Crazy Eights – Chapter Six – King of All He Surveys
Ailuros opened the pair of doors at the back of the reception area and stepped aside, allowing them entrance into the Crazy Eights proper. Motioning them forward, she repeated her earlier warnings to Spike – to watch his back and keep close tabs on his companions.
Having been there before, Spike was curious as to the reactions of the Scoobies. He recalled his utter shock at the transformation. He’d lived there for months, and wouldn’t have recognized the place if he’d have been brought in blindfolded.
They entered the club, stepping out onto black marbled tiles with red veining, and realized that the clicking one would associate from high heels on marble tile was noticeably absent - muted by the wood on the paneled walls.
“Holy Frijoles, Batman,” exclaimed Xander, eyes opened wide in amazement as he took in the transformed factory space.
Willow nudged the Slayer and pointed upwards. A dropped ceiling had been installed, with recessed dome lighting. No fluorescents here – the output more resembled candlelight. The general effect was soothing.
There was an amazing sense of warmth to such a wide open space. The walls were covered in rich rosewood paneling that seemed to glow with an inner light in a highly polished burgundy shade. Along the left mirrored wall was a well-stocked multi-stationed bar; black leather padding over polished wood. Apparently the patrons didn’t freak if and when their companions cast no reflection.
Tables were scattered throughout the room in a seemingly haphazard pattern; the waitstaff dressed in dark nondescript uniforms – dark shirts, dark pants, utilitarian – not fashionable. On the left breast pocket – a white pearlescent circlet with colored pips, obviously denoting some variation in what they served.
Little touches of color appeared in subtle places. Cloth napkins and floral displays in deep jeweltones; amethyst, sapphire blue, burgundy, deep emerald green, mandarin orange – all seemed to enhance the lush feeling of understated elegance.
Entranced, Buffy looked around the room. So different from the Bronze, she thought. It felt like stepping out of childhood, into the adult world. Rummaging for an image, she equated it with walking out of a playroom and into a grand ballroom. Sunnydale had never seen a place like this before.
Startled out of her reverie, the bedazzled blonde remembered the exact reason they were all at Crazy Eights to begin with. Not to gawk at the pretties, but to get the lay of the land and to see if there was anything suspicious that could be seen at a cursory glance.
Her ‘spidey sense’ was going off full blast – it felt like the skin at the base of her spine was trying to crawl its way to her neck. Not to be unexpected, inasmuch as the place was crawling with demons.
“Spike,” she called. “I think we need to do the mixy thing. Standing around is gonna draw too much attention.”
Motioning to Xander and Willow, she told them to check out the bar and the menu, and to meet them in about an hour at one of the tables.
The vampire extended his arm, expecting Buffy to link elbows as they walked around, and was greeted with a questioning look from the petite blonde.
“What’s with the chivalry routine, Spike? I’m perfectly capable of walking around on my own.”
“Look around you, luv. Mostly couples, yeah? Notice the makeup of most of those pairings – vamp/human. Very few unattended humans walking around. Don’t want to be temptation as a midnight snack, do you?
“Most of the vamps here are older, been around for near fifty years. Not local, in case you’re wonderin’ and you haven’t seen ‘em before. They have human pets – some are blood cows, willing to let the vamps feed. Some are servant types that run daylight hours errands. All are well cared for and prized.”
“How can you condone this?” she hissed. “Humans being kept as pets… it’s disgusting and degrading and just… wrong. And if you ever call me ‘pet’ again, I won’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“Look, luv, I get that it angers you. Don’t like your species lorded over, so to speak. You have to understand it’s not forced. Works well for the both of 'em. The human pet is better cared for than in some human marriages.
“Not to push a sore point, but your Mum wasn’t treated quite like the Queen by your father, was she? These vamps are monogamous, and even though they feed from their pets, it’s pleasurable for them both.
“S’difficult to keep an open mind sometimes, I know, but these humans don’t need help from you. Probably had a right miserable life before pairing up. Try and let it go, especially while you’re in here. Remember – vamp hearing.”
“This is not gonna be easy for me Spike. It goes against everything the Slayer stands for.” Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm down, she continued. “I can do this – be Buffy for the night, as I told Ailuros, but it still makes me sick.
“I’ve gone against the grain before. After all, there was Angel, and now look at us. I’m supposed to dust vampires - all vampires. It doesn’t say leave Spike hale and hearty in the Slayer’s handbook, ya know.”
“Tolerance, thy name is Buffy. And didn’t you once tell me Watcher-boy never gave you a copy of that handbook?” the blond vampire asked, darting out of reach. “Truce, pet – luv. Sorry. Just glad you gave me a chance. Would’ve been a lovely battle, but it’s more fun fighting with you than against.”
A tap on her shoulder made the Slayer tense and spin turn around, battle ready in an instant.
“Hey Buffster, ease off. Just me and Will here,” placated Xander. “Anyway, if you and blondie here could take your eyes off each other for a moment, you’d see us trying to get you over to a table. Lots of stuff to talk about.”
“Ooooh, Buffy. You wouldn’t believe what they’re serving here. Some of it gives me the heebie jeebies,” Willow chirped.
Settling down at an out of the way table, Willow plunked down a handful of colorful flyers and a couple of menus. Before they could reach for the menu, a waiter appeared, punching something into a keypad.
“Welcome back to Crazy Eights, Mr. Spike. Your regular order and something for your pets?”
A swift kick under the table from Buffy kept both Willow and Xander quiet, as Spike thought about how best to reply.
