The man sat across from Murphy with desperate, angry eyes. He knew he’d been beaten. He knew nothing he could say to the vampire leader of Dublin would make Patrick Murphy change his mind.
“Andrew,” Murphy said in a cool voice, “what did you think was going to happen? Did you think I was going to sit idly by and watch as you tried to maneuver the Blue Delta contract out from under me? That was my contract, Andrew. Just because the Americans will always go with the lowest bidder doesn’t make that the way we do business.”
“Just Murphy, Andrew.” He spread his hands, palms up. “We’re not strangers. I thought I knew you better than this. Thought we had respect between us.”
He saw Brigid roll her eyes in the corner, but he ignored her. His eyes kept focus on the sweating human across from him.
Garvey wore a work shirt and pants. His clothes and carriage spoke of a man who worked on the water and had since he was a boy. But the shirt was carefully pressed. The pants mended where the pockets had ripped. Garvey was no slob; he had ambition.
Nor was he a threat to Murphy. The man knew about vampires; his father had worked in the docklands before him and knew how things ran. The American contract was Murphy’s to turn down. He had a reputation to maintain after all. He needed to make a point with the human, and he wouldn’t let a little thing like actual business interest stand in his way.
“I do respect you, Murphy.” Garvey’s voice said one thing, but his eyes said frustration. The young man had grown up working with his dad and had hustled through the grey areas of the docklands in order to improve his lot. Murphy could respect that. He also knew that Garvey was leaning a bit closer to the darker shades of grey on a few deals lately. “Ya know me dad—”
“Never would have expected Tim’s son to pull something like this.” Murphy made sure to keep his voice low. He didn’t need to project anger. Not anymore. He was aiming for disappointment. “I had people lined up for that contract, Andrew.”
“I had plans for those people.”
“And now what do I tell them, Andrew? What do I tell those people who were counting on me?”
Murphy took a deep, considering breath he didn’t need. Vampires, after all, had no need to breathe. As long as he had blood and water to draw his elemental strength, he’d last until God and all the saints returned. The breath wasn’t for Murphy, the breath for for Andrew Garvey.
He looked down and shuffled some papers on his desk. Papers he’d had his assistant, Angie, bring in a few moments after Andrew Garvey had sat down across from his desk. He lifted up “the Blue Delta Industries file” and paged through it.
You’re a bastard, the first paper read.
Murphy didn’t let the smile break through his solemn exterior as he paged through the papers Angie had typed out at her desk outside his office.
You had no interest in that shipping contract until you heard Blue Delta went to a human first.
He flipped through them one by one, scanning the mostly blank pages as Garvey squirmed across from him.
Pint and a drink after work, boss? One of the new lads thinks he can beat you, and I need the money. Declan must have slipped that one in. Declan was full of it. Murphy knew the man lived like a monk and saved like a miser. He didn’t need the money. He just wanted to show the new employees what was what.
Andrew Garvey is a nice young man, and his wife just had a baby girl.
Angie was being a bit dramatic, wasn’t she? It wasn’t as if he was going to kill the human. He just needed to scare him a bit. And maybe remind Garvey why Murphy had been a bit more strict about who did business on his docks the last few years. Despite what Angie thought, this was about more than just a minor human shipping contract.
“I expected courtesy from Tim Garvey’s son.” Murphy steepled his fingers together and leaned his elbows on his desk.
“I never intended…”
Murphy brought his dark eyes up to lock on Garvey’s exasperated gaze and the man fell silent.
“It’s not respectful to bring cargo into my city without knowing what it is, Andrew.”
The human’s face want from frustrated to downright pale.
“I… There hasn’t been any—”
“Don’t ever lie to me.”
Garvey shut his mouth.
“It’s one thing to take a bit that doesn’t go on the books.” Murphy’s voice was barely over a whisper. “We’ve all shipped a few crates of this and that, haven’t we?”
Garvey was trying to smile, but it wasn’t working. “Just a few crates, sir. Even my da—”
“But you didn’t know what was in those crates, did you? And ‘we don’t ask questions’ isn’t an acceptable answer anymore, Andrew. Not for anyone who wants to call me a friend.”
Murphy had him. Andrew Garvey had gone from confused, to irritated, to angry, to frustrated, and now he was at defeated.
Garvey knew the vampire had laid down the law among those in the know that he would be watching more closely. The drugs problem had gone out of control, and one drug in particular had devastated his city only two years before. A drug there was no cure for yet. A drug that killed both humans and vampires.
