door, but couldn’t make out a thing beyond the thick layer of grime frosting the glass. She gave a tentative twist to the tarnished doorknob and was surprised when the door swung open, its rusted hinges creaking loudly.

“Someone should tell these guys it isn’t safe to leave their home unlocked,” she said, stepping boldly across the threshold. “You never know who might drop by unannounced.”

“Maybe they like company,” Xander quipped, entering behind her, close on the slayer’s heels. Once inside he looked around, his eyes darting nervously in every direction. It may have been daylight outside, but the interior of the old house was gloomy and dark. The surrounding foyer sported a dreary patterned paper that was stained and peeling. There were a few old pieces of furniture scattered about in various rooms, and a liberal layer of undisturbed dust covered everything.

“These guys should really think about hiring a maid,” Xander whispered. Walking past a hall console he inadvertently rested a hand on its surface, and the distasteful sensation of a decade or so of encrusted dirt caused the teen to jerk his arm back quickly. Staring down at the spot he’d touched he discovered the clear outline of his palm imprinted in the musty, mold-riddled grime. With a disgusted grimace he wiped his hand across the front of his shirt as he muttered. “Of course, a few lit matches would do a much more thorough job.”

Buffy reached into her coat pocket, taking out a wooden stake. Gripping the weapon tightly in her small fist she did a quick reconnaissance. Her spidey senses were tingling big time. There were definitely vampires around. A lot of them.

“Maybe you should wait outside,” she advised Xander, her voice low and calm.

Xander unsuccessfully stifled a nervous laugh. Normally he might have felt slighted by the insinuation he wasn’t man enough to handle himself in a dangerous situation. It wan’t like he hadn’t done this sort of thing with Buffy before. Okay, so he didn’t have Super Slayer powers. But he knew which end of the pointy stick went into the vampire.

“What?” the boy gamely forced, his voice cracking with apprehension. “And leave all the fun for you? No way! I’m staying.”

“Then you might need this.” Buffy reached into another pocket, producing a spare stake. “Unless you brought your own?”

“Guess I left mine in my other fighting suit,” he replied, relieving her of the offered weapon.

Tip toeing past the front parlor the pair quickly surveyed what appeared to be the former dining room. The room was empty, devoid of any signs of recent habitation or life. But then, it wasn’t life that they were searching for. It was vampires.

Making a slow careful sweep of the entire first floor, the pair eventually headed back toward the foyer and the staircase that dominated the center hall. With Buffy leading the way they climbed the wide flight of stairs, senses on full alert. Xander felt a cold sweat break out on his body, his heart pounding at every creak and groan that emanated from the floorboards beneath their feet. By the time they had crept to the top of the staircase he was panting as if he’d run the entire way.

Upstairs the wide hall opened onto five closed rooms. Approaching the first door Buffy took a deep breath, and gingerly turning the knob, cracked the door a scant inch. She paused a moment, listening for any sound within. Hearing nothing she threw the door open, leaping into the room, stake raised high, ready for action. But the room was empty. No vampires.

The second room was also empty, but she got lucky with door number three. Flinging the door open she leapt forward, and nearly tripped over an undead body. At the last minute she saw the sprawling figure on the floor, and with a sprightly dance-like movement avoided the prone creature, maneuvering deftly around its sleeping form in the dark.

An almost feral smile graced the teen’s feminine features as she scanned the dark room. She was standing in the midst of several snoring vampires, she guessed about six. They were all sound asleep, sacked out on thin mattresses or on the floor itself, totally oblivious to the two trespassers. Buffy felt her senses kick into high gear. Gripping her stake tighter her entire body buzzed with the anticipation of battle. Nothing got her Slayer juices flowing like the close proximity of a half-dozen creatures of the night.

With a silent gesture she warned Xander to stay put where he was in the doorway. The boy’s eyes went wide as he took in the vampire nest, and he enthusiastically nodded his compliance. Slinking on nimble feet, Buffy cautiously began to weave her way across the room, making her way between the horizontal bodies toward the far wall. She stopped beside one of the room’s draped windows, her free hand grasping a fold of the heavy, rotting curtain shade. Raising her weapon she waved Xander forward. When the boy had closed the door and stepped into position, she gave the signal, and it began.

