7. The Bank Job
Waking up, I stretched out on the double bed, missing the warmth of Nic's body next to mine, but in the same way not missing his pointed elbows and cover hogging tendencies. From her position sprawled out on the bed, P. S looked at me reproachfully, as though reading my thoughts and asking why she wasn't good enough for me.
Rolling over, I saw Nic standing oddly stiff and straight, just staring at me, a strange and dead look in his eyes. I tried smiling at him, but his face was stony.
"Morning. Have I overslept again?" Still Nic said nothing and I gripped P.S' fur, pulling her in close to me, which- and I could tell from her angry yowling- she didn't appreciate in the slightest. "It's those bloody curtains, you know, messing with my sleep patterns."
"You need a lock for this door," he said quietly, tilting his head and staring at me with an expression totally alien to that pale angular face of his. I felt a strange shiver coursing down the back of my neck. Hugging my arms to my chest, I wished that my boyfriend would stop looking at me like he wanted to kill me.
However, upon turning something in his foot gave way, he reached wildly for the door to stop his fall but it slammed shut and he collapsed face first onto the carpet. There was a cough and a splat as something black fell onto the carpet.
"Nic! You okay?"
"Get off me, Beth," he said, shrugging my arm away. I frowned and withdrew from him, but suddenly he grabbed it- making me flinch in fear. He saw my reaction and bit his lip.
"Sorry," he said thickly, and to my surprise he pressed his head on my shoulder almost like a child seeking comfort from an adult, I put my arm tentatively around him and we sat in silence for a few minutes- me holding Nic before finally he mumbled. "You want me to make you some breakfast or something?"
"We'll make something together; I got time before work…as long as it isn't eggs."
Nic peered in the fridge carefully- usually, even when we'd been living in the London flat and could barely afford hot water it was loaded to full capacity to cater for Nic's every cooking whim. But since he hadn't been to the market in a while and I was woefully incompetent when it came to that sort of thing there were only a few of the most basic supplies.
"Bacon pancakes? I mean there are eggs in it- but it doesn't really count."
"Fine. Battle stations?"
"You on the western front with the bacon, me on pancakes."
Watching Nic in the kitchen was always like watching a seal slipping into water; it was the one place where he looked truly comfortable- his awkward limbs suddenly becoming efficient, easy to control, his jerky movements became slick, smooth and almost fluid. Even when he whisked up pancake batter he did it with the kind of conviction and speed that could only belong to a chef.
As I turned the bacon, which let out a satisfying crackle, I smiled at him and he smiled back, for the first time since he'd got back from the school. It was great to see him smile, though before I'd always thought he looked best when he was thinking, but it was a brief one and his whisking became slow- morose even.
"I'm gonna have to call Jackson, aren't I? Tell him that I quit- he'll be so pissed off, you know, this guy busted a gut with the manager getting me the position in the hotel kitchen not to mention all the effort he put in teaching me when I was a kid. You'll have to tell him I got ill or something."
"I'll have to tell him?"
"I can't do it, can I?" he placed the bowl on the counter and leaned on it, running a hand through his hair. "So much for owning a restaurant by the time I'm thirty. Hell, I'm never going to be thirty," his words were sharp and bitter like shards of ice clanging onto the kitchen counter.
His hands shook as he lit a cigarette taken from the pockets of his jeans. As he took one drag he let out an angry cry of pain and his hand went, once again, to his neck.
"Oww…god, leave me alone! I'm having a cigarette!"
"What was that?"
"I can't smoke, can I?" he grimaced after one more drag, before giving up and stubbing his cigarette out savagely onto the counter. "You know, there are a lot of things about being vampire I can just about deal with; not being able to eat, not being able to go outside, my career…but this," he gritted his teeth, "Is. The. Last. Fucking. Straw."
He coughed again, into his hand I noticed the same odd, glistening black substance that reeked of rotting meat and had about the same consistency as tar
"What the hell is that? Nic, you're really worrying me; you don't look at all well."
"That's probably because I'm a walking corpse," he snapped bitterly, ripping off more paper towels than he needed to mop up the black mess"; the complete opposite of well."
I bit my lip, trying to figure out what to say- but when your boyfriend is undead, nothing seems appropriate. Noting this, his expression softened with a heartfelt sigh.
"Come here," he said arms out. I hesitated a little despite myself, my instincts still apparently trained on fear- but if he noticed, Nic didn't let it show, although he didn't hold me closely.
"Sorry, god Beth, I just didn't expect my life to be over at twenty two and I certainly didn't expect to still be hanging about after it was over."