It was supposed to be a cure-all, for mortal and immortal alike. Healing power for humans and a cure for blood-lust all at once.
“I want to keep my friends in business, Andrew. And I can’t do that if they’re not open with me.”
Garvey leaned forward. “I want to make this right.”
Murphy took another deep breath as Brigid had a suspicious coughing fit in the corner of the room.
“I know you do, lad.”
“How do I make this right?”
“The Blue Delta contract—”
“Is yours,” the human nodded. “Absolutely. I’ll withdraw my bid tomorrow.”
“Now, now.” Murphy held up a hand. “You already have time and money invested in that. I’m not interested in putting you out of business. I need good people around. Dependable ones.”
Garvey nodded enthusiastically. “Absolutely.”
“You’ve a family, don’t you, Andrew?”
“Yes, sir.” He saw the man grow pale.
Christ, maybe he did need to lay off a bit. He wasn’t going after the human’s little wife and babies.
Murphy let a smile touch his lips. “I consider my employees my family.”
“I know you do, sir.” Garvey relaxed a bit.
“I take care of the people who take care of me. And I know you’re just as interested—being a family man—in making the city as safe as it can be.”
“I am, Murphy.”
Murphy let the silence fall between them as he stared at Garvey. He could hear the man’s pulse pick up.
It was difficult—very difficult—to not see the man as prey when his heart beat like that. The scent of his fear filled the room. The tang of adrenaline. Murphy glanced back at Brigid to see the younger vampire staring at the back of Garvey’s neck with heated eyes.
“Tóg bog é,” he said in a voice only she would hear. Settle down.
Brigid was younger and still struggled with control. He could feel the room heat up from her anmis. While Murphy’s elemental affinity was water, Brigid’s was fire.
Unstable. Highly dangerous. And excellent for his reputation. It was worth putting up with her temper if it meant having a fire vampire on his payroll.
“No more unquestioned cargo,” Murphy said quietly. “It’s not a friendly thing to do.”
“Sure thing, Murphy.”
“And I know you’ll be taking a bit of a hit,” he added. “I’ll keep that in mind. I have some contracts I could use a sub for. Local jobs.”
The human’s face had morphed from scared to grateful. “You’d do that?”
“I told you, Andrew. I take care of my friends.”
“Some of these fellows—”
“I can send Tom or one of my people around a bit more,” Murphy said. “Make sure everyone knows where things stand with you and me. Make sure no one causes trouble. If that would suit you, of course. It’s your business, Andrew.”
Garvey nodded. “I’d be grateful.”
And I’ll be grateful for that fat envelope I know you’ll have ready.
Murphy picked up the “Blue Delta file” and shuffled a few more papers.
The last in the stack read, Don’t make me poison your tea, Patrick. It won’t kill you, but it will give you an awful stomachache you will deserve one hundred percent.
He let the smile curve the corner of his mouth. Oh, Angie. What a treasure.
Murphy closed the file and stood. “I don’t want to keep you any later. Thank you for coming by, Andrew. I know it’s after dinner hour with your family.”
“It’s no problem, Murphy.” Garvey stood with him and held out a hand. “Glad we were able to get this cleared up.”
Murphy smiled, letting the warmth of it flood the room. He pushed the feeling of security and contentment up the human’s arm, knowing that Andrew Garvey would lay his head down in bed tonight knowing that Patrick Murphy was damn-near his best friend.
“I know you’ll do well with that Blue Delta contract,” he said. “Come to me if you have any questions, yes?”
“And no more unquestioned loads, yes?” His face grew serious again with just a touch of concern.
“We need to know what’s coming into our city, don’t we? For everyone’s safety.”
Murphy clasped his other hand around Garvey’s and gave it a friendly squeeze. “Good man.”
He tasted the whiskey Brigid poured in two glasses between them.
“You know,” she said, “Before I started working for you, I used to think you were serious. And polite.”
“I am serious.” He lifted one eyebrow. “And Angie taught me manners, so any complaints you’ll have to take up with her.”
“You, Patrick Murphy, are a fantastic con.”
He added more than a bit of water and sipped again, letting the potent taste of the liquor linger on his tongue. Vampire senses were far more keen than human, hence the disproportionate amount of water.
“A con?” he asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“A confidence man, as the Americans would call it. A grifter. A swindler.”
Murphy raised his drink. “I did not swindle young Mr. Garvey out of anything he did not want to give me, Brigid.”
