The bus approached the Village Players Theater, and I disembarked with several other passengers. I walked alone down the alley toward the back entrance of the theater, conjuring excuses I could tell Aunt Libby and my parents so I could stake out the manor house for the next few nights until I made contact with Alexander. I saw a figure lurking behind the Dumpster.
"I hoped to find you here," a deep voice said, stepping out to block my way.
I froze. It was Jagger. I held my purse close; inside was my Mace and, possibly more important, my container of garlic.
"I have information that may be of interest to you."
"Information?" I asked skeptically.
"About Sterling," he said, with a knowing glance. "Isn't that who you are looking for?"
Shocked, I inched back. I knew where Alexander was staying, but I didn't know where he was. The promise of any new leads on Alexander's whereabouts made my heart pulse in overtime. Plus, my curiosity about Jagger's identity still lingered. I had to know how he knew Alexander.
"I can help you. I've known him for an eternity," he said with a grin. I glanced back at the Village Players Theater. If I went back inside, I was guaranteed to have a safe night with real unreal vampires. Or I could just wait for Alexander outside the manor house--unless he and Jameson spotted me and left for another town. Then I was guaranteed to never see my Gothic Mate again.
"You better tell me everything you know," I said, clutching my purse to my side. "Otherwise--"
"You are free to go whenever you like," he reassured me.
I stood still as Jagger began walking down the alley. Curiosity eating away at me, I decided to catch up to him. I followed Jagger down the street and toward a back entrance to the Coffin Club.
He led me into the warehouse and down a darkened hallway to an empty freight elevator. The rickety door shrieked out in pain when he shut it. Instead of pushing the button for the Coffin Club, he pressed the "B" button.
The elevator slowly lowered to the basement, screeching as if it were a coffin descending into hell.
"I thought we were going to the Coffin Club."
The elevator stopped. Jagger opened the door and held it for me as I stepped into a corridor.
He followed behind me so closely I could feel his warm breath on the back of my neck. We walked down the narrow hallway, the walls adorned with graffiti and the cement floor cluttered with discarded chairs and boxes. The dance floor music pulsed above. When we reached what looked like a wide storage-room door, I could hear the elevator slowly grind its way back up to mortal level. Jagger lifted the metal-gray door above our heads to reveal a windowless apartment.
I stepped inside.
"Welcome to my dungeon," he said. Dozens of medieval candelabras filled the spacious apartment.
And then I saw it. In the far corner lay an open coffin, adorned with gothic band stickers like a mortal teen's skateboard. Dirt encircled the coffin like a walled city.
My eyes grew wide. "So you are...," I began, but could barely speak.
"Oh, the coffin," he said. "Cool, huh? I got it at a vintage store."
"And the dirt?"
"Saw it in a vampire mag. Creepy, huh?"
I didn't know what to think. Even Alexander slept on a mattress.
"It's really comfortable. Want to give it a try?" he asked with sexy eyes.
"I'm not tired."
"You don't have to be."
Jagger confused me. I couldn't figure out if he was a vulpine vampire or just a goth-obsessed teen like me.
I looked around for any other unusual clues--but everything was unusual. Maps were spread out on the floor. The cement walls were decorated with gravestone etchings.
Next to the radiator an aquarium, without water, was filled with rocks.
His kitchen counter and sink looked as if they had remained untouched. Metal cabinets were missing their doors. I was afraid to think what was in the refrigerator--or, rather, who.
"You are the first girl I've ever brought down here," Jagger confessed. "I'm surprised. You must meet a lot of girls at the Coffin Club."
"Actually, I'm new to town. Just like you. Visiting."
The hairs on the back of my neck rose. "How do you know I'm visiting?"
"It doesn't take a psychic to figure it out. Someone as goth as you would be a regular at the club. Romeo had never seen you before."
"Uh...I guess you're right."
"Can I get you anything to drink?"
"No, thank you," I replied. "I want to know--"
Jagger walked over to the aquarium. He placed his hand inside and pulled out a huge tarantula.
"I just bought him. Would you like to pet him?" he asked, stroking the potentially poisonous spider as if it were a sleeping cat.
Normally I would have loved to pet a tarantula, but I wasn't sure of Jagger's motive.
"Where's your big-screen TV?" I asked, noticing the lack of televisions or computers.
"I find them offensive."
"So you don't watch movies? You've never even seen the original Dracula?" I hinted. "Nosferatu? Kissing Coffins? Someone as goth as you would seem to have the lines memorized."
"I would rather experience life than be a voyeur."
He returned the spider to the aquarium. I dug my hand into my purse. "You left this behind," I said, and revealed the skeleton earring in my hand. He smiled brightly as if I were reuniting him with a long- lost friend.
As he took the charm from my hand, his fingers lingered, gently touching my palm, sending chills through my veins. It took some strength, but I withdrew.
"Now that this has been in your possession, it is even more special to me," he said, placing it back in his ear. "Can I give you a reward?" he asked.
"You can tell me about Alexander."
"Shall I tell you? Or should I just show you," he asked, stepping toward me.
"Tell me," I said, defiant. "Is he a friend of yours?"
"Maybe yes," he said with an inviting smile. "Maybe no," he said with a wicked grin.
"Forget it, I'm outta here."
"I know him from Romania," he said quickly.
"Have you seen him in America?"
He shook his head, his white hair flopping over his blue and green eyes.
"Do you know where he is?" I asked.
"What if I do? How much is it worth?" he asked, licking his lips.
"You don't know, do you?" I challenged. I backed away from him, stepping on a map.
"But you know quite a lot," he argued.