Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(3)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(3)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“Hmm.” He spun in his chair, picked up a sheet of paper from the state-of-the-art printer behind the desk, and turned back to hand it to me. It was an article from the Las Vegas Sun about a new production opening at the Bellagio. I scanned the headline and first few paragraphs, and noticed that it was a vampire-themed show. The entertainment company producing it wasn’t actually Cirque du Soleil, but the show itself sounded pretty similar to other stuff I’d heard about in Vegas: acrobats, mentalists, magic tricks . . . that kind of crap. It would bring vampires back into the spotlight again—literally—but I didn’t see anything we could do about it that wouldn’t make the problem worse.

I lifted my eyes back to Dashiell, who was watching me expectantly. “I mean . . . as I understand it, Vegas has shows based on topless zombies and giant bugs,” I said with a shrug, setting the paper on the desk in front of me. “This is like when we were dealing with the Twilight movies. It’ll blow over.”

“Finish the article,” he instructed, his face unreadable.

Okay, that made me nervous. I picked up the printout again and kept reading, more carefully this time. The vampire-themed show was called Demeter, and it was being put on by a new entertainment company run by a husband-and-wife team, the Holmwoods. That name sounded just the tiniest bit familiar, but nothing in the article seemed particularly worrying. Then I got to this paragraph:

Arthur and Lucy Holmwood came onto the Vegas scene rather abruptly, and have been given an unheard-of opportunity to leapfrog the entertainment stepladder to the very top: a headlining show at the Bellagio. Little is known about the couple other than their stage names, which are a reference to characters in Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire novel, Dracula.

Okay, that explained the familiar name. I’d reread the book a few years earlier, after I’d first learned about Dashiell’s own weird connection to Dracula. Back in the early 1800s, he had turned his nutty ex-girlfriend, Claire, into a vampire. Decades later, when the Old World was still in chaos after the fall of the vampire council that had previously led it, Claire had persuaded a stage manager/personal assistant named Abraham Stoker to write a book about vampires, which, of course, became as famous in human culture as anything could in a pre-Twitter world. Come to think of it, wasn’t Demeter the name of the ship that Dracula had taken to England?

At any rate, Dracula was still the most famous vampire novel in history, and had been adapted hundreds of times. Why would this bother Dashiell? Unless—

I looked back up at Dashiell. “You don’t actually think these two are real vampires, just because they took the names of characters from Dracula?”

Dashiell leaned forward and rubbed at his face. He was still close enough to me to be human, and he looked tired. “It’s the other way around, I’m afraid. The characters in that infernal book were based on the real couple.”

Chapter 2

It took me a moment to process that, because it was just so ridiculous. “No way,” I said to arguably the most powerful man in Los Angeles. Besides Spielberg, of course.

But he was already nodding. “The last name was fictionalized, but Lucy and Arthur are very real. I haven’t met them myself, but they’re well known in the Old World.”

“Well known?” I echoed. Like . . . vampire celebrities? There was a time when I would have laughed out loud at the idea, but instead I pushed out a slow breath, thinking it over. Unfortunately, the first question that popped into my head wasn’t terribly mature. “Wait! Is Dracula real, too?”

“No,” he said firmly. Then he inclined his head a little. “Well . . . Stoker’s character is an amalgamation of a number of real vampires, particularly Claire. But there is no single person who was fictionalized into Count Dracula.”

“Okay,” I said, feeling surprisingly relieved. It was kind of silly, since I dealt with vampires on a daily basis, but Count Dracula had scared me back in middle school, and old fears are the hardest to shrug off. “Good.”

He gestured to the article. “The Holmwoods, however . . . that part of the story really happened.”

“But in the book, doesn’t Arthur behead Lucy and die as a human?”

“Yes, because Victorian audiences wouldn’t have accepted the truth,” Dashiell replied. “At the moment when Arthur meant to behead her, he faltered. Instead, he lied to his friends, and went back to Lucy’s grave that evening. He begged her to turn him so he could be with her forever.” He gave me a thin smile. “In the vampire world it was considered very romantic.”

“Uh, okay,” I said, trying to take that in. This was like finding out that Batman was based on a real dude. “So you’re saying the real vampires Lucy and Arthur adopted a last name to match the book, moved to Vegas, and are now putting on a stage show.”

He jerked his head in one crisp nod. “I believe so, yes.”

“That seems . . .” I tried to think of an even remotely appropriate term, and finally settled on “incongruous.”

Now Dashiell gave me a tiny, approving smile, though I didn’t know if it was because of the insight or my awesome word choice. Vampires—at least, every one I’d ever known or heard of—are invisible predators who prefer to pop out of shadows, take what they need, and vanish again. They occasionally take a vampire spouse, but mostly they hunt alone, and they avoid attention.

“Which is one of the reasons I want you to go to Las Vegas and view the show,” Dashiell replied.

I jerked in my seat. “What? No.” I hated Las Vegas—the crowds and the attitudes and the sweat-tinged smell of desperation in the air. But that wouldn’t be a good enough reason for Dashiell. “I mean, uh . . .” I gestured at the printout. “This is really interesting, but I don’t see what it has to do with us.”

“Do you remember Carlos?”

I opened my mouth to say no, but then an image flashed in my head: a short, squat vampire in a bad suit. He had come to Dashiell’s house three years ago, intent on helping another vampire stage a coup. Unfortunately for him, they made their move the same night a very bad man brought a teenage null to the house as a hostage. Jesse and I came to save her, and both Carlos and the kidnapper were killed in the melee that followed.

“You said he was a cardinal vampire,” I remembered.

“Of Las Vegas,” Dashiell supplied.

“Oh,” I said in a small voice. We had killed the cardinal vampire of Vegas? Why hadn’t anyone told me about that?

Um, because you were unconscious after accidentally curing Ariadne of vampirism? I reminded myself. I hadn’t meant to do it. At the time, I hadn’t even known that I could concentrate my null-ness to the point of permanently removing someone else’s connection to magic. It was only after I woke up in the hospital that I understood what I had done—which was also when Dashiell explained that Ariadne was actually his own vampire descendent, Claire. He wasn’t upset with me, though, since Claire had been trying to usurp him. And since turning her into a human had made her very easy for him to kill.

“Since then,” Dashiell was saying, and I reminded myself that we were supposed to be talking about Carlos, “Las Vegas has been experiencing a power vacuum. It is a mecca for vampire activity, for obvious reasons, but in the last four years no vampire has been able to secure control and keep it. Several have died trying.”

“And now you think this Lucy and Arthur are trying to take control?” I asked, tapping the printout.

“That, or they’re simply taking advantage of an opening,” he replied.

I did not say, “That’s what she said.” Not out loud, anyway. “But what are they planning to do with it?” Dashiell continued. “Why take an American city, and why now?”

I chewed on my lip for a second. It was interesting, and problematic, but . . . “Again, and with respect, how is this our problem?”

“It’s not,” he said, to my surprise. “But it may well be my problem. If, during the show, the Holmwoods announce that they are vampires, they may be risking exposure for all of us, and therefore all of the Old World. That is why I want to hire you to go see the show. And, of course, to make sure it’s safe for humans,” he added, trying not to sound like it was an afterthought. “I don’t expect you to actually move against them by yourself, Scarlett. I just need you there as a scout.”

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