“You managed to scare the shite out of Garvey for taking illegal cigarettes and ensure protection payments from him for the foreseeable future. All the while making him feel grateful you were letting him keep a contract you had no intention of pursuing in the first place.”
He let the smile grow. “I did do that, didn’t I?”
“Admit it, you’re a con artist.”
Murphy grinned. “Of course I am.” He clinked the side of her glass and took another breath, this time to relax. “Impressed?”
“Jesus.” Brigid couldn’t hold back the smile. “You are a bastard, aren’t you?”
“Both literally and figuratively. Does your former priest of a husband know you’re taking the Lord’s name in vain like that, young lady?”
She couldn’t stop the low rumble of laughter. It almost made Murphy sad she’d turned down an alliance with him.
Brigid Connor would have been a perfect romantic partner on paper, but she was hardly his type personally. Most of the time, Brigid looked like a very angry pixie with an acerbic sense of humor, a short temper, and a fondness for hair dye. This month, her dark cap of hair had a distinctly purple cast. The month before, it had been blue.
No, not his type at all, though she made a truly excellent friend and a half-decent drinking partner. She preferred football to boxing, but no one was perfect.
“You just can’t help yourself, can you? You’re the same way with the human girls, though they like to think it’s charming. Is everything a con to you?”
“Why shouldn’t it be?” He set down his drink and spread his hands. “There are two sides to every job, and the best jobs end with everyone walking away smiling. Just like young Andrew. He’ll be more careful of what he allows on his boats, and with my protection behind him, those who want to move things more… discreetly will have greater confidence in his operation. I’m happy. He’s happy.”
“And you’ll get a cut from all of it.”
He raised his glass. “Naturally.”
“Why did he try it?”
Murphy shrugged. “They always do. The younger humans—the ones who haven’t been involved in the quieter aspects of things—will take over for their mum or dad. And they see…” He motioned to the elegant suit his tailor had finished only last week. “This. The suits and the hair cut. The manicure and the manners.”
“Don’t forget the season tickets to the symphony.”
He nodded. “Exactly.”
Brigid smiled. “How scary could he be? He’s a modern vampire. Not a monster at all.”
He sipped his drink as Brigid continued.
“They push a little, and you let them. They push a little more…”
“It’s only to be expected,” Murphy said, letting a smile touch his lips. “After all, I’m not a monster.”
“Until they push a little too far. Get just a bit over their head. And you pounce.”
A door slammed somewhere in the building and they both fell silent.
“Are you judging me, Brigid?”
She took a deep breath and crossed her arms, staring at him. “No,” she finally said. “Everyone has to learn how the real world works eventually. You’re hardly the worst teacher out there.”
“Now you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”
“But you are a right bastard.”
Murphy smiled. “And you’re still drinking with me.”
“I suppose you’ve lured me in like the others. Does anyone really know you, Patrick Murphy, or do they only see the charm?”
“Ah, Brigid.” He refused the urge to glance at the seascape hanging opposite his desk. The oil painting had captured the sun bouncing off the water of the inlet on Galway Bay. “Don’t you know? The charm is me.”
He shrugged and decided to steer the subject away from introspection. “Want to join me and the boys at the club?”
Brigid finished her glass and stood. “I may drink with you, but I’m not one of your slags. Besides” —she winked at him— “my man is back from London tonight and I have far better things to do than watch you boys beat each other bloody.”
“Such a good girl you are.”
“Far better than you could get,” she tossed over her shoulder.
“Such a shame you’re committing mortal sins with the good Father.”
The gun was pointed at his face before he could start laughing.
“Don’t make me shoot you again, Murphy.”
Declan slipped in as Brigid walked out.
“Hey, Brig. Bye, Brig.” Declan turned to him. “What’d you do to piss her off? Ask her if she’d made her confession again?”
“Tell Carwyn I said hello,” Murphy shouted after her.
“Oh, you like to live dangerously, boss.” Declan picked up a glass and helped himself to a whiskey. “Started without me, did you?”
His second-in-command and youngest child had an eager look on his face, far from the somber visage he presented to most of Murphy’s crew. To the outside world, Patrick Murphy carried the charm and sophistication in the operation, Declan O’Malley held the razor-sharp mind, and Tom Dargin was the muscle. Only the three of them knew it wasn’t as clear-cut as all that.
That was fine. Let the rest of the vampire world underestimate Murphy. He knew many questioned how he’d managed to hold on to Dublin with apparent ease. He was more than happy to take advantage of his reputation as a playboy.
“How much is the pool up to now?”
“And how much did Brigid bet against me?”
