We did Chapter 1 yesterday. Now for some Chapter 2 action. This one’s called #MONOLOGUE. I’ll post chapter 3 tomorrow probably.
I feel like maybe I should do a little self-introduction. This isn’t my first rodeo, but it might be your first experience with me.
Imagine, if you will, a Venn Diagram of urban fantasy novel protagonists. I hunt monsters for a living. That’s its own big circle. Pretty common in the genre, right? I’m not super powered. That’s another circle. I am super sarcastic. That’s another circle. These three circles actually don’t overlap very much. You might get two of them, but the three aren’t too common.
Next, I’m pointedly self-aware. I get things like narrative beats and dramatic irony. Sometimes I knowingly make choices based on how good they’d be for the story, instead of just making the best choice within my universe. I like to think that combined with the other aspects of my identity, I’m fairly unique.
So now, let me tell you about my super cute vampire girlfriend, Natalie. Usually a woman protagonist that hooks up with a vampire finds a man. Dark, brooding, haunted, you know, the kind of guy you have to save. While I have fucked a few men who were vampires, they were insufferable and definitely not long-term dating material. She does own a bar, though. If we were just looking at Natalie without any other details, she’s kinda cliche. Unfortunately, while she’s super cute, we actually don’t have a particularly functional sex life. Blood makes things complicated. In fact, my whole sex life is complicated and dysfunctional. I think that makes me unique within the genre by itself. Protagonists like me, we’re supposed to have heaving bosoms and fawn over turgid members or some shit.
Also I do a lot of coke. But it’s not a character flaw as much as a statement about societal bullshit I have to deal with and the things I have to do to get ahead. Performance-enhancing cocaine, if you will.
All those circles overlap in exactly one tiny point, and that point is me, Lana Moreno, professional murderer murderer. I don’t murder professional murderers. I professionally murder non-professional murderers. Well I guess maybe some of the monsters I kill are professional killers, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
So we’ve got the action scene to start everything up. We call that “in media res.” It’s a good way to dump characters and themes in an engaging fashion. Then, straight up exposition. Except, I did it with a motherfucking diagram. Consider that when leaving your Amazon review. Remember, anything less than five stars gets stuck in algorithm hell.
I feel like maybe I overshared a little about my situation with Natalie. That’s probably the kind of thing you should see, not hear, right? Well, I can’t just take that back. So pretend I didn’t say it.
After my fight with Luke, I head to Natalie’s bar. It’s a vampire bar. She pays her workers very well to consensually give up bits of blood to clients. This means the clients aren’t murdering as many people. I like to think of it as a public service for profit. Kind of like what I do when I kill vampires for cash. Natalie doesn’t have to murder anyone to do what she does, but when I do my job, I don’t have to worry about my targets killing anyone ever again. It’s give and take, you know?
Her bar’s called Eden. We argued for weeks about the name. She ended up using it because we had some neon lettering left over from a sorcerer I killed and it saved her some money. The place is cute. Not exactly my thing, but classy and dark. She’s got this whole velvet and fake leather thing going on. Everyone seems to like it, and not everything has to be for me. It’s maybe the calmest bar I’ve ever been to. The whole atmosphere has to be pretty chill. If a vampire loses control, she has to know immediately so they can be stopped before they seriously hurt someone. For a while, she had me doing security work there. But it was boring, and the patrons didn’t like that I was also killing vampires. They considered it a conflict of interest. Like these motherfuckers have any room to judge.
“Hey Nat.” I say as I plop down at the bar.
“Hey…” She says with a smile. She’s all red and black tonight. Black jeans and a tank top with a dark red fake leather jacket. I don’t really like that jacket on her since it clashes with the much brighter red of her hair, but whatever. It’s not for me. Everything’s gotta be blood blood blood blood blood. “How’d the hunt go? Can I get you a drink?”
“Hunt went well. He was a sadist. But not anymore. So I can’t complain.” I think for a moment and look around. I feel like somebody’s watching me but I can’t pinpoint it. That’s sort of the problem with vampire bars. All the damn vampires. If someone’s invisible and watching you, there’s no good way to tell. Out on the streets, that’s different. But you’ve got to expect at least a couple of invisible vampires in a place like this. I don’t know why this would affect my drink choice. “I’ll take that thing you gave me last time with the maple and whiskey and apple.”
She smiles. “Got it.” She darts off to get a few more orders.
I like Natalie. I like her a lot. A lot a lot. Otherwise, you wouldn’t catch me dead in a bar full of vampires. Particularly since most of them know exactly what I do. This means I get a bunch of dirty looks and nobody will sit next to me.
Okay, it’s not all bad.
But, because I hang out with Natalie here sometimes, everyone knows who I am and what I do, and sometimes I’ll catch someone crossing a street to stay away from me. I guess they’re assuming that if they see me in public, that means I’m probably hunting them down. They don’t get that if I was hunting them, they wouldn’t see me until it’s too late.
These vampires must really think I’m a shitty vampire hunter if they think they can just cross the street to avoid me.
“Here you go hon.” Natalie puts down a glass. “I’m a little busy, so maybe give me a few? I’m out at 1.”
I look at the clock above her head. It’s still only 11:25.
“I might drink this and meet you back at your place?” I say, sipping the sweet maple whiskey apple thing I can’t remember the name of.
“Yeah.” She sighs. “I’m sorry. Just, duty calls.”
