"You're movin' house?" Mrs. DeLores exclaimed. Her white, curly hair bounced a little in her astonishment. Then she lowered her voice, "Was it because of the mugging?" her eyes shifted to his neck.
He fingered his scar absently for a while and shrugged.
"I need a change. To leave some people behind so that they don't bother me anymore."
"Those damn street thugs," Mrs. DeLores sniffed, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief that magically appeared out of nowhere. "You are such a sweet, young man. When I heard about what happened to you, it nearly made my heart stop. I hate to see anything else happen to you. But I also hate to see such a good tenant leave," she sighed dramatically.
Wesley just stared at her. He spoke to the woman only three times since he moved here three years ago. First, to find out if the apartment was available, second to get the key, and third to vacate the apartment. Their monthly dealings involved rental payment reminder notes and cheques slipped under the door.
Mrs. DeLores was unperturbed at his scrutiny. "Have you found a place?"
He gave her a small smile. "Not yet, but I did hear about a potential neighborhood."
SIX DAYS AGO
"Avarice is the worst place to live in the whole of California."
Wesley turned to see who spoke. He was only half interested in the conversation. He would've ignored it completely if not for the tantalizing sight of Bob, the greasy cook behind the counter, flipping meat patties.
The speaker was a disgruntled looking man in work overalls. As he sat at his table in the diner, he gave the waitress -- Myrtle, was it? -- a sour look.
"If I work there another day, I'm gonna go nuts."
"What's with the place, Joe?" Myrtle asked, only half interested. She patted her peroxide blonde hairdo absently as she readied her notebook for his order. "And do you want your usual or do you want my coffee surprise?"
"Yeah, my usual, and your coffee is a surprise only because Bob allowed you to serve it to us for so long."
This made some of the diners at Bob's Side Café laugh.
Myrtle hit Joe with her notebook. "Get on with the story," she complained. By then, Joe had some of the diners interested - they shifted in their seats to look at him.
"Well, you wouldn't believe the crime rate for one. People go missing there like you won't believe. Muggings, lootings - Yeah, you would expect it for a place called Avarice -- who think up these stupid names anyway? Anyway, so I'm working at my construction site, right? And Bob told me that another guy went missing again."
"Hey, you did tell us that someone went missing last week, right?" A man spoke up from a corner.
Joe turned to look at the man. "Yeah, it was Herman."
"Herman?" Myrtle piped up. "Alice's Herman?"
"Yeah. Poor guy. They found him like four days ago -- apparently he had some bite marks on his neck. Police say it's some kind of animal. Near tore his throat out. Not a drop of blood left in him -- or anywhere around him for that matter. Weird, for a wound like that."
"Oh man, no shit?" said another guy.
"You're kidding, right?" Myrtle said.
"Nope. And now, Harry's missing. I don't want to be next, you know?"
The crowd murmured in agreement.
Wesley returned to his very bad coffee and thought to himself: Vampires. Avarice had a bad vampire problem, if he was not mistaken. It was not an area Angel Investigations liked to frequent -- despite their line of work. They were investigators getting assignments from the Powers That Be, not Vampire Slayers. Los Angeles had other pockets of demon activity that they were more concerned about.
"Frankly, I have no idea why they're building something there," Joe was saying. "Nobody wants to live there. But it's the cheapest place to live in LA -- if you don't mind getting your throat ripped out."
"Avarice?" the petite red-headed woman stared at him, stunned, before quickly replacing her shock with a smile that was too bright to be true. "You've come to the right place. We have several houses that you might be interested in," she said, leading him to her desk.
Wesley sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair and looked around the office. The real estate office was mostly empty except for Mona -- the petite woman serving him -- and a near-catatonic receptionist near the door. The walls were filled with pictures of outdated architecture harking back to the 50s, and the furniture were the type you cobbled together from those DIY sections in hypermarts.
Norston Realtors was run down, like many of the offices at the fringes of Avarice. It would seem that nobody wanted to live *near* Avarice either.
"No, I don't want a house. I want something bigger. Much bigger," he said, giving Mona a small smile.
Mona could not hide her shock this time. "There are no mansions in Avarice," she said pointedly.
*She probably thinks that this British guy is an eccentric recluse along the lines of Howard Hughes. If life could be that simple.* Wesley mused.
"No, not mansions. Warehouses."
"Warehouses?" she echoed stupidly.
"You know, buildings where they keep things?"
"Oh!" Mona laughed nervously and then giggled. "Warehouses. Right. Plenty of them in Avarice. Of course that's why you're interested in Avarice. It's not as if you're going to-" Mona visibly gulped as she realized that she might have said too much.