When Nic coughed for the seventeenth time I knew we had to do something. Reluctantly, I turned to the only person- thing- that I thought could help me.
"It's the parasite rejecting you," said Brian dully to Nic before turning to me, with the air of one addressing an annoying child, or a dead pig. "See, there's a tiny egg living right there," he pointed to the dark spot on Nic's neck, gently brushing his fingers up the skin, I gripped the sleeves of my sweater.
"It's keeping him working, feeding off the blood that runs down his neck, and since he hasn't fed it in a week it's tried everything it can to get blood; manipulating Nic's hormones to make him pounce on the nearest human being- that would be you, which of course Nic won't do," Brian sounded disappointed. "- and now it's trying to force itself out. First he'll be coughing this stuff up and then he'll be vomiting it and then when the parasite leaves you'll be left with nothing but a hollow shell. Work with the parasite, Nic, not against it. It doesn't want you to die."
"An egg?" I asked sharply. "What do you mean an egg? Is it going to hatch? Is it going to take him over and then burst out of him like creature from Alien?"
"It's the size of my thumbnail," said Brian disdainfully, wiggling his grubby thumb in my face, the nail was caked and crusted with blood. "No bursting is going to be involved, but that black stuff," he pointed to the tissue sticky with it, "is a nasty little bugger. The parasite generates gallons of the stuff; it runs through our veins, it's flammable and makes us blister and burn up in the sun. Though, it should be grey- you need blood soon."
"How do you know all this?"
"Mercy told me, she's the oldest so she should know," shrugged Brian. "Why don't you touch it and see what happens?"
Brian extended the open tissue, black goop pocketed inside. Before I did, I eyed him suspiciously, though his face was a neutral picture of innocence.
Reaching out, I touched my index lightly on the black goo and suddenly, felt a searing pain course down my finger like frostbite. "Ow, mother fucker!" I should have known it was coming, of course and I made a promise to myself that it wasn't going to happen again.
"I forgot to say; highly concentrated it's highly toxic. So don't let your boyfriend cough in your mouth. Or you know, do."
"Piss off," I snapped, cradling my finger; the tip of it had turned black and hard.
"So you don't want to hear about how we save Nic's life?"
"I am here, you know," interrupted Nic. "And I'm not killing anything, Brian. No way no how," he turned to me and grabbed my hands, more tightly than he would usually, his eyes skating over my neck, his fangs bared. "Look, I'm supposed to be dead anyway, Beth…so maybe this is just life telling me to give it a rest"
"Well that's highly heroic of you," said Brian sarcastically. "But, unless you really want to die, it doesn't quite have to come to that. I have a brilliant plan."
"As brilliant as the plan where you turned my boyfriend into a vampire?"
"Almost. We rob a bank."
"Do we look like Bonnie and Clyde, Brian?" smiled Nic. I, on the other hand was not quite so amused.
"Why the hell, would that help anything, you mad twat?"
"Oh shut up," snapped Brian. "It's not a real bank…a blood bank. There's one at the hospital in Ryde, Tabitha went through a phase in the eighties, we call it her New-Age phase, when she became an 'enlightened being', all bullshit but she probably saved a few lives as well- AIDs epidemic and all. Of course the blood is cold and she missed killing after a while…but if you're determined to be so pious and moral, well it should do. Besides, I think you'd make a great Bonnie."
"You're Bonnie, I'm Clyde!"
"No…you definitely are, I can just imagine you in furs. I'm Clyde."
If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Brain was flirting with Nic, actually flirting with him- he'd cocked his stupid girly head and was grinning like a moron at him, at my boyfriend. I wanted to punch him hard and repeatedly, and I was going to until a voice in my head reminded me that without Brian, Nic and I were quite possibly up shit creek without a paddle.
"You're an annoying little prick is what you are," I made do with snapping which was rather magnanimous of me, given the situation.
Brian leant forwards with an insincere smile and said; "You know, I really would quite like to torture you right now, to starve you, decapitate you, drink your blood, skin you and then fashion your dry floppy carcass into some sort of duffle bag." He winked at me as though it were a sexual innuendo and bared his teeth, I shivered in spite of myself.
"Brian!" said Nic sternly though I noticed him give Brian and odd little smile. It was nice to see that my boyfriend found my murder so amusing. I reminded myself to give him a bollocking the minute Brain left.
But only after, because if Brian thought Nic and I weren't one hundred percent in love and that he wouldn't die to save me, he probably would kill me and do all that stuff with my skin and a duffle bag. "Okay, so, is it easy to break into the hospital? What do we have to do?"
