Giles stepped into the bar nervously, tucking the card with the address into his jacket pocket. The air-conditioning felt good, and he drew his first unimpeded breath in hours, since he'd stepped out of the airport and into the shuttle to the rental car. The humidity was shocking. His shoulders relaxed a little, then tightened up again. He wasn't dressed for this bar. He reached up and pulled his tie loose. Undid the top button of his shirt. That helped. Now he looked a bit like a businessman after hours. But still safe, still familiar, in case she were here.
Giles was fairly certain the couple in the far corner were not human. Nashville was not known for its vampire population, but if they were out, they'd be here at the Church. And so would the Slayer.
The band was about to start a set, but it was early. Opening act. Not a lot of custom yet. Giles stepped to the bar. Leaned on it for a moment, looking around. The blonde waitress his informant described could be found here was nowhere in sight. He ordered a beer, fumbled for the money from his wallet right-handed. The splints were a bloody nuisance. He wandered with the beer and a bowl of peanuts to a corner booth where he could see most of the room. Still no sign of the blonde waitress with the penchant for beating up bullies much larger than herself.
Giles knew nothing about American country music, and what he knew about the blues was filtered through the Marshall stacks of the Who and Led Zeppelin. Howlin' Wolf via a Jimmy Page rip-off. He'd always been more into folk-rock anyway, particularly recently. He wasn't sure what he was listening to. Didn't matter. He could recognize good guitar playing when he heard it, and he was hearing it now. The drummer, not so good. But that guitarist would go places once he'd found a rhythm section worthy of him. That stinging sound had to be a Telecaster. Giles craned his neck. Yes. Tele through the bridge pickup, the picking style Giles knew best through George Harrison. For the rest of the song Giles alternated between watching the guitarist's hands and flicking nervy glances around the room.
The singer said something to the crowd at the end of the song and they launched into another. Giles relaxed a little. Had another swig of his beer. The bottle dripped with condensation, even in the air-conditioned room. He was tempted to drink it off, order another, but refrained. He didn't want to be drunk, or to smell of beer, if Buffy were indeed here.
Temptations. Music. Beer. The smell of cigarettes. Giles was proof against all of them, holding out for something sweeter. He spun out a fantasy, how it would go when she came to his booth to see if he wanted another beer, and he looked up, and they recognized each other. She'd throw herself at him and he'd hold her. Happiness and relief on her face, maybe a few tears. She'd have to finish her shift, but he'd be able to sit back and listen and watch her, knowing that when the bar closed he'd be taking her home.
He'd slowly worked his way through half the bottle, and the crowd had doubled, before he caught a glimpse of her. Just a flash of blonde hair, on a petite woman, seen through cigarette haze and a clump of raucous drinkers. The waitress was here. Giles sat up sharply, then forced himself to sit back. Watching for another glimpse. He didn't want to frighten her off.
The girl stepped from behind the crowd, tray in hand. Giles' shoulders slumped. This woman was trim, and held herself confidently, but she was much older than Buffy. Mid-twenties.
Giles downed the rest of the beer in a long swallow. His ears hurt, and the smoke was making him ill. He left the bottle and the peanuts and slunk out. First flight back tomorrow was at nine. He'd walk the streets a little, tonight, just in case, but he'd find nothing in Nashville. No vampires, no Slayer, nothing.