Ripping at the window curtain, it had been her plan to let in the sun, but to her surprise the material was so decayed it simply fell apart in her hand. Only one small section came away at her tug. It was enough. A thin stream of sunlight filtered through the dirty glass, piercing the room with a trail of purifying brightness that fell across the arm of one sleeping vampire and the leg of another.

An acrid smoke rose up from the two creatures as their flesh began to smolder. Spontaneous flames exploded into life, and suddenly the air was torn by shrieks of panic, the vampires awakening to discover they were on fire. Their cries were like an alarm clock, and within seconds every demon in the room was on its feet. Dazed and confused, they instinctively cowered away from the patch of sunlight that penetrated the filmy window as they sought out the enemy among them.

Buffy decided a little more light on the subject was in order, so pulling her shirtsleeve up over her hand to protect it, she shattered the glass windowpane with her forearm. The rest of the tattered curtain came down in the process, and the afternoon sunshine poured into the small room at full strength, basking the dingy walls in warm color and illuminating the resulting scene of vampire hysteria. Suddenly undead were snarling and writhing, twisting as the tried to get away from the offending brightness, tripping over each other in their haste to escape.

Xander braced for the vampire stampede. Intent on getting out into dark safety of the hall the vampires initially took no notice of the dark-haired teen standing beside the closed door. Jumping at an older looking vampire in an ill-fitted tuxedo, Xander punctured the creature’s back with his borrowed stake, watching with satisfaction as his target dissolved into a pile of dust. He stepped back, coughing and waving his arm to disperse the creature’s remains as the demon’s scream of surprise continued to echo eerily in the musty air of the room around him.

The anguished death cry caught the attention of the other vampires. Like a mob of fiendish keystone cops the fleeing gang pulled up short, stumbling over each other as they turned toward Xander. The teen wisely chose to retreat at that point, his courage failing fast in the face of five growling, blood thirsting monsters. But there was no where to go. The door was closed, and Xander was trapped, his back pressed against the wall behind him.

“Uh, I don’t suppose any of you guys would like to step outside and finish this?” he timidly challenged the vampires closing in on him. Menacing and hungry rumblings were what he received in reply from the advancing group. “I didn’t think so.”

His heart thumping wildly, Xander prepared himself for the inevitable. Suddenly, Buffy appeared seeming out of nowhere, her lithe form directly between her schoolmate and the vampire gang. With a perky toss of her head the blonde teen faced her quarry, green eyes twinkling merrily.

“Nap time’s over,” she announced to her mutant-like audience. Frowning at one particularly ugly female, she delivered a characteristically slayer insult. “Now you definitely could have used the extra century of beauty sleep. Those bags under your eyes are big enough to pack and take on a trip.”

“Think you’re smart, little girl?” the female growled in retaliation. “Well, it wasn’t too smart coming here. I get hungry when I wake up and you look like a good breakfast to me!”

The creature flung herself at the teen, gnarly hands going for Buffy’s throat. The younger girl easily stepped aside from the charge, following through with a well-placed kick to the woman’s back that sent her slamming headfirst into the solid wall. The vampire bounced back, momentarily stunned, then collapsed to the floor. Turning to face the four remaining creatures, Buffy clenched her small fist around her wooden stake, holding it aloft for them to see.

“Anyone else?” she retorted, daring the scowling undead before her.

In the brief interim before they reacted, Buffy quickly checked out each of her enemies’ faces, searching for the vampire Willy had described. He was there. A tall skeleton-thin demon, he appeared to be no more than a few years older than she was. But with vampires looks were deceiving. She knew he could easily be a hundred if he was a day, and if slayer experience had taught her anything it was that older usually meant smarter when it came to vampires. The dumb ones usually didn’t last long, especially in Sunnydale. Not with her around.

Xander had spotted the creature, too. Now it was just a matter of weeding out the other unwanted vamps so that they could question Mr. Undead Jack Skeleton. Buffy had that part of the plan covered. She rushed at a burly male in greasy mechanic’s overalls, tackling him head-on. Knocking her surprised target into another vampire, the three of them stumbled backward across the room into a patch of sunlight. The vampires immediately howled in protest, fighting and scrambling to get away from the window, trying to escape the sun’s burning rays.