"We won't be doing anything. Nic and I wait till the guards change shift and sneak in one of the windows; that is if the blood bank is still on the ground floor and if not, we kill anyone who gets in our way-"
"-don't you think that defeats the object of robbing a blood bank so I don't have to kill people just a little?"
"I'm coming you know," I insisted loudly.
"Fine, we try not to kill anyone who gets in out way- maybe we just cripple or maim them."
"No you aren't. I'd rather you weren't involved in any of this, thank you very much."
"I think I became involved when I started shagging you three years ago, Dominic Foxe, thank you very much."
"I didn't know you were called Dominic," said Brian and he was doing that stupid smiling thing again. My fingers were almost begging me to grab him by the throat.
"I'm not. My dad's Dominic Foxe, I'm Nic…just Nic."
"Oh, you're just taking the piss now," I said loudly, fighting the urge to bang their heads together. "You're going to let a vampire who doesn't even know your name…who bit you and ruined your life-"
"I saved his life."
"You're going to let a vampire who ruined your life help you rob a hospital. While you leave me at home like I'm your bloody Stepford robot wife."
"Beth," said Nic wearily. "How about I don't want your life ruined either? You think they'll let us just walk out of the place if we get caught?"
"Which is exactly why I need to go with you. If you get caught and the sun comes up, you'll be fried like an onion ring in a police cell and it'll be all over. So unless you want Rambo over there killing everything that moves inside of that hospital, you need me, even if it's just as a distraction or someone to take the blame." I pretended to weight up the options with my hands as scales, "total destruction or a minor criminal conviction- it's up to you."
"You'd do that for me?"
"I think it's been established that I'd do pretty much anything for you," I said, something weird and heavy seemed to be living in my jaw not unlike the vampire parasite burrowing its way through my boyfriend's neck. "I am hideously desperate and clingy like that."
"Well I'm all for Barker taking the blame if something goes wrong. Shall we go now?"
"No time like present. You'll drive us there won't you…I think I still remember where the hospital is."
St Mary's was a patchwork kind of building, shiny new wings made of bright red brick, plastics and metal crudely stitched onto the older, greyer parts of the hospital. Lights flickered inside, like the carved lantern my dad had brought back from a trip to India. As we pulled into the almost empty grey car park, I sunk further into the seat of the car, an ominous feeling bubbling in my throat, though I was determined not to show any kind of fear.
It took a glance at Nic, head pressed against a pane of glass, clutching at his neck with weak fingers to fill me with the determination I needed. Standing up out of the car, I surveyed the entrance to the hospital with some trepidation.
"Won't the lights inside damage you?" I whispered.
Brian just rolled his eyes. "Why are you whispering? People come to hospitals all of the time. Besides, it's all about light intensity, we should be fine; Mercy shops indoors all of the time and she's never once burst into flames."
I noticed however, that a muscle twitched in his jaw. I don't think it was a theory he'd ever tried out and I made a mental note to let Brian go in first; something good might as well come from this excursion and it might as well involve Brian Eddowes bursting into flames.
As he spoke, the loud cawing of a small black cloud heading towards us drowned out Brian's voice. I looked up ahead and saw the close-knit forms of eight or nine crows slowly come to rest on the bonnet of the car, blending in with the navy sky. A few feathers drifted to my feet, and Nic grabbed my waist.
"We should get away quickly," said Brian, staring out the crows and flailing his arms wildly in jerky movements, as though he were dancing to an audience in black suits. "Nic, make as much movement as you possibly can…"
"But surely that'll make them angry."
"If they don't think that you're dead then they won't try and eat you."
Nic joined him, moving his arms and legs as though dancing- I couldn't help but giggle at the sight of two vampires dancing to an audience of crows.
"You two look hilarious, you know that?"
Nic started to sing 'Staying Alive', (word perfectly I might add) in a hideous falsetto voice, complete with horrible Jon Travolta dance moves. He was just on the 'Ahh, Ahh's' when I felt compelled to smack him in the back of the head.
Inside the hospital, Brian took over, Nic and I trailing uselessly behind. "Night nurses," he whispered to me, "are notoriously hen-pecked. They just sit there, read romance novels and most of the time they don't even bother to look like they're actually doing anything useful."
He gestured to the nurse on the desk, a sallow looking woman with hooked features, a prominent chin and cheekbones and a thick bouffant of brown hair- I could almost smell her hairspray from the sliding doors. She was reading a novel, just like Brian said she would be; it had a gaudy front cover with a scantily clad big breasted woman in the arms a half naked body builder, both standing in the snow under a full moon.
