I never noticed before just how uninteresting the front door to my brother's house was. I only noticed this tonight because I stood in front of it for a good ten minutes as I thought about whether or not I should ring the doorbell.
Billy is nothing to be afraid of. He's a nice guy, and we have always gotten along quite well. But I was a bit worried about how he would take the news about Beeker, so I just stood there, staring at the door, trying to come up with the best way to tell him I'd lost my vampire.
"Sarah?" a voice called out from behind me.
I spun around to see my sister-in-law, Maryanne, walking up the driveway with a grocery bag in her hand. She greeted me with a warm smile. "What are you doing out here? Isn't Billy home?"
"I don't know," I said with a shrug, even though his vehicle was sitting in the driveway, right next to where I'd parked my own car. "I haven't rung the bell yet."
"Well why the heck not?" she asked as she approached the door, keys in hand.
All I had to do was look at her, and she instantly knew something was wrong.
"You're about to tell him something he doesn't want to hear, aren't you?"
I nodded. "Maybe now is not the right time. I should come back later."
"Nonsense, honey," she said, unlocking the door and pushing it open. "There's no time like the present. I'm sure whatever you have to tell him can't be all that bad. Billy, sweetie!" she called out, once she was inside the house. "Your sister's here to see you!"
"AUNTIE SARAH!" I heard a young voice squealing from the living room.
Out of nowhere, my eight-year-old nephew, Charlie, came bounding around the corner and ran towards me, skidding to a halt a mere second before crashing into me.
"Auntie Sarah, guess what? Jasper White from down the street said he'd give me a whole dollar if I ate dirt, so I did!"
I feigned a look of admiration and said, "Wow, Charlie, that's amazing!"
Maryanne gave me a disapproving look, probably because the more excited I was for the kid, the more it would encourage him to keep eating dirt for money.
"And then I bought candy with it! And I ate that too!"
I gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Wow, kiddo, sounds like you've had a real productive day."
"That's my boy," my brother said, emerging from the kitchen. He reached down and tousled his son's hair. "I sure do miss my dirt-eating days."
"Yeah, I miss last week, too," I quipped. I gave him a half-hearted smile as he made a face at me. "Hey, Billy."
"Sarah, what's up? I thought you had to work tonight."
"I did," I said. "But then I got fired."
His face fell at my words, and an expression emerged that I couldn't quite read. Disappointment? Pity? I wasn't sure.
"Aw, Sarah, I'm sorry to hear that," Maryanne said softly. She then grabbed Charlie's hand and they promptly left the room.
I wondered what the reason for her quick exit was as Billy cleared his throat and placed a hand on my shoulder. He led me to the dining room and motioned for me to take a seat at the table.
"What happened?" he asked with a furrowed brow.
"Well," I said, "for starters, I showed up late. Again."
"Oh," he said. I think he was trying to sound surprised. "Was there another reason on top of that?"
I nodded. "As a matter of fact, yes. The other reason was Mike Grover."
Billy blinked, wide-eyed. "Mike? What does he have to do with you getting fired?"
"I flipped him off and called him a jackass in front of the entire restaurant. Stu was, needless to say, not amused."
"Ah." Billy chuckled. "Well that doesn't surprise me. But why was he even there to begin with? He's a little far from home, isn't he?"
"Yes," I said. "But according to him, he had a very noble reason to be there."
"Oh yeah? And what reason was that?"
I searched Billy's face for any indication that he might have known what was coming, but he appeared to be wearing his poker face.
"He said he was concerned about how I was doing. After being fired from the PD, that is."
And if this conversation had been a game of poker, his face would have just blown his cover. I could see the color drain from his face, and the same expression he had donned earlier suddenly reappeared, only this time I could read it clear as day: it was guilt.
He cleared his throat again, something that he does frequently when he's nervous, but he said nothing. I took this as a bad sign.
"Billy, why would he say something like that?"