Behind her, the skinny vampire made a grab with one arm, swinging his other around in a wide arc to smack her face. She deftly blocked the blow and the next as well, deflecting both with her slim forearms. She kicked out a leg, her foot catching the gaunt vampire in his lower gut and doubling him over in pain. The position presented her with a perfect opportunity for a staking, but she had come for answers, not killing. At least, not yet.

Spinning clockwise into a roundhouse kick Buffy’s foot caught the vampire in his side, sending him to the floor in a tumble of disjointed angular limbs. She hadn’t hurt him. Not much, anyway. But she had inflicted enough damage to take the creature out of the fight, at least temporarily. This allowed her to concentrate her slaying efforts on the others, and she promptly got to work doing just that.

A vampire near the door watched as his companions fell to the ground one after another within the space of seconds. Baring his fangs he confronted the petite girl. This young human was obviously something more than she appeared. Realizing the stories he’d heard of a Slayer were true, that she did exist, he glared at the slim, young blonde. It hard to believe this pretty teen was the Chosen One, that she was capable of the things legend said she could do. He’d soon separate the myth from reality. The slayer had picked the wrong vampire to fight.

Buffy saw burn marks on the arm of the vampire advancing upon her. He had been one of the creatures she had so rudely awakened. Sizing up his potential strength, she was ready when the vampire came at her with a flying kick. She met him with a kick of her own, slashing out with her leg, her foot hitting lifeless flesh with a dull thud. The vampire managed to catch one side of her knee with his heel, and she experienced a brief stab of pain. That one’s a bruise, she thought, wincing at the irritating contact. Looks like I’ll be wearing slacks and long skirts for at least the next few days.

Falling back a pace Buffy collected her strength, readying for the next attack. Her attacker’s fluid moments had told her he possessed some skill in the martial arts. That was going to make him a tough opponent, but not an impossible one to defeat. It just meant being more alert.

Watching his friend, Xander felt a cold hand at his leg, yanking him down to his knees. The ugly female vampire had roused from her unconscious state. Dragging him to the floor she threw the boy onto his back, scrambling over his prone form. With an evil grin she exposed long fangs as she made a lunge for his exposed throat. Instinctively, Xander thrust the creature away. He had forgotten the stake clutched in his fist, but luck was with him for a change, and the sharpened end was facing outward when he hit the creature. The point pierced her chest, his blow finding the undead demon’s heart. An astonished gasp contorted the vampire’s hideous features, and she burst into a cloud of decayed dust, leaving an equally shocked Xander struggling to make sense out what had just happened.

Before he could resolve anything Xander was forced to duck as a body suddenly flew through the air above him. He flinched as a vampire hit the wall a few feet away, then dropped with a thud at his side. Buffy’s martial arts adversary hadn’t proved as expert as he’d hoped. But even as the girl tossed that vampire aside like so much unwanted trash, another came at her, trying to sneak up from behind. He was almost on her back when she spun around, striking him in the face with a clenched fist. As he reeled back drunkenly, dumb-founded by the blow, she lunged forward with her other hand, the one holding the stake, and neatly impaled him with Mr. Pointy. There was a demonic roar, and then he was nothing more that a scattering of dust at her feet.

The vampire in mechanic overalls backed away, leery now of rushing into danger. It was obvious Buffy knew what she was doing. He had seen her easily take-out several of his companions, even thrashing the capable Karate Kid, leaving him crumpled and unconscious in the corner. Hoping to escape the same fate, the garage mechanic decided to make a break for it, and sprinting past the blonde girl, headed for the door behind her.

His fingers had almost closed around the knob when Buffy turned and charged. Grabbing his coveralls she swung the vampire around in a circle, releasing him just as the arc of his flight was in line with the second unbroken window. Soaring across the room the undead mechanic hit the closed drapes, his airborne body ripping them down as he crashed through the glass pane. An anguished scream tore from his throat, and he tumbled from the second story window, his cry cut short as the afternoon sunlight finished the job the drop had begun.