“It’s cool. It’s good to see you either way.”
She smiles and wanders off to handle the other murderers at the bar.
Natalie’s place is nicer than mine. Of course, she makes more money than I do. Part of it’s about location though. Her bar’s along the edge of Palo Verde, which is full of movie studios and animation offices and ad firms, so all the apartments nearby have been gentrified into very hip, very spacious things compared to the rest of San Jenaro. On the outside, they look like they came straight out of Raymond Chandler. On the inside, they’re all white and hip and bleached and boring but expensive-looking. She’s gotta live close to her bar, because day and night get really complicated and she’s got to be at work damned near the moment the sun falls.
And to be honest, it really doesn’t have much to do with money. Natalie uses her vampire powers to get free rent. I can’t blame her. Landlords are assholes that don’t create anything, and I’d sure as fuck do it if I could. It’s not like a Palo Verde landlord really needs every last cent, anyway. These are multi-million dollar apartments and every building has a ton of them. Hell, some of the landlords are keeping places empty just to drive up the rent costs from demand.
It’s bigger than my place, too. Every time I’m here, I spend a lot of effort to stretch out and take as much space as possible. Otherwise it feels empty, like it’s a waste. I’m kicking a leg up on the white leather sofa and reaching an arm back behind my head when she comes in.
“You stretch like a cat.”
“Sorry Nat.” I say. Heat rushes to my face and I scramble to sit like a normal human being, knitting my fingers together on my lap.
“No, it’s cute.” She says and tosses a black leather messenger bag onto the coat rack. “By all means, don’t let me stop you.”
“So… how was work?” I say, crossing a leg over the other. It feels very sophisticated, until I bump my ankle on the coffee table and yelp. That doesn’t help with the blushing.
“Work…” She looks to me and shakes her head. “Work was okay. How was it for you?”
“You know. Normal night. Normal things.”
“Kill anyone?” She says and hangs her long wool coat up. I keep telling her that thing doesn’t look appropriate in California. She never listens.
“Yeah. Like I’m wont to do. Real skeezy motherfucker. Kept calling me a bitch. So I strung him up like a scarecrow. It was really badass.”
Her eyes go wide and she just stares at me.
“I guess you had to be there.”
“I guess.” She sighs and walks over, falling onto the other end of the sofa.
Natalie’s weird about my work. She’s supportive. At least insomuch as she knows that I kill vampires for money, and doesn’t try to stop me. It also disgusts her. Which I guess I understand, because she’s a vampire, and I’m fairly open about, well, being very good at killing vampires. I don’t blame her. But sometimes it hampers my style. I’m very proud of myself. I take pride in what I do, because it’s the only thing I’m really good at. Every time I talk about a good night’s work, she looks like she’s gonna vomit.
“Sorry.” I say, slumping my shoulders.
“It’s okay. It’s just… His name was Luke.” She bites her lower lip. A little of her lipstick comes off on her teeth. She looks like it hurt to say that.
“You knew him?”
She shrugs. “Yeah. He’d come by the bar sometimes. It’s just weird, knowing I’m never going to see him again.”
The blushing turns to a hint of anger as my mind flashes with memories of Luke. Of how in the moment, it was me or him and he wouldn’t have hesitated to kill me if the tables were turned. “He called me a bitch, Natalie.”
“If he was human and he called you a bitch, would you have killed him?”
I grit my teeth. I want to argue. I want to tell her I would. But we both know I wouldn’t. It didn’t even have anything to do with calling me a bitch. It had everything to do with the cash. He could have been a perfect gentleman and I’d still have done the deed.
“Nevermind, Lana. I’m sorry. I understand. He’s a murderer. If you didn’t kill him, who knows how many others he’d have taken down over the years.”
“Yeah. Murderer.” I sigh.
“Um!” She says, snapping to attention, and turning to face me fully, legs crossed on the sofa in front of her. “Anything else going on? Not vampire things?”
I also perk up at the chance to change the topic. As much as we’ll never see eye to eye on the “I professionally murder people like her” thing, she knows when stuff’s getting too tense and can diffuse an argument before it gets there. I appreciate that.
“I start classes tomorrow!”
“Huh? Classes? Hunter classes?” She tilts her head. I realize I never told her I enrolled in part-time classes.
“No. College. I’m taking three classes this semester. I’m really excited.”
I sigh. “I think the response was supposed to be, ‘Oh Lana that’s wonderful! I’m so proud of you!’”
“I’m proud of you?”
She’s not proud of me.
“You don’t sound that convincing.”
“I don’t know what to say, Lana. I feel like that’s the kind of thing you’d have talked to me about. You’re just really good at making big decisions without even asking me, and it… it kinda hurts, y’know?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. It didn’t even occur to me.”
“Yeah.” She sighs.
Five seconds or so pass. It feels like an hour. Then she reaches forward and takes my hands.
“What classes are you taking?”
I force a smile. “Oh. A basic math class. Theater. And gothic lit. I figure I’m kind of an expert there, so it’s an easy grade.”
“You’re an expert at gothic lit? What else don’t I know about you?”
“Gothic lit is full of vampires and Frankenstein monsters and stuff, right? I’m an expert on that shit.”
She drops her face into her palm and shakes her head. “You’re not an expert on Frankenstein’s monster.”
I nod a few times quickly. “I killed one.”
“No you didn’t.”
“We’re just gonna have to agree to disagree on this, Natalie.”