Billy averted his gaze so that he was now staring at the table. "Um…well…because…uh…"
I groaned. "Oh God. He wasn't lying about that, was he?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sarah."
No you're not, I thought bitterly as I glanced down at the hard wooden surface of the table and contemplated banging my head against it. "Why am I being fired? What did I do?"
"Nothing," he assured me. "And technically, you're not getting fired. You're being 'let go'. There's a big difference."
"If I'm not going to be receiving a paycheck anymore, it's all the same to me."
Billy sighed. "Look, I know this is going to sound clichéd, but the reason we have to let you go is because of budget cuts."
"You're right. That does sound clichéd."
"The truth is," he continued, "it's not all that profitable to have you on the payroll anymore. When you first started, there were more vampires lurking around. But most of them seemed to have moved elsewhere. And the ones who have remained here have become model citizens. In fact, that kid you were sent after today seems to be one of the few remaining vampire troublemakers in the entire town."
I gulped. During our conversation I had somehow managed to forget all about Beeker. "Oh yeah…um…about that kid…" It was my turn to have guilt written all over my face. "Well, there's been a minor setback with the apprehension."
Billy arched an eyebrow. "What kind of minor setback?"
"He was taken, unconscious, from my car," I said simply. There was no use beating around the bush. "And I currently have no idea where he is."
My brother stared at me in awe. "You're serious." It wasn't a question.
I nodded. "The good news is that I know for a fact that the person who took him is Mike. The bad news is that when I track Mike down, I'm going to kill him, and you're probably going to end up being the one to arrest me for his murder."
Billy shook his head in disbelief. "How did this happen?"
I debated on whether or not I should tell him that I'd brought Beeker to work with me and left him in the car. I didn't want to indulge that information, but honestly, what other excuse could I have come up with that would have sounded somewhat believable? So I opted for the truth.
"I was already so late for work," I began, "so after I apprehended Beeker, I figured I could just put him to sleep with some sedative, handcuff him to the steering wheel and lock him in the car while I worked. But then Mike must have overheard my co-worker telling me I had someone passed out in my car, and when he put that information together with the fact I'd let it slip that I had just come from an apprehension and…well, you can figure out the rest."
To my complete surprise, Billy started laughing. Not exactly the reaction I'd been expecting from him.
I glared at him. "Why are you laughing?"
"I'm laughing because it's funny," he said. "I mean, it wouldn't have been nearly as funny if we weren't already firing you anyway-"
"Letting me go," I corrected him.
He waved his hand dismissively. "Whatever. At least we know the kid is in good hands. But jeez, Sarah. How stupid are you to leave a vampire alone in your car without supervision?"
I frowned. Since I really had no interest in discussing how idiotic my decision had been, I opted instead to change the subject.
"Why didn't you tell me I was getting fired, Billy?" I asked quietly. "Why did you tell Mike first? Why did I have to hear it from him?"
His mirth disintegrated before my very eyes. "Sarah, I swear to God I did not tell Mike anything. I'm not even close with the guy. I have no idea how he found out."
"Yeah, well somehow he did," I muttered, leaning back in my chair. I stared at the table for a long time before speaking again.
"I'll bet you're glad about all of this, though." I knew it was wrong of me to say it, but I also knew it was the truth.
"Sarah, that's not fair." He frowned and shook his head. "Of course I'm not glad that you got fired, from either job." He made sure to stress 'either', because he knew exactly what I was thinking: that he was thrilled I'd lost my job at the PD.
I'd wanted to become a vampire hunter ever since my junior year of high school. At the time, the only person I told was Billy. He didn't really understand why, but he humored me because he never thought it would be something I would seriously pursue. Neither did I. But after I gave college an honest try and dropped out after only a few months, I decided to get a job at Benny's Burger Barn and devote all of my spare time to taking self-defense classes. I enrolled in every single one that was offered within a twenty mile radius, so long as it didn't interfere with my job. And about two times a week, sometimes more, I would get up at an ungodly hour of the morning and head to the gym to work out, to build up strength. Eventually, after two years of grueling training, all of my hard work paid off. When I caught wind of a job opening at the PD for a vampire bounty hunter, I was the first to apply. I was also the only one to apply, so I was offered the job. Much to the chagrin of Billy, of course.
