After her introduction to the Church, Damienne found much to keep her away from the place. The early winter sunsets were a blessing as they allowed her to check out the bike shops before they closed. Once the men there finished gawking at her or realized she wasn't easily intimidated they gave her the information she needed. Between the shops and the hangouts they named, she was able to begin building a network of names, feeding grounds and event information.
It seemed odd to her that the local Prince wasn't more visible, but that was just as well. If it hadn't been for Ryk and his pals bumping into her she wouldn't have bothered with such formalities anyway. "Good then," she thought. "That much easier to stay out of his way." She was a bit concerned that this place seemed so full of loose cannons. These politic types were usually so jealous of their imagined power, but they did keep a sort of peace with their petty games. She didn't like the idea of getting caught in any power-struggle crossfire. She also thought it all too likely that such a struggle might crash through Ryk's door.
She recognized his name from memories of California. Technically, she should kill him as part of that Hunt. But then again, they barely knew her name in L.A. and not at all here. She intended to keep it that way.
On her third night in Dallas she found a place to live. She was checking out one of the biker clubs when her lucky break walked in. The place was a bit run down and seedy, but the live music gave it a gritty warmth. The crowd was a mixture of patch-holders and blue collar rat-riders: perfect. Damienne was playing pinball in a corner and getting a feel for the place when the girl walked in. She was young and would have been attractive if not for the misery so evident on her face and the slightly stooped, resigned way she stood in the doorway scanning the crowd. The yellow stain of a recent bruise on her left cheek didn't help much either. As her eyes found their target, she sighed and headed to a booth opposite the pinball machine.
Damienne tossed her long blond hair over her shoulder in a habitual gesture and watched the scene unfold. As the girl approached the booth, one of its occupants turned and scowled at her. "Whatchoo doin' here bitch?" he snarled at her. "I thought I told you never to bug me here." The woman sitting across from him seemed to decide it was a good time to fetch another beer from the bar.
"I...I'm sorry Brick. I know but ..." Her next words went unsaid as the man stood. His eyes were icy as his hand cracked across the girl's cheek.
Green fire kindled in Damienne's eyes as the girl reeled back and sank to the floor. Fury propelled Damienne and she lunged forward. She faced the man, meeting his mocking icy stare with a smoldering glare of outrage.
"You wanna play too?" he asked, his fleshy lips curving into a sickly lopsided grin.
"I only play to win," was her reply. As she took his measure, Damienne noted his thick square build, like an athlete gone to seed. She shifted her stance and guaged the amount of muscle beneath the fat. His fist whistled in her ear as she leaned her limber body just out of its path. Her hands wrapped around his arm before he could pull back and she heaved him forward, dumping him onto the floor next to the wide-eyed girl. She sprang on top of him and smiled in grim pleasure as his eyes filled with fear taking in the hefty hunting knife now at his throat. "I think you owe the lady an apology." He regarded her with murderous hate, but it was quickly quelled when the knife edge bit harder into his throat and her eyes offered no quarter. The girl watched the exchange with a mixture of awe, fear and relief playing across her battered face.
"Sherry, I'm, uh, sorry." he mumbled.
The girl, Sherry, stood now over him. "Your shit will be on the porch. I don't wanna see you come get it."
Damienne raised the knife a fraction. "I think you better leave and do as the lady asks. And don't get any ideas--I'll be keeping an eye on her." Damienne stood, dragging him to his feet by his shirtfront as she rose.
"You're dogmeat bitch!" he spat at them both on his way to the door, but fear lit his eyes as they flicked over Damienne.
She forced down thoughts of tearing his throat out, trying to control the beast still raging in her blood.
Sherry faced her savior in confusion and admiration. "I don't know who you are but thanks, I think." A worried look crossed her face as the onlookers drifted away now that the show was over.
"I'm Dee and you're welcome. Are you ok?"
Sherry winced as she tried to smile. "Well, I guess so. I'm gonna have to find another tenant to replace Brick, but I'm glad he's gone. He had more shit at my place than his and never paid on time anyway."
Wheels spun in Damienne's head. "Sherry right? Can I get you a drink? We might be able to help each other out..."
A few hours later Damienne pulled her pearl Springer up in front of Ryk's place for the last time. Her step was light as she thought about the two room pad she had arranged from Sherry. She was grateful that she had been bright enough to invest most of the money when she sold her house after taking the grim step to living death. The interest was more than enough to support her few needs and would easily cover the cost of the little apartment. As she slept, the sun would have showed peace on her face, if it could have touched her.