Buffy had brought the number of vampires down to a manageable two. The martial arts guy was up on his feet again, ready for another round of punishment. Ignoring Xander completely, the demon charged the slayer with a snarl. With a blinding flurry of fists he rained down blow after blow at the blonde, but she agilely ducked and blocked each lightening punch, and the deadly kicks that followed. Retaliating with her own offensive tactics, Buffy hit back with several well-aimed jabs to the head and stomach. Again and again the battling pair struck at each other, hands flashing, legs sweeping out in a violent and graceful ballet. A fist to her lower ribcage connected hard, knocking the wind from Buffy with a whoosh. Stumbling back a pace, her lungs burning, the teen took a second to catch her breath. Mistaking the moment for weakness, the karate vampire grinned, closing in for his anticipated kill. The slayer, however, was far from out of the game. Snapping back, she slashed out with several quick wallops to the creature’s face and throat, beating him back with a renewed determination.

Out of the corner of one eye Buffy noticed Xander standing just behind her assailant. The teen’s arms were raised over his head, his stake poised and ready to strike. Maneuvering her opponent into position, she fended off a series of rapid strikes, returning the attack with equally forceful vigor. Step by step she pushed the creature back until Xander saw his opportunity. With a downward thrust the boy struck the final blow, his stake penetrating deep and true between the beast’s shoulder blades.

As the dust settled on her shoes, Buffy turned to face their final antagonist. Like a trapped and frightened animal the bony creature gnashed its pointed teeth. The teens advanced slowly, wooden stakes prominently displayed. It was obvious the pair was capable of carrying out any intended threat. Snarling, the skeleton-like vampire retreated into a far corner as Buffy stepped forward, her threatening posture driving home the point she meant business.

“Got a couple questions for you,” she challenged the cowering beast. “Answer like a good little vampire, and maybe I’ll be nice and give you a head start for that door when I’m done.”

“Questions?” The monster raised an eyebrow, regarding the blonde with suspicion, but he was showing signs of cooperation. “What kind of questions?”

“Nothing too tough,” the slayer responded flippantly. She waved the pointed stick in her hand, brandishing it with casual menace. “Just a little information we’d like you to share.”

Weighing his options the vampire wisely decided it would be in his best interests to collaborate. “What do you want to know?”

“We’re looking for someone,” Buffy said. “He was in town a couple days back. I hear you got to know him pretty well. Guy sells pretty things. Jewelry and stuff.”

“Him?” By his expression Buffy knew the creature recognized the sorcerer’s description. “Yeah, I know him. Well, not really know him…” As Buffy hauled back her arm to deliver the stake’s point the creature gasped, his frightened eyes going wide in their deep sockets. “What I mean is,” he rushed on in explanation. “I don’t know him well. You see, I only met him once. It was in a bar. We had a few drinks, some laughs. Talked about things. That’s all.”

“What kind of things?” Buffy queried.

“You know, things,” the vamp responded with a cryptic shrug. “Guy stuff. Sports. Business. Where the chicks hang.”

Xander gaped with incredulity at the undead creature before him. “You were giving him pointers on where to pick up girls?” he sputtered, outraged. “I don’t believe it. This is so wrong.”

“Yeah, well, maybe if you wore something that looked half decent you’d score too,” replied the vampire, sniffing haughtily as he surveyed the teen’s less than stylish slacks and wildly patterned shirt.

Scowling, Xander felt his ego deflating. He’d been insulted by the vampire’s cutting comment. Demons were giving him fashion critiques. How bizarre could the world be? Still, if this guy was scoring, maybe he knew a thing or two that might help. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to hear what he had to say.

“So, you think some new threads might be the ticket?” Xander asked.

“Wouldn’t hurt,” the creature shrugged, his angular frame fairly creaking as he moved.

“But the hair, that’s okay?” the teen pressed, grasping hopefully for some hint of approval. “It’s says, hey, I’m cool. A real happening kind of guy. Right?”

“The hair’s okay,” the thin vampire assured the teen. Xander beamed, his confidence restored.

“You ladies can swap beauty tips later,” Buffy grumbled, interrupting. “Back to this buddy of yours in the bar. You discuss anything besides chicks?” she asked, derisively emphasizing the last word.

“He was looking to sell some of his stuff,” the vampire explained. “His special inventory he called it. Magick rings, amulets, cursed jewelry. That kind of junk. I gave him the name a friend who might be in the market.”

“Do you remember his name?” Buffy queried. The vampire frowned.

“My friend?” he snorted, puzzled by the odd question. “Of course. I’ve know him for like a hundred years.”

“The guy in the bar!” The slayer sighed, rolling her eyes in exasperation. She was beginning to run short on both patience and time. She knew Giles was waiting, and she wanted to bring him back some good news.