Billy, who is four years my senior, must have taken a college course on how to excel at being an over-protective brother. He must have aced it, too, because he is often over-protective to the point where he deserves a smack upside the head for being so annoying. When he found out I had applied at the PD, he tried everything in his power to prevent me from getting the job. He didn't want me getting myself killed, and apparently he'd had no faith that I could do the job. It had put a major strain on our relationship for months after I'd started, especially after I found out he was the reason Mike had foiled my first apprehension attempt.
We both eventually got over it, though, and accepted the situation to the best of our abilities and for the longest time, he just made me promise not to tell him about any of my missions. I guess he figured ignorance would be bliss. We eventually got past that as well. We had to, if we were going to continue working for the same PD.
"I'm sorry," I said, burying my face in my hands. "I know that wasn't fair, I just...I'm in a really bad mood. I woke up this morning with two jobs, and now I have none. What am I going to do?"
Billy looked thoughtful for a moment, chewing on his lower lip as he stared up at the ceiling. And then, it was though a light bulb had illuminated above his head. "Hey, I know. Why don't you use this as an opportunity to go back to school?"
I let my hands fall onto the table as I glanced over at him with an incredulous look on my face. "You're joking, right? Billy, I just lost two jobs, and you're suggesting I go back to school? You do realize school costs money, don't you? I don't even have enough money to pay for this month's rent!"
"Oh please," he said, rolling his eyes. "You know Mom and Dad would help you pay for college."
"And my rent? Are they going to help me pay for that as well?"
"Probably," Billy said with a shrug. "But you could get a part-time job at another restaurant, or wherever, and if you were having problems paying for your rent, you could always move in with us until you were back on your feet again."
The more Billy spoke, the wider his eyes got with excitement, as if this crazy idea he was presenting me with was the greatest idea in the entire history of the world.
"Billy," I began, "I really appreciate your suggestions, but I don't think I'll be going back to school any time soon. I'll just start looking for another job tomorrow, and pray that I can find some place that doesn't require references, because there's no way in hell I want a potential employer talking to Stu about me."
I couldn't help but notice that Billy looked deflated. I'm sure he would have loved to have me move in with him, so that he could keep an eye on me and make sure I didn't get myself into trouble. And it was a nice offer, really, but living with my brother had never been at the top of my "Things I Want to Do Someday" list. I would never have the heart to tell him that, though.
He stood up from the table and pushed in his chair. Glancing down at me with a half-smile he said, "I'm sorry you've had such a lousy day today, sis, but I have a feeling that tomorrow will be a better one."
"I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and it would still be better than today," I muttered.
Billy chuckled. "Well at least you've still got your sense of humor. Look, if you need help looking for another job, I will help you. If you need help with the rent, I'll loan you some money."
"I will most likely be taking you up on that last offer," I said with a smirk. "But I'll try to take care of it myself first."
Billy nodded. "Can I get you anything to eat? Anything to drink?"
I thought about it for a moment. I wasn't hungry or thirsty. I was mostly pissed off, something neither food nor beverage would cure.
"No thanks," I replied, "but I would like to use your phone if I could."
He gave me an exaggerated sigh. "You know, if you'd only break down and get a cell phone, I think you'd find it's actually quite useful-"
"Billy," I interrupted. "Your phone? Please?"
He loves to tease me about the fact I'm the last human being on the planet who does not own a cell phone. I'm not ashamed of the fact I don't own one. I think they're obnoxious. Plus, calling plans are expensive, and since I would rarely use the phone anyway, the whole idea of buying one was ludicrous.
"Fine," he said. He left the room and a few seconds later returned with the cordless. "Who are you calling?"