“Yeah, O-pos for me and a basket of those spicy chicken wings, and my mates will order for themselves.
His eyebrow raised in surprise, the waiter turned to the brunet and asked for his order.
“Um, I think I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries. That is a real beef from the cow burger and grown in the ground potato fries?” he enquired, nervously.
“Yes, sir. We are fully stocked with a wide variety of human foods. We have separate cooking areas, plates, utensils and refrigerated units and ovens for our demon and human customers.”
Willow let out a nervous giggle. “Heh… sorta like you keep a kosher kitchen. I guess I’ll have a regular burger and fries, too. Oh, and a pitcher of Pepsi, if you have it, please.”
Turning to Buffy, the waiter said, “Slayer.” with a slight bow of his head. “What can we order for you tonight?”
At the sound of her title, Buffy gave a nervous little gasp, and immediately felt Spike’s hand on the small of her back, attempting to calm and support her, silently encouraging her to place her order.
“Do you have any suggestions,” the shaken blonde asked sheepishly. “I’m afraid I haven’t even seen the menu yet.”
“We have a lovely vegetable lasagna, seems to be most popular with the human females. Would you care to chance it?”
With her affirming nod, the waiter finished punching their order into his keypad and left to retrieve their meals. As soon as he was out of sight, all hell broke loose.
One very angry Slayer turned to the vampire at her side and seethed, “Just how many times have you been here, Spike, that they know you by name and have your regular order memorized? And what did you do? Go around bragging that you hang out with the Slayer? I thought I was supposed to be all girly company tonight.”
“And what did you mean by ‘mates’ you bleached freak? Nobody is mated to you. Uh uh, Xander Harris is nobody’s mate, and neither is Willow.”
“Hey, Xander. I can speak for myself. And no, I’m not anyone’s mate, either,” said the redhead, agitated, but not anywhere near as worked up as Buffy and her best friend.
Holding his hands up in a defensive gesture, the vampire in question tried to explain. “Let me answer Buffy’s questions, first. Look, luv… I’ve been here all of two times. I’ve never seen that waiter before in my unlife. I’ve got a bad feelin’ that he knew who I was and what I liked thanks to this soddin’ chip in my hand. That little keypad thingamabob he was punchin’ our orders into is prolly a reader of some sort.” Pausing thoughtfully, he cocked his head and continued. “Come to think of it, he was punching something in it before he even called m’name.”
The geek in her engaged, Willow exclaimed, “I’ll bet that’s how he knew Buffy was the Slayer, too. There’s probably lots of information on that chip, and not only what you’ve told them.” Almost bouncing in her seat, she turned to the blonde vampire. “You’ve been hanging around with Buffy for a couple of years already, Spike. It’s almost common knowledge around the demon community. Plus, demons, right? I’m sure they could just tell from her aura or something that she’s the Slayer.”
Buffy placed a conciliatory hand on Spike’s arm. “Look, I’m sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusions. This place just gives me the wiggins. My skin feels like it’s crawling thanks to all the vamps and whatever other demons are in the building.”
Spike let it all go with a curt nod of his head and a small smile in her direction. Turning to the angry brunet he said, “Just for your information, Harris, I said you were all my mates - friends, you git - not that you were mated to anyone. Was a bloody honor I’d paid you and yours.
“In case you’d not noticed, most of the humans in here are pets. They have no real status here, and the vamps and demons talk for and order for them. Next time, I’ll call you pet and beat you into bloody messes for being disobedient.”
Willow picked up her spoon and clanked it against her water glass to get their attention. "C'mon, fellas. We're supposed to be in this together... you know – rally the troops? One for all and all for one?”
Turning as one, the vampire and the irate brunet said "Shut up, Red." “Shut up, Will.”
This time it was Buffy’s turn to be peacemaker. “Enough! Time to get back to the mission. We’re supposed to be finding out things about the way this place is run, and what’s the what with those chips.
“We’ve managed to learn very little so far, but it’s important. Seems as if those chips have way to much info on each person – being. It recognizes who and what you are, and your personal preferences in munchies. Probably knows who your friends and family are, too. It can also locate your position.
“Shit,” she hissed, alarm evident in her eyes. “Spike, you’ve just moved into my house. D’ya think they’ll go after my mother?”
“No worries, luv. M’all healed up and I’ll move back to the crypt when we leave here.”
“I’m thinking it’s already too late for that, and if something goes down at home, you’ll be able to help me protect Mom. You’ll stay?”
“Yeah, if you’re sure. Don’t want to put the lady in danger.”
Their waiter chose that moment to return with their meals. Placing them on the table before the proper party, he left, swiftly and silently.
In-between bites, the Slayer and her friends looked over the various menus. The human food was ordinary, nothing you wouldn’t expect to find in any halfway decent restaurant. The demon menu had them a bit squicked.
“Eeeew,” squeaked Willow. “Blood on tap.” Eyes widening, she stammered, “D-does that mean it come straight from…”
“The neck, Red,” confirmed the blond vampire. “Menu states several types – see here? Donated – some of the humans here are wearin’ red circlets marking their donor status. Then there’s house-red, various animal types – pig, otter, goat, cow. S’also plasma, lymph and other types of bodily fluids. Somethin’ for every demon.”
“Okay… anyone else lose their appetites?” asked a decidedly green around the gills Xander. “And can we not go into anything else on the demon delights list? I’d like to keep my food down.”
Those who were able to, finished their meal in silence, and agreed that their next step would be to venture down to the gaming room on the lower level.