Step two was talking to Edgar. He might be nicknamed The Hammer for his fierce negotiating tactics, but he was more honest than your average pawnbroker. Despite Marty's assurances that I could stay as long as I wanted, the Winnebago really was too small for three people, even if one of us was a dwarf.
Most of the crowd left while Marty and Dawn took their encore bows. I waited in the uppermost section of the stands, wanting to avoid as much contact with spectators as I could. I wore specialized gloves, but even casual contact would feel like static electricity to anyone who touched me. That's why I had on long sleeves and long pants though it was eighty degrees in the tent. The hat, well. That and my hair were to hide my scar from nosy onlookers.
When there was no one left in the upper stands except me and a strikingly attractive brunette, I rose. She did, too, still staring at the stage as if waiting for Marty and Dawn to reappear. They wouldn't. This had been their final show.
I was about to say that when the woman leapt off the top of the bleachers, landing with more grace than an Olympic medalist. That, more than the thirty-foot jump, told me she wasn't human. She must've realized she'd outed herself because she glared up at me and her eyes changed to glowing green.
"You saw nothing," she hissed.
I nodded, not bothering to tell her I already knew about her kind. Or that the vampire blood I had to drink every week to keep my inner electricity from killing me meant I was immune to mind control. She left and I continued down the bleachers at my humanly slow pace, making a mental note to tell Marty he'd had a vampire in the audience tonight.
From there, I headed to the employee parking lot. Edgar's trailer wasn't far from Marty's, but he wanted to do business at his place. Maybe he was worried that Marty would green-eye him into overpaying me for the jewels if Marty witnessed our transaction. Edgar wasn't immune to mind control and he, like a lot of the regular carnies, knew what Marty was.
I knocked before a gruff voice told me to come in. Once I did, I blinked at the glare. Edgar had every interior lamp on, all the better to appraise what I had inside my purse.
"Frankie," he said, using the name most carnies knew me by.
I smiled wryly at the bony, white-haired man. "One of them."
Edgar waved at the dinette table. I sat opposite him and began to empty out the contents of the velvet pouch inside my purse. This was the first I'd dared to look at the jewels, and I silently willed myself to be unemotional.
It didn't work. Each piece had a memory that tore at my heart. How warm Vlad's fingers felt when he slid the ruby and diamond cuff onto my wrist. The stunning aquamarine earrings he'd said matched the color of my eyes. His lips on my throat as he fastened the black diamond necklace around it. Then the ancient-looking gold ring with the dragon emblem . . .
I froze, clutching it instead of placing it on the table. Why had Vlad included this with the things he'd had packed for me? Edgar didn't seem to notice my shock. He was too busy looking at the other pieces through a magnifying glass.
"No flaws in the stones . . . excellent workmanship and design . . . highest grade of gold and platinum." He glanced up at me while still holding the magnifier to one eye. "Whoever he was, you should've held on to him a little longer."
"Some things are more important than money," I replied, still reeling from the presence of the ring. Vlad said only vampires in his line had one of these. Had one of his servants made a mistake including this with the other pieces? Or was it a sign that his invitation to change me still stood?
Edgar finally noticed that I clutched something. "Whatcha got there?"
"Nothing." I'd starve on the street before I hocked this.
He grinned. "Trying to whet my appetite by pretending I can't have it? Nice try, but I've seen every trick before - "
A deafening roar cut him off. Then the whole trailer shuddered and the windows shattered. I didn't have time to scream before a wall of fire swallowed us both.
"We've got a live one!"
I wish I hadn't heard the voice. Then I wouldn't have felt the pain that followed as consciousness reared its pitiless head. In addition to that, something so heavy was on top of me that it hurt to breathe. Then I regretted breathing as the scent of scorched meat filled my lungs.
I really regretted opening my eyes. A blackened skull wrapped in a hideous pale cloak was the first thing I saw. It pressed down on me, crushing my limbs and sending fissures of agony through me. I screamed, but it came out as a choked gasp.
"Don't move," an urgent voice instructed.
I craned my neck as much as I could. To the right of the skull, behind the twisted cloak, was a helmeted fireman.
"We're going to get you out," he went on, his voice muffled from the breathing device he wore. "Don't move."
I couldn't if I wanted to. My eyes burned, but after some hard blinking, I saw the skull on top of me wasn't wearing a cloak. What surrounded it was too thick and hard, like plastic . . .
The last vestige of confusion lifted. Not plastic. It was the white acrylic dinette table that had been between me and Edgar when the explosion went off, which meant the charred skull belonged to Edgar. The fire must've been so hot it melted the table around him like a grisly shroud. That - plus something else, from the heaviness - pinned me beneath it.
"What happened?" I managed. "Is anyone else hurt?"
The fireman didn't answer. I asked again, but my only response was an oxygen mask placed over my face. Then a flurry of activity began as more firemen arrived and tried to clear away the debris on top of me.