"Your best friend, Mike," I muttered in response. Taking out the crumpled up business card I had stuffed into my pocket, I dialed the number printed on it.
"He's not my-" Billy began to protest, but I brought my index finger up to my lips as an indication for him to shut up. Throwing his hands up into the air in exasperation, he shook his head before exiting the room.
The phone rang about five times before the asshole picked up.
"Grover," I hissed into the phone. I had thought of trying to remain calm, but as soon as I'd heard the sound of his arrogant voice, all thoughts of calm had disappeared.
I could hear him chuckling softly. In the background, I could hear the sound of an engine running, and I figured he must have still been in transit with Beeker.
"Davis, to what do I owe the pleasure of hearing your sexy voice purring into my ear? Calling to apologize already?"
"You know why I'm calling, you son-of-a-bitch. I want my vampire back."
"Oh. That's why you're calling?" His voice was thick with fake disappointment. "Well, I'm afraid you can't have him back. We're nearly an hour away from you right now, and I just don't feel like turning around and coming back."
"Grover," I said through clenched teeth, "you can't just go around stealing other people's jobs. Beeker was mine."
I could hear another voice, apparently belonging to Beeker, speaking in the background and Mike said, "Oh, hey, he wants to talk to you, I think."
"You stupid bitch!" Beeker yelled to me in the background. "You're going to pay for this! You're going to be sorry!"
"Did you get that?" Mike asked me, sounding amused.
I suddenly found myself yearning for some sort of technology that would allow people to reach inside their phones and strangle whoever was on the other end.
"Grover, the next time I see you, you're a dead man." I pressed the off button on the phone so hard I'd be surprised if it ever worked again. And then I let out a frustrated cry that brought Billy back into the room.
"I hate him," I declared, slouching back in my chair. "I want to murder him. And I want his death to be as slow and painful as possible."
"You know, as a cop, that makes me uncomfortable to hear you say that," Billy said, but he was being facetious. He knew I would never be capable of murdering another human being, and he was right.
Although, I was not above ruling out the possibility of making an exception for Mike.
"Now if he winds up dead," he continued, "I'm going to have to investigate you as a suspect."
"That's fine," I said. "Hell, if I did it, I will confess. And if somebody else did it, I will gladly take the fall for them, as a way to say thanks for doing me such a huge favor."
Billy grinned and shook his head. "Sarah, I know Mike has given you a hard time over the past few years, but he's a good guy, and he's just doing his job."
"No, Billy, he's just doing my job. Beeker was my vampire!"
"I know, but you're just gonna have to let it go. What's done is done. And hey, look at the bright side: you'll never have to deal with him again."
I had to admit, that was a pretty decent bright side. Hell, who was I kidding? It was an awesome bright side, and that knowledge would be the only thing that would keep me from jumping off a bridge after leaving Billy's house.
"You know what? You're right." I pushed back my chair and stood. "But I'll rejoice in that knowledge later, most likely with some form of alcohol. But first, I guess I should go down to the station and give Phil the bad news."
Billy gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Want me to come with you?"
"Nah. I think I can handle him on my own. But thanks, anyway."
Phil Grossman was the chief of police down at the station, and despite his hard exterior, he was a big softie who was probably dreading the moment where he would have to tell me I was fired. Or "being let go". Or whatever.
"Well, okay then," Billy said. "Good luck. You'll call me and tell me how it went?"
"Oh, yes, bright and early tomorrow morning." I was joking, and he knew it. I'm not a morning person, therefore I rarely get up before noon.
I went straight to the station from Billy's house and sat out in my car in front of the building for about five minutes before working up the courage to go in. How do you tell your boss that you lost the criminal you were supposed to apprehend? How are you supposed to admit that you made a huge, dumb mistake; a mistake so idiotic that it has you questioning your own competency?
I walked into the station not knowing the answer to either question. I was going to have to just play it by ear.
