I was up to my elbows in hot water.

I don't mean that figuratively. It was actual hot water, with suds, and I was washing bar glasses. My second full day in Cambridge, and I had a job - crappy as it was - at a place called Florey's Bar & Grill, although the only thing I'd seen them grill so far had been some burgers and hot wings. It was the kind of place that offered up a food menu small enough to fit on a business card, and a nine-page drinks list.

So even though my official title was dishwasher, I was washing glasses. Every once in a while, there was a plate for variety. Maybe a fork. Not much else.

Like all industrial kitchens everywhere, it was humid, hot and a little nasty; the building was old and had probably seen various owners shilling drinks for at least a hundred years. The plumbing probably hadn't been significantly upgraded in all that time. Hell, it probably had rats older than me, and maybe bigger, too. When I was done with the glasses - if that ever happened - I'd be expected to mop and scrub the place out.

A kitchen is run like an army; in fact, they call it a brigade system. The chef de cuisine ('Yes, chef!') is the general; his second-in-command is the sous chef; and then there are chefs des parties, who are responsible for individual workstations. Somewhere way down at the bottom of that organisational chart is something called a plongeur - as in, dishwasher. That's what I was doing. In a major restaurant there would be a bunch more positions, but all we had in this mini-brigade was the chef ('Yes, chef!') Roger, who had been in the navy and swore like a sailor, too, and then Bridget, who was his second and did everything else other than swear.

Yes, I knew the system. This was, obviously, not my first dishwashing gig.

Amazing thing was, what little they cooked was pretty great. I'd gotten hired to fetch, carry and clean, and since I had a valid state-issued ID, they were overjoyed (and surprised). Technically I couldn't drink in a place like this, but I got free meals to make up for it. And Bridget was a cute, motherly type. I'd already made friends with the bouncer, Pete, a short, muscular type who casually mentioned that he powerlifted with an eye to making the Olympic team someday. Damn.

What worried me, though, was the bartender. Her name was Jesse, and she was a stunning knockout redhead in tight leather. I'm usually all in favour of that, from a purely scenic standpoint, but there was something about her that set off alarms - Morganville-type alarms. I'd convinced myself that I was being paranoid, but I found myself still wondering about her over the course of the two days I'd been working at Florey's. Pete was one of those laconic types who didn't say much about other people, but he'd finally given up that Jesse had drifted into town a few years back and was one hell of a good bartender; she knew how to cut people off when they had too much, and get them out the door without trouble, which in his opinion was ninety per cent of a good bartender's job.

In other words, he didn't much like to exert himself. I approved of this. A bouncer's worth isn't how much he flexes his muscles, but how rarely he has to. It's the security guys who are always looking for a fight that cause trouble.

This is why I did not get hired to be a bouncer. I knew better than to apply.

I filled up the dishwasher - a big, industrial thing - again, and started it, and took care of the overflow, then did some clean-up and trash-taking-out before it was time for my dinner break. The sky outside was sliding toward twilight, and I stood out in the alley for a little while enjoying the cool air, so unlike Morganville's dry desert wind, before the smell of garbage drove me back inside. Roger was swearing about something I didn't bother to register, since it wasn't glasses, plates, utensils, pots, pans or cleaning; Bridget was chopping celery, knife flying in a blur, but she spared me a wink and a grin as I signed out for dinner, took off my kitchen apron, and hung it up.

I went looking for Pete.

The bar was already starting to fill, even this early, with after-work happy hour people; the day bartender was still on duty. Jesse didn't come on until seven, and it was still a quarter to six. Pete usually started his day early, with dinner, so I figured I'd sit down with him ... but I spotted him on the other side of the doorway, heading into the street. I followed, intending to tap him on the shoulder and ask if he was free, but then I saw he was heading for a car that pulled smoothly in at the kerb. The passenger door opened, and I saw Jesse leaning over, all stark contrasts of black and white except for the fiery red sheen of her hair ...

... And her eyes.

I stopped dead in the doorway, staring, as Pete slid into the front seat, slammed the door, and they drove off.

Had I really seen that flash of red in her eyes? Or had I just seen a reflection from the dashboard, maybe? Was I hallucinating Morganville all over the place? Maybe. Yeah, probably. Not every hot girl in pale trendy make-up could be a genuine vampire.

But maybe, just maybe, one could hide in plain sight.

Fun facts: she worked nights, never showing up until after the sun went down. She drove a car with windows tinted as dark as non-Morganville laws would allow. She went for the powder-faced Goth look, always.

She never had a problem handling drunks.

Add all that together, and you came up with ...

C'mon, I told myself. Really? You move out of the one town that has a heavy population of vampires, and you think you're going to run into one halfway across the country?

Some people are just lucky like that. Also, I hadn't just gotten this job for no good reason ... I'd followed Claire's new professor lady here, where she ate lunch and had pleasant chats with Jesse and Pete. I'd done it purely to find out what Dr Anderson was like; anybody who had the Amelie Seal of Approval was automatically someone I felt I should check out carefully, and by extension, I'd been checking out Jesse and Pete, then. Hence, the dishwashing gig.

And now, Jesse, with the flashing red in her eyes. So it wasn't so much coincidence as deliberate investigation on my part. I wanted Claire to be safe, and I wanted to be absolutely certain she wasn't walking unsuspecting into a lion's den.

Now, I wasn't so sure.