Damienne woke with a start, shaking cobwebs of fire out of the corners of her mind. She tried not to see the writhing body of flame at its center. Her eyes held a familiar look of horror as she fought to still her trembling hands. As she journeyed further into wakefulness, the fear was followed by another familiar agony. She gathered the loneliness around her, its cloak her armor against another lifeless night.
She made her way to the window and opened its heavy blind. Tonight was clear. The moon stared back at her, its cold eye adding a silver sheen to her blond hair. Opening the window, she drew in the chill air and let it fill her senses. The breeze brought the scents of the surrounding humanity to her. She could almost see them beyond the shadows; their fear, desire and anger were so plain to her. The tumult of their lives called her, arousing her from apathy, giving her hope. Tonight she need not be alone.
She gathered up her jeans from the floor where she had dropped them at dawn. They fit her lean form snugly, accentuating her flat stomach and long legs. Next she pulled a soft lavender sweatshirt, collar and sleeves removed, over her head. Some cold water and a touch of makeup helped her look and feel a bit more human. By the time she finally put on her riding boots, she felt ready to take on the night. Her pearl Springer almost glowed in the moonlight, and she smiled with pride at the metal horse waiting for her. Maybe she would finally get that pinstriping done, she thought. Sirens blared in the distance, but not in the direction she was headed tonight. She meant to avoid those hassles after reading about the recent murder investigation not far from her new pad. Tonight she wanted neon and drunkenness.
Damienne pointed her Harley in the direction of a club not far from the murder scene. It always seemed to have a lot of people and noise so she took the risk. She added her bike to the row already parked in front of the place and listened to the sounds coming from inside. Laughter and shouting mingled with the clack of pool balls. She was smiling as she walked beneath the neon sign.
She went first to the bar, walking slowly past the two pool tables and eyeing the games casually. Good players, but she might make a couple bucks there later. She surveyed the room while waiting for her drink. The music was coming from a jukebox at the side of the room. There were a couple of pinball machines not far from it. The dance floor was small but had space left on it. She eyed the crowd near the dancing, searching for a likely companion in the onlookers. When the bartender brought her drink, she carried it to the jukebox and began the search for the right music. Something hard, but steady, not too fast. She made a couple of selections and made her way to the pinball machines.
While she played she thought about the body found in the dumpster not far from this club. Her ears strained through the noise at snatches of conversation. He had been one of these, her people, the only ones she still felt connected to. It was dangerous to anger bikers and she wondered who might risk such a thing. She always tried to be careful with her prey, preferring to leave them alive and happy to see her again. Not that she stayed long enough to do much repeat business, but sometimes it happened. Sure enough, she could see the angry pairs and trios plotting revenge for their brother. She finished her game and headed for the pool table where one of these conversations was escalating.
"...didn't deserve that! Who'd wanna f*ck with Rip? He never did nothin' to nobody! If I see the asshole that did him they're gonna wish they're momma drowned 'em at birth." A small wiry man with a too large nose and too thin lips was gripping his cue like a club as he spoke.
His companion, a burly greybeard with a nosering, had a menacing look on his face as he nodded in agreement. "No shit Mick! We gotta find 'em first though. I mean, I just saw Rip that day and then someone goes and cuts him up. Probably one of those friggin' Cult weirdos. Been some strange stuff around lately. Gotta watch our backs..." As he caught sight of Damienne approaching, his weathered mug split into a grin that did little to improve his face. "Ain't that right Missy? We can't be lettin' bros and pretty things like you get hurt now can we?"
She returned the grin and nodded. "Damn straight man. We got enough to worry about without outsiders buttin' in. Anyone see Rip that night? I wouldn't mind gettin' in a little headknocking myself on this slime."
The grin faded from the greybeard's face as he shook his head. "Funny thing, no one remembers for sure." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then gave her a greedy look, "But if its knocking ya want, I'll take ya on. Let's go!"
Damienne shook her head, "Maybe later bro, the dance floor calls." She felt his eyes on her, smelled his beer-tainted lust, as she walked away.