Just as I expected, every officer I passed by on my way to Phil's office gave me a sympathetic half-smile and an acknowledgment of a low "hey". It was obvious that they all knew about my upcoming ax, which made me feel real good knowing that I was pretty much the last person to learn about it.
The door to Phil's office was open, which prevented me from hesitating outside of it. Which I guess was good, because there was really no use in prolonging the whole thing. Still, having the option would have been nice.
He looked up when I arrived at the doorway and gave me a smile that I was surprised to see wasn't somber like all the others I had received. Instead, his was full of mirth as he waved me into the office.
"Sarah, I've been expecting you," he said. He stood up and motioned to the chair in front of his desk.
"You have?" Of course he had. He had been expecting me to return with Beeker.
"Yes," he said, sitting back down. "I got a phone call about an hour ago from Agent Grover."
At the mention of Mike's name, my vision flashed red.
"Oh, you did?" I said, taking a seat. I wasn't sure if playing dumb was the right choice, but it was the one I went with anyway.
"Yep. He said he had taken Martin Beekman into custody." He paused and raised an eyebrow with me. "Wasn't that the kid I sent you after?"
I nodded. "Yeah. But what can I say? That Agent Grover is a master at his craft. He got to him before I did."
"Really? That wasn't how he recalled it."
"Well he is a lousy excuse for a human being," I snapped. "Are you seriously going to believe a word that man says?"
Phil chuckled and shook his head back and forth. "Well, considering the fact he's done this to you before, yes I'm going to believe him. Tough break, kid."
If I hadn't already known I was about to get laid off, Phil's dismissive manner over the situation would have been a giant red flag. He should have been livid. Instead, he was brushing off my stolen vampire fiasco as though it were just a mere nuisance for me.
"Phil, I know I'm being laid off," I blurted out.
Phil's smile vanished with the blink of an eye. Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, his brow furrowed. "Hm, what?"
"I know I'm being laid off," I repeated.
"How did you-"
I sighed. "Mike told me."
He arched an eyebrow. "Agent Grover?"
"And then Billy told me. And then the expressions on the faces of everyone who works here told me. In fact, Phil, you were the only one who didn't tell me, when you should have been the first."
Intense guilt made an appearance on Phil's face and lingered there for a moment. "Sarah, I'm so sorry-"
"Don't worry about it," I said with a dismissive wave. "Really."
"No. I should have been the one to tell you. And I should have told you by now, I've just been putting it off because I wasn't looking forward to crushing your dreams. I know how much you loved this job."
Loved. As in, past tense. "I did. But I don't blame you. Billy told me that it has to do with budget cuts."
Phil gave an emphatic nod. "It does, it really does. Sarah, you have to know that if I was not being absolutely forced to do this, I wouldn't."
"I know that, Phil," I said with a sigh. I pushed myself up from the chair and stood. "So you're not too mad about Martin Beekman?"
"Nah," he said. "He's in good hands with Agent Grover, and he would have just ended up at the DSI anyway."
I nodded. "Good. Okay. So, then is my termination effective immediately?"
"Well..." He glanced around his desk for a moment before speaking again. "I guess so, unless we end up needing you for anything in the next couple of days. But the way things have been going lately, it's unlikely that we will."
He paused for a moment before adding, "But hey, at least this way you will be able to devote your time to your full-time job. I'm sure Stu will be thrilled."
I pursed my lips and shook my head. "Actually, Stu would be thrilled if he never saw me again. He fired me tonight."
Phil frowned. "Oh, Sarah," he said. He ran a hand through his thinning hair. "I had no idea. So, what, you don't have any job now?"
"It appears that way," I muttered.
I expected him to look sympathetic. And for a brief moment, he did. But then something else flickered across his face before he stood up, walked over to his office door and shut it.
I glanced at him curiously. "What's up, Phil?"