Wesley knew what she was getting at, but he wanted to needle her just a bit. He had not had this much fun since ... well, ever. "Going to what?"
"Nothing," she gave him a big smile and disappeared under the desk, presumably to look for files.
Wesley tried to see what she was doing. "Going to what?" he repeated.
Mona came up from below her desk with a file. Then she sighed dramatically. "Live there," she said, exasperated.
"Well," Wesley drawled. "That *was* my idea."
"Oh ... er ... live there? In a converted warehouse?"
"I need space. Lots of it. For weapons practice."
Mona stared, then burst out laughing. "Of course. Hah! Weapons practice," she chortled as she flipped through her file. She turned the file over to his side.
"Here's one you might be interested in -- a former warehouse that stored plastic goods."
Wesley studied the black and white building and then the note 'Vacant since 1998' at the side. It had clean lines and enough space to store a 600 pound Garmak demon and its entire spawn.
"It's too sterile. It reminds me of lawyers. I hate lawyers."
"Okay..." Mona drawled and flashed him an odd look before she flipped a few pages further to show him another. And another.
"Does every warehouse remind you of lawyers?" Mona asked 20 warehouses later, annoyed.
"It's the modern architecture and glass windows. As cold and attractive as a certain she-lawyer I know. May I have a look?" he reached out for the file. Mona let him have it reluctantly.
He flipped through a few more until he finally caught something he truly liked. He felt his lips tugging into a big smile. He didn't know why anyone bothered to put Grecian columns to flank the entrance of a warehouse, but he liked it -- along with the row of Georgian windows that lined the second storey of the building. The walls were a very faded yellow that could formerly be white. Overgrown grass flanked the property.
He read the notes at the side of the faded black and white photograph: Built, circa 1920. Vacant since 1985. Shifted hands numerous times; the frequency increasing as the 80s approached. It was sometime after the vampire infestation began, he supposed.
Mona saw him staring at the photo, but she did not look overjoyed.
"Sir ... Mr. Pryce?"
"Wyndham-Pryce," he corrected her, his eyes still on the photograph.
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, I cannot recommend you Baylor House."
"Baylor House? It sounds rather elegant. When can we visit it?"
"I don't think you'd like living in that neighbourhood," Mona was saying.
"And the price? Can I have the quotation?"
"Call me Wesley. My surname can be quite a mouthful," he said, still staring at Baylor House.
"Why don't we look at another potential place?" Mona reached over and tried to tug the file from his hands. He gave her a glare and she sat back with a nervous smile and continued, "I have a great looking warehouse -- with no glass windows or hint of modern architecture in sight -- somewhere outside Avarice..." she trailed off when she noticed the thin line around his neck. Her lips pulled back in a grimace when she realized that it was a recently healed scar of a knife wound.
Wesley closed the file with a loud snap. It made Mona jump.
"I like this one."
After a beat, Wesley said, "I'm truly puzzled here. I'm giving you a sale, after all."
"Sir ... alright. I don?t like selling places to people when the places are not..."
He lifted an eyebrow.
Mona sighed deeply. "It's haunted."
He perked up. "Oh really? With what?"
Mona truly looked confused now. "Excuse me?"
"Is it a ghost? Vampires? Garnak demons? Maybe the occasional Juju spirit?"
He squinted at her. "Or maybe you're possessed?"
Mona came to her senses. "O-Kay. Here's a weird British customer!" She pointed at him accusingly. "You're probably a serial killer aren't you?"
Before he could answer, Mona flung her hands upward.
"Why couldn't I get a job in LA like any other decent real estate graduate? Maybe I should have accepted Jonah's offer to open a firm in Sunnydale like he suggested," she trailed off, distracted.
"I wouldn't advise that. The Hellmouth is there. And the property in Sunnydale never appreciates."
Mona stared at him long and hard before saying, "Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, if I was anyone else, I would've sold you that property in a snap. It has been sitting in our files for years. But I don't like selling people houses where they can be killed in. People have died in that house. There's even talk about vampires living there -- as if they exist! Not only is it haunted, Baylor House is in the worst section of the worst neighbourhood in LA. Do you know what that means?"
"That you're an honest woman, and I like that," he said sincerely.
Mona blushed at his unexpected praise. "Sir-"
"Wesley; and as a reward for your honesty, I would like to relieve you of that piece of property as soon as possible. Please."
Mona looked as if she still couldn't believe it. "Sure. Eat your heart out, but I did warn you. Why in the world do you want a haunted house in a bad neighborhood anyway?"
Wesley gave her a ghost of a smile. "To see who dies first -- the vampires or me."
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