The song was Rolling Stones, Give Me Shelter: just what she was waiting for. The dancers thinned out, most not sure what to do with this tune. She let her mind meld with the music, letting go of her fears and opening herself up to the feelings released by the shouting reaching lyrics. Her body became the shout, her need the calling. Her sorrow cried out, twining with the promise '...Cry out, it's just a kiss away.' She wove around the floor, lost in the rush of emotions spilling out as measured motion. When it was over, she strolled to a small empty table nearby. A hand brushed her behind as she went, but she chose to ignore it, as she also ignored glares from women whose men were now staring at her. She looked up into the eyes around, inwardly laughing as most quickly looked elsewhere upon meeting her gaze. She didn't want those weak ones anyway. When her eyes met with a pair of brown unflinching ones, she stopped, taking in the face around them, then the body below. He stood firmly under her probing look, desire and confidence balanced in the set of his mouth. She leaned back and relaxed as she looked away. When she looked up again he was standing next to her table. "I'm Strider, can I get you a drink?"
She smiled at him, "I'd like that." She was not lonely for many hours after that.
Damienne stood in the alley looking down at the figure slumped at her feet. She bent down and propped him against the wall. She crouched there before him, watching the slow rise of his chest as it struggled for air. She sighed; this one would live. She checked his pockets until she found a wallet. Not much cash, but she could get more. She turned, wiping her mouth, and headed back to her bike. The slow warmth of the punk's blood spread through her as she rode away in search of another. She cursed herself for her timidity. Unwilling to kill, she would need one more "dance partner" tonight. Biker hangouts flicked through her mental address book. She shoved away the guilt and headed for the one where she had met the man with the bold brown eyes. She hoped he would be there tonight. She had already been to a couple of hardcore biker bars and left hungry. They weren't welcoming strangers, not even women, into the places frequented by patchholders so she had taken this punk from the Church instead.
The picture of Rip with a hole in his chest where his heart had been came unbidden into her mind. It occurred to her what a waste of blood that must have caused and hated herself the next instant for the thought. Her killing spree after her sire's death was a hazy shadow of memory, but it had left its mark. She often saw her victims' faces at odd times in her mind's eye when those buried memories fought for release. She had tried painstakingly after the madness faded to feed without killing and to fight the rage that stole upon her in the face of hunger, despair and injustice. On the rare occasions when some fool had pushed her too far, trying to take what she would not give, she had killed and lost herself in the thrill of it. The heady power hummed in her mind as she remembered those times, and she slammed the door on it, lest it steal the last shadow of her soul.
Damienne found the place she sought and added her pearl-colored bike to the metal rainbow parked in front. There were several patrons arranged randomly on the sidewalk in apparent discussion. On closer inspection she saw that they watched her warily through fogs of cigarette smoke. At the door she was stopped by two large pin-studded clubmembers who asked for her i.d. She smiled and handed it over, standing proud and fearless before them. Charisma was her ally and they let her pass. She searched the dim smoky room for familiar faces and found one or two, but not the one she hoped for. Stifling her disappointment, she made her way to the bar. She ordered a bottled beer and took it to the jukebox in the corner. Damienne stretched her senses out over the crowd as she pretended to look over the music selections. She noted the tenseness in the faces, the subdued voices broken here and there with a staccato of anger. It hadn't been like this before. A few bright flyers on the walls announced the Riprun and she calculated the date. She drew a breath reflexively as she realized it was in two days.
She heard the footsteps approaching, but wasn't prepared to feel hands on her sides before she could turn around. She jumped and struck out before she knew what had happened. Her eyes followed the heavy thud of a fall until they found themselves glaring at a large, well-built man staring up at her from the floor. Familiar brown eyes twinkled at her as he spoke. "A little jumpy aren't you, Dee?"
"A little," she replied as she extended her hand to him. "You shouldn't sneak up on a girl like that," she grinned.
"I guess not," Strider said as he pulled her down towards him instead of standing. She let him kiss her then stood back as he got up and dusted himself off. "Especially right now," he added with a glance at a nearby flyer.
They found themselves a table and spoke quietly together. She told him about the unwelcome she had gotten that night and he shook his head.
"Damn shame to turn a fox like you away." He smiled at her, then added , "But it's cuz o' Rip. Only thing anyone remembers is that he took off with some young chick. At least I can vouch for you."
Damienne found something else to look at besides his warm trusting eyes. "Yes, looks like you survived all right," she said when she could find her voice. When she looked at him again she tried to feel something besides guilt and hunger, and found a sliver of a memory, a sunny day, long ago when love was something she dreamed she could have. She tried to picture the sun on this weathered face and thought it would be a handsome sight. She vowed not to take that from him when she took what she would need. She put her doubts aside and gave herself over to the pleasure of his company.
When they left together, she followed him to his home and gave him as much as she could before she kissed him to sleep, tenderly licking closed the evidence of her time with him. She sat next to him, watching him sleep for a while before she headed towards her own dark slumber.