“Only a hundred,” Declan said. “She seemed a bit half-hearted about it, too.”
“I suppose someone has to do it, though it hardly seems fair to keep taking her money like this.”
The Buzzcocks were screaming about falling in love when the new boy landed his second punch to Murphy’s jaw. He felt his lip split. Tasted the blood as it flooded his mouth. The lads around the ring shouted as Murphy grinned. He could feel one eye swelling up and he resisted the urge to laugh.
He missed this. The pain sent a surge of adrenaline and endorphins through his body. If there was one thing he missed about mortal life, it was this.
Pain. Pleasure. Aches and breaks. When he was boxing, he felt alive.
He always held back against human opponents. The rule with the boys was, he couldn’t use vampire speed or strength… as much as that was possible. He’d been a vampire for over one hundred sixty years. It was hard to remember what “human strength” felt like.
Too often, immortality was marked by long periods of feeling more and more absent from life. He loved the power he’d attained. Loved the wealth and the influence—and yes, the finer things he’d acquired. But he missed the variety of mortal life. The highs and lows. There was a period of time when he’d felt alive again, but that feeling had left when she did.
A blow to his kidney knocked him back into the moment. Was it time? Had the new boy let down his guard? Murphy danced in the corner, fists up as the music changed and the pounding beat of The Clash filled the basement pub he kept open for his men.
He bounced on his toes, only half listening to Tom cursing him from the corner.
It was a boys’ club, he had no problem admitting it. Not that there were any lack of females. Two stared at him from the edge of the ring, eyeing his bloody torso with clear intent.
Human girls. Hmmm. Predictable and yet still entertaining.
Murphy picked up his head and leaned into the boy, landing one quick blow to his right kidney that knocked the wind out of him. The human stumbled back. Then Murphy tapped his jaw, playing a bit, and felt his knuckles split open.
The flash of red ignited the crowd.
Bloodthirsty. Damn, the humans were more bloodthirsty than the vampires.
He abandoned the taps when he saw the two girls’ attention waver. They were getting tired of the fight, and Murphy had plans for them.
The boy landed one when his attention was diverted by the girls. Ah, women. At one time, he’d have two or three waiting to feed his appetites after a bout. Sadly, Elixir had changed all that, forcing him and his men to be cautious about where they drank their blood.
That didn’t mean humans didn’t have their uses.
He flexed his jaw and gave the new boy a smile.
“Not bad,” he said, spitting out the blood in his mouth. “Tired yet?”
The human was panting. “Can go all night, boss.”
“Eh, so could I.” Then with one roundhouse punch, Murphy laid him on the canvas. “Don’t want to, though. I’ve decided I have other plans.”
The crowd erupted, and Tom threw him a towel. Murphy wiped up the blood even as he felt the cuts healing. By the time he reached the edge of the ring, his face was perfect again. He ran a damp hand through the the thick black hair his mother had graced him with. He didn’t sweat, but as a water vampire, he drew his element to himself as he healed, giving the illusion that he was dripping sweat, even if his skin was cool.
“Better go out there,” Tom said. “He’s a good lad. Don’t want him to get down on himself.”
“No. He did well. I’d fight him again. Declan should be happy.”
“Eh, it’s getting harder and harder to find boys to bet against you.”
“Is my wallet heavier walking out than walking in?”
Tom smiled his crooked smile. “Always, boss.”
“Then you’ll hear no complaints from me.”
Murphy took a few gulps from the thermos of warm pig’s blood that Tom had brought for him, then took another healthy gulp of water to wash it down. He turned and tossed the towel to the boy on the side of the ring, then walked to the center of the canvas and held out a hand for the lad, who was being helped up by his mates.
“All right there?”
“Lord, boss, you’ve a fist like a hammer,” the boy said through smiling bloody lips. “I guess the rumors were true, eh?”
The two human girls had shoved their way to the ropes, smiling at him with matching ruby-red lips. He noted their appearance. One blonde, one brunette. Alike in height, wearing similar little black dresses and matching smiles for the vampire lord of Dublin.
Lovely. A matched set.
Murphy smiled at the boy and patted his cheek. “What’s your name, son?”
“Well, Rob, you held your own. If I didn’t have fangs, I’d be feeling your fists tomorrow, wouldn’t I?”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Come back and fight again.”
The young man nodded happily. “I will, sir.”
Murphy tossed him one more smile before he walked toward the two girls. “You’re right. The rumors about me are true.”
And with a hearty roar from his boys, Murphy left the club with a heavier wallet and a matched set.