“It was a weird name,” the vampire muttered thoughtfully. Raising a gnarled hand he stroked his long, pointed chin. “Give me a minute. It’ll come to me. Hmmm, now I remember. Waldo. I’m pretty sure that’s it.”

Buffy and Xander exchanged a pained look. “Are you going to say it, or do I have to?” the blonde asked her friend.

“I’ll do it,” Xander sighed. His normally jovial features screwed into a constrained mask of revulsion. “Okay, pal.” Taking a deep breath, he blurted out the unavoidable. “Where’s Waldo?”

“How should I know?” the skinny beast snapped irritably. Buffy brandished her stake, shaking loose another string of excuses. “Look, I don’t know. It’s not like we were close. I’d only met him the once. I hear tell he left town real sudden like though. Some kind of trouble.” The vampire’s face drew into a devilish grin. “But maybe you know more about that than I do.”

“Anything else you can tell us?” Buffy continued prompting. “Names of friends. Where he’s staying. The more I find out, the bigger head start you get.”

“I heard he was looking into a few stores, trying to drum up some new sales contacts.” Obviously thinking hard, the emaciated ghoul seemed to be searching its memory for any little detail it could come up with for them. Apparently, it wasn’t having much luck. “Did I say he sold rings and stuff like that?”

“No points for that one,” the girl grumbled, her temper frosting cold.

The vampire could sense the interrogation was coming to its end. Twitching, he nervously edged his way along the wall toward the door, hoping the slayer wouldn’t notice. Suddenly he bolted for the exit. His long bony legs carried him across the room in only a few steps, but the door was shut, and he had to stop to open it. That was when Buffy pounced. Jumping at the creature’s back, she impaled it with her stake. The vampire disintegrated, his remains gently whirling away in a stray breeze that had found its way in through one of the broken windows.

That wasn’t very helpful,” Xander muttered dejectedly. He was disappointed by the abrupt conclusion to their interrogation. He’d still had a few questions of his own to ask.

“Maybe Willow and Oz had better luck,” Buffy countered. She stomped a foot, dispersing a cloud of vampire dust from her shoe. “He did say the guy was looking for a place to sell his stuff. There’s a couple stores at the mall that could fit that billing. Maybe they’ll track him down from there.”

Sighing, she opened the door, glancing back over her shoulder as she stepped into the hallway.

“Come on, Xand. Let’s go tell Giles the bad news.”

A flash of movement caught Buffy’s attention. Something was running across the hall in her direction. Jerking her head back around she saw two vampires coming at her. She yelled a warning, snatching the wooden stake out of Xander’s hand as she pushed him back into the room. Slamming the door shut in his startled face, she turned back to confront her attackers, alone. With practiced grace she executed a perfect cheerleader-style handspring, her body twisting into a somersaulting flip. Landing upright on her feet, she bounced forward to meet her assailants, arms extended outward, a stake in each hand. A simultaneous thrust of the twin points punctured the creatures’ chests, both weapons finding their target. With a final screech the undead pair became just two more statistics to add to her daily quota of vampires dusted.

She made a careful survey of the hall and the other rooms, looking for more vampires, but the kamikaze pair had been the last of the creatures inhabiting the old house. Eight ghouls in one hour. Not a bad score, and she hadn’t even gone out on patrol. Returning to the room with the former nest she opened the door and found Xander standing frozen where she had left him, his arched eyebrows raised high in a stunned expression.

“All clear,” she smiled cheerily. Stumbling into the hallway, Xander gazed down at the two untidy piles of vampire debris on the floor.

“I could have handled that,” the dark-haired teen complained petulantly, his machismo exhibiting a slight tarnishing as his initial shock dissolved.

“I know.” She didn’t bother contradicting her classmate, deigning to allow him some semblance of self-pride. Experience had taught her how frail the male ego could be, and if Xander were desperate enough to be seeking help about girls from vampires, it obviously wouldn’t take much to damage his psyche.

Descending the stairs the weary duo exited the empty house together. They had successfully eradicated an entire vampire nest, yet in spite of their remarkable victory, their departure was anything but joyous. As they trudged along, heading across town, each was glumly aware of their failure. They hadn’t come up with any information that would help their British friend, and for the dejected pair it became a long and solemn walk back to the library.

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