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The Needle’s Eye was the most prestigious restaurant in the tri-state area, host to many a masterful chef, and beloved by the upper-crust members of society. The establishment was decadent, adorned with a color scheme of blood-red and glistening gold. The outside was all marble pillars and sculpted roaring lions. It was exactly the sort of place that soulless rich politicians would frequent.

Mr. Solomon Green was one such politician, lacking in empathy and possessed of overabundant ambition, as was only appropriate to his means and station. He sauntered forward in his sleek gray pinstripe suit and smiled his businessman’s smile as he approached the hostess in her fierce red silk gown. She regarded him with withdrawn, professional neutrality.

“Might I have your party’s name, sir?” the beautiful woman asked politely, though not warmly.

Solomon’s grin grew wider. He had anticipated the thrill of this moment.

“Learza,” he proclaimed, waiting for the woman’s reaction, which… was not quite what he had expected.

The woman, whom Solomon noted was rather tall and leanly muscled, swept her eyes over him from head to toe, then smirked. “Ah,” she said in a softer tone. “Right this way, Mr. Green.” She made a curt gesture to one of the other attendants to cover her place at the host podium and beckoned Solomon with a curled finger and a glance that he chose to interpret as seductive.

The rich man gulped in spite of himself, not entirely sure what to make of things, then quickly reminded himself that this was business. Clearly the woman was meant to unnerve him. He needed to pull himself together.

This thinly veiled tactic would not work on him.

The woman in red seemed to glide up the stairs and toward the elevators, swiping a key card as she approached the doors. She pressed the button labeled “PH,” and as the doors promptly slid open, she gestured for Solomon to step inside. “She is quite excited to make your acquaintance. Enjoy your meeting.”

The way the hostess stared at him almost made Solomon hesitate, but he dismissed the useless instinct and stepped inside the elevator. As the doors closed, he caught a final smile from the gorgeous woman and fought down another round of nerves he didn’t know he possessed, let alone would need to contain.

Surely her pronounced canines had been a trick of the light.

Solomon had ample time to calm himself as he rode the elevator ever upward to the penthouse suite. The interior of the elevator was the same glittery golden fabric as that of the curtains on the main levels of the establishment. The cloth was accented by what surely couldn’t be real inch-wide rubies placed in a repeating diamond pattern. He stared at the gems, wondering how much they might be worth if they were real…

The tycoon snapped his hand back to his side as the momentum of the elevator lessened. The doors slid open with little more than a whisper, and he stepped into the penthouse suite. The main chamber was long and open, with a vaulted ceiling and an enormous, shining chandelier illuminating the room with just enough light to discern color. Aside from the chandelier, the remainder of the decor was a sharp departure from the gaudy, gilded palace down below.

The floor was bare, mostly devoid of furniture, and composed of gray marble tiles.

A vast open space separated Solomon from the only table in the room. Only two simple chairs of dark mahogany were placed on opposite sides of the matching table. No tablecloth was present, though he could see there were a silver cloche and utensils awaiting him at the near end. As he approached his seat, he noted the most colorful features of the room were the large tapestries lining the walls. They depicted varying scenes of battles, executions, and conquest, growing more bloody and violent as Solomon continued forward.

That was certainly one way to intimidate someone, he thought privately.

As he approached the table, the occupant of the far chair came into view in the dim light. Her features were difficult to make out from this far, but he could see that she was pale, with dark hair pulled back into a loose braid, and she wore a plain, black pantsuit with no jewelry, not even a ring. She rose to greet him, and he could see she was just as tall as him, which was oddly tall for a woman.

“Welcome, Mr. Green,” Ms. Learza said formally. She did not move forward to shake his hand, only gestured for him to take a seat. “Please, I would hate for your food to get cold.”

Solomon Green reminded himself that Carrigan Learza was a giant in the world of finance.

Ordinarily, he would have some glib counter to her casual command, but this was not someone to be trifled with. He’d heard… rumors about people who had slighted her, and he wasn’t keen on testing their validity.

Only slightly put-off by the lack of a handshake, the businessman took a seat and removed the cover from his meal. It was a superbly lean cut of rare steak, the kind that had made the Needle’s Eye famous. His mouth watered. “Bit of a tone shift,” he commented as he lifted his knife and fork hungrily. “Good tactic for folks who are easily shaken.”

He saw Ms. Learza give a toothless smile.

“It’s all in good fun,” she sighed contentedly. She watched intently as the man began to devour his gourmet cuisine.

“You’re not hungry?” he asked, noting that the other end of the table was completely bare.

Ms. Learza shrugged. “I committed to an all-you-can-eat buffet later this evening. It’s a… fun little tradition of mine.”

Solomon couldn’t tell if she was joking or not, but his food was getting cold, so he dug in.

Being only human and confronted with what might be the most delicious meal of his life, the man couldn’t help but let slip an errant groan of satisfaction. “Where do you find these chefs?” He wondered earnestly.

Ms. Learza tilted her head, still smiling with just her lips. “Oh, from all walks of life. Everyone deserves a chance. I merely provide it. Most of our best staff have been to prison, in fact. Some more than once.”

That gave Solomon pause. “You… hire ex-cons?”

A faint chuckle escaped the woman’s lips. “Yes, and poor people, and even—” She made a pearl-clutching gesture and continued, “Black people. Does that bother you, Mr. Green?”

Of course, the answer was yes, but Solomon Green refused to be baited. “N-no,” he fumbled. He cursed his imbalance. Why was this woman making him so nervous?

How did she get so close so quickly? Wasn’t the table longer than—

“Oh, I think it does bother you,” the woman said, and then she smiled wide, showing her teeth.

The horrified businessman pushed backward and fell with his chair as it clattered to the marble floor.

“What the hell?!” What had he just seen?! It couldn’t be real, but he knew it was. He had to get out of here, but the door was so far away. He clutched at the silver knife, stumbling to his feet and pointing it at the monster, who hadn’t moved. The man had a sinking feeling she was toying with him. “What the fuck are you? S-some kind of vampire?”

The thing that called itself Carrigan Learza cackled through a full set of razor-sharp teeth. “Oh no, Mr. Green. I’m afraid I am something… just a bit worse.”

The last noise Solomon Green ever made was a bloodcurdling scream.

Ariel Cross

Ariel Cross is a fantasy author and blogger with a love for representation and subversion. To them, happiness is a warm glass of mead on a cold day.

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