"Go on ahead, through those double doors- I'll be after you in a bit."
At Brian's insistence, Nic and I walked past her and she didn't even look up, her tiny mouse-like eyes darting over her book. As Nic and I walked though the double doors, it wasn't long before we were joined by Brian, holding proudly a thick white swipe card. "Night nurses," he said wisely.
"That was…surprisingly easy," I said letting Brian lead us down a bright white corridor, almost slipping on the polished plastic floor.
"Not done yet," said Brian grimly, walking quickly and with a lot of purpose. "Keep your eye open for the blood bank, it used to be in a lab on the first floor but it might have changed."
I spotted the directory by the elevator and mercifully the blood lab was still located on the first floor; imperative for the plan we'd figured out in the car on the way to the hospital.
Once we'd found the correct position, Nic and I would wait outside the hospital, under the correct window whilst Brian snuck out enough as we needed.
It was bitterly cold out and I wrapped my arms around my chest. Besides me, Nic didn't even shiver and there was no breath rising from his throat. If I hugged him towards me, we wouldn't be able to even share the warmth.
"I hope he's alright in there," said Nic, craning through the window, "how long do you think this should take?"
"I really don't care."
"You don't like Brian do you?"
I gaped at him, surprised he could even ask me something like that. "Well of course I don't…can you blame me? He's the whole reason we're here; he turned you into a vampire, remember, don't you resent him just a little?"
Nic shrugged. "Obviously I resent this, but Brian's trying to do right by me- anyone can see that." He made it sound like Brian had gotten him pregnant. "He doesn't have to be here, robbing a blood bank, putting himself out like this, he could be safe in St Ivo's-"
"-eating disembowelled prostitutes. I don't trust him, not one bit."
"Beth, love, I know he wouldn't do anything…you heard what he said; there's a bond that ties us together now."
"Yes, but where exactly does that leave me?"
Before Nic had time to answer, something fell out of the window and exploded onto my leg. It was uncomfortable and damp, seeping up the leg of my white tights.
Blood was running up my leg and Nic had smelt it, he twitched and grabbed the wall in an attempt to fight his urges.
"It's just a bag of blood," I said, watching him carefully. "I know what being an addict is like; if you have to, then go on…" I extended my leg, a little warily, not sure if this was the most sensible thing to do; he could take my leg off if he wanted to.
But before he did anything, Brian Eddowes jumped through, bags of blood overflowing from his arms. He was laughing, his bright red hair ruffled. Taking Nic's hand in his, he yanked him up "We gotta go, now."
They sped off down the slight hill behind the hospital towards the car and I trailed clumsily behind.
"Dance with me!" said Nic, grabbing my hand. There was blood between his finger nails and staining his teeth but he was smiling. God, I was thankful for that bloodstained smile.
We were back at home, the room stank of blood and I'd watched with complete revulsion as Nic buried his head into an IV drip, his fangs more prominent than ever as he slurped up thick crimson liquid which slid sickeningly down his chin.
I buried myself further into Doreen's flowery sofa, my legs now bare and the blood-stained tights soaking in the sink in the kitchen. "No thanks. I quite like my feet without bruises on them."
"Well, then," without warning, he pulled me up off the sofa and lifted me till my feet were clear off the floor; I wrapped my legs around his waist, my arms around his shoulders. "No feet to bruise now."
I looked at the floor puzzled, and then to Nic's matchstick arms, unsure exactly how I found myself in that position. "What the hell? You've never been able to do this before. You're not even shaking or moaning or anything."
"Perk of being a vampire?" suggested Nic. "I've become the hulk's more handsome, paler cousin. Hang on a sec." He swung me, with uncharacteristic ease over his shoulder into a fireman's lift.
"Very impressive," I said in a monotone. "and now I feel like a package, put me down."
He jiggled me a little, making my dinner swim in my stomach.
"Yes…yes…you're very masculine and strong. Now put me down before I puke on you..."
He slid me off him and we kissed, Nic swaying completely out of time to the music, he tasted unpleasantly of blood and I still couldn't get over his oddly dry tongue, but I ran my hands through his wild hair and he didn't attack me.
"It went well tonight didn't it?"
"So well!" beamed Nic. "I feel like a new man…err…not man."
" Forget Brian, we're Bonnie and Clyde," I announced to him firmly, running my finger along his cheek. "Apart from the whole being shot over fifty times and then dying part."
"Good to hear," he said softly; which on reflection probably meant I love you.