I'd used the savings I had left after securing my very grungy little room above the bar to buy a beat-up motorcycle, and I wasted no time getting on it and following Jesse's modified vampmobile. Claire would hate that I was doing this; she'd think I was interfering. Which I was. But only behind the scenes. I didn't intend for her to even know I was in town; it was enough to be close, if she needed me. Or if she said she wanted to see me. I wasn't going to pull some romantic movie stunt and show up uninvited on her doorstep. She needed space; I was giving it.

But Jesse was making me very, very nervous.

I got even more jumpy when Jesse's car pulled up at the kerb of a row house that I'd driven past once before, and memorised everything about. I'd resisted driving past again, mainly because I knew that it would drive me crazy to be that close and not stop. Now, I kept moving, past Jesse and around the block, where I stopped and dismounted. I took up a vantage point at the corner, where I could see what was going on.

Jesse and Pete went up the steps to Claire's row house, knocked, and after a while and some discussion at the door, Pete went inside. I didn't know if it was Liz, Claire's housemate, letting them in, or whether Claire was doing it. Jesse stayed outside, which was a relief.

In the idle time before the next thing happened, I saw Jesse fix on someone standing across the street from her - much closer than I was. Couldn't tell a lot about him except that he was big, and didn't seem bothered by Jesse's stare. I knew from experience how off-putting a vampire's attention could be, and it was a little surprising he didn't take the hint.

Then, the door opened again, and Claire and Pete stepped out. As Claire locked up, I drank in the sight of her like water in the desert ... damn, she looked good. Still the same girl who'd kissed me a few days ago. She hadn't changed at all - but then, had I really expected her to, in such a short time?

Pete had a bulky-looking box in his thick arms, and he carried it down to Jesse's car. Don't get in, I thought, watching Claire. Danger. C'mon. I know you have better instincts than that.

But she got in the car, and it pulled out, heading for parts unknown. I mounted the motorcycle and took off after them, hanging back enough in traffic to be sure I wasn't remarkable. Plenty of students cruising around on similar rides, so I didn't stand out.

Sure enough, the drive ended up at the building where Dr Anderson worked, and Claire did her studies. A dead end - ha - because I damn sure couldn't go strolling in, or I'd definitely risk coming face-to-face with Claire and have an uncomfortable conversation about what I was doing there, exactly. It would start with I was worried about you and end with her (probably rightly) saying I told you I needed to do this on my own.

I considered for a bit, then decided to head back to the bar. I could still grab a decent dinner before it was back to the regular kind of hot water.

For no damn good reason, I took the way back that led past Claire's row house, and as I slowed down, I saw a guy trying to open the door. I say 'trying' because he clearly wasn't having any luck. He had what might have been a key in his hand, but I didn't think so. He was also bigger than I was, and I didn't think he should have any business jimmying my girlfriend's door, so I pulled in, jumped off the bike, stood on the bottom step to block his path, and said, 'Hey, something I can do for you there, buddy?'

He whipped around, and I saw the fury and fear mixed together before it all smoothed into a bland, but still somehow unpleasant, mask. 'What's your problem?' he barked at me, and flexed his shoulders to show me his muscle-guns were loaded. I remained unimpressed. 'Just having some trouble with my key. Had a break-in last week, had to change the locks, this one sticks.'

One thing about liars, they can never resist the opportunity to take it just a step too far. If he'd just left it at the first part about the key, it might have been believable, but he just kept talking, and that proved he was making it up.

Plus, of course, he didn't live there. Obviously, that gave it away.

'Let me take a look,' I said, and came up one step.

'Back off.' He put the thing that was not a key in his pocket quickly, and upped the ante by coming down two steps, letting me know he was ready to charge. Again: not impressed. 'None of your business, punk, just keep walking.'

I had a number of really awesome choices in front of me. First, I could take another step up, and smash this guy's face with my fist, which sounded great; second, I could take another step up, let him punch at me, duck, and then smash his face with my fist. Or - and the less awesome choice - I could avoid causing a scene and possible police incident, back off, and pay attention to this douche bag from now on to see what he was up to.

I went with the less awesome option. Claire actually had changed me, it turned out - she'd made me think a little bit about the consequences, so I wasn't just in attack mode all the time. I didn't necessarily love it, but I saw the wisdom of it, and I nodded to the big guy, stepped down out of his way, and moved to the side. 'Sorry,' I said, not very sincerely. 'Just trying to help, man.'

'Fuck off,' he snapped, and charged past me. He didn't have to slam his shoulder into mine, but he did, and for a second I considered teaching him the wisdom of taking the high road, but I let it go. The slight discomfort was enough to make me feel righteous and all as I watched him walk down the block and around the corner. I had the weird feeling that he hadn't gone far, so I got on my bike, made a show of roaring away around the corner, and then coasted to a quiet stop so I could take a look.

Sure enough, the guy went back. He didn't try the door again, but he went across the street and took up a leaning-against-a-wall post. Looked like he could do it all night.

Looked like he had, before, which bothered me. He had to be the lurker I'd seen before.

What in the hell was going on? Was it related to Jesse being a vampire? Dr Anderson? Something else?

I didn't want to leave, but after watching him for about ten minutes, I got on the bike and raced back to Florey's. It was that, or lose my job, and for now, I needed the pay cheque.

Before I left, I pulled out my cell phone and reported an attempted break-in to the cops, just to make sure the dickhead got well and truly harassed. Emphasis on ass.

Man, the real world sucked. And it sucked even more that I actually missed Morganville.