He sat back down across from me and clasped his hands tightly together atop his desk. Leaning over in my direction, he said in a very serious tone, "Sarah, your brother would kill me if he knew I was about to tell you this, so you need to swear you won't tell him that I was the one you heard it from. Okay?"
I was instantly intrigued. Giving him a nod, I held up my right pinky finger and said, "I pinky swear."
The whole concept of pinky swearing was lost on him, I could tell, judging from the look of pure confusion that washed over his face as he glanced down at my hand.
"Uh, okay, whatever that means," he said slowly. He then averted his gaze back to my face. "The DSI is looking to hire a new agent."
My breath hitched in my throat. "The DSI? Seriously?"
Phil nodded. "They had an agent go AWOL a couple of months ago. I think they were hoping she would return soon after, so they didn't seek to fill her position right away. However, I guess they received a postcard from her a few days ago, from Alaska. Apparently she fell for one of her apprehensions and they decided to run away together. She doesn't think she will be returning any time in the foreseeable future."
"Wow," I breathed. A DSI agent falling for a vampire? That was pretty taboo. "So, what...are you suggesting that I apply at the DSI?"
"Absolutely, that is exactly what I am suggesting. It's perfect. You need a job, they need an agent. You have skills that I would hate to see wasted if you were to just go get another waitressing job. They haven't started actively looking yet, so there's not going to be a whole lot of competition, and as you know, I'm good friends with the director. In fact, if you'd like, I could give him a call right now and set up an interview time for you."
"Uh, yeah," I said. My heart was racing inside my chest. The DSI. No wonder Phil didn't want me telling Billy. My brother would freak out if he knew I was even thinking of applying at the DSI. It was bad enough working at a small police station in a small town where Billy could keep a watchful, protective eye on me. But working in another, bigger town, for the FBI of the supernatural world...well, that was quite another thing altogether.
And I was pretty sure he wouldn't like the idea one bit.
I sat in the chair and tapped my foot anxiously against the floor as Phil dialed the phone. I didn't even listen to his side of the conversation, I was too busy thinking.
Working for the DSI had pretty much been my dream job since I graduated high school. I had never gotten my hopes up about one day working there, though, because as far as I knew, they never hired anyone. At least, they never posted job openings in the classifieds. So I was content working at the police station part-time, getting a job once every one or two weeks, because I'd figured it was going to be the best I could do.
But now, even just talking about applying at the DSI was enough to get my adrenaline pumping. Even if I didn't get the job, just interviewing for a position would be an amazing opportunity.
Phil snapped his fingers at me to get my attention. When my gaze flickered over to him, he held his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and asked, "Is five o'clock tomorrow afternoon okay with you?"
"Yes," I said without hesitation. I was now unemployed. Any time was okay with me. "Yes, definitely."
"She'll be there," Phil said into the phone. "Thanks, Fitz. I'll talk to you later."
As soon as he hung up, he glanced over at me and smiled. "You've got yourself a job interview, kid."
I gave him a huge grin that actually hurt my face. "Thank you so much, Phil. I owe you one."
"You don't owe me anything," he said, shaking his head. "I fired you. This was the least I could do."
I stood up from the chair and held my hand out to shake his. "It was a pleasure working with you, Phil."
"Right back at you, kid," he said. "Now get home and get some sleep. And good luck tomorrow, although I doubt you'll need it. Oh, and don't forget to come by on Wednesday to pick up your paycheck."
"There's no way I could forget that, Phil. I need to pay my rent."
We exchanged smiles and then I left his office. I felt nothing short of euphoric as I made my way out of the station and headed toward my car in the parking lot.
But as I drove home, I had to force myself to calm down and remind myself that just because I had a job interview at the DSI, that didn't mean I would get the job – even with a glowing recommendation from Phil. And I had to accept the fact that, if I didn't succeed there, then I would just have to start making my way down the career totem pole until I found someone willing to take a chance on me…and then hope that the job paid more than minimum wage.
And that it didn't somehow involve eating dirt.