[I've done an editing pass on the first 12 chapters, so if you're doing a reread and you notice some changes, that'd be why. The trouble with posting fiction serially is that people get to see it before the story can be edited as a whole, and it can lead to awkwardness seeing the light of day that would normally remain secret. Hopefully now what you're getting is pretty much the final form, at least up to that point. - J]
"You know what I hated about Buffy?"
"The fact that you weren't in it?"
"As if I'd want to. I hated that show."
"Which is why we're talking about it now, Jack?"
Here's me and my best friend Kiki, out enjoying a little evening constitutional. Kiki's five foot nothing, four inch platform boots, all kinds of metal in her face, jingle jangle. Korean, skin still golden tan; she's only been dead like five years. Her hair's blue this week. She looks like a hardass, but she's a total care bear. The boss kinda glued her to me when she joined up, thinking maybe she'd warm me up a little. She must've, some, since I have the concept of 'best friend' now, but I'm still Jack.
"Yeah, exactly. I said you know what I hated about it."
"Uh-huh, I was there, I heard you."
"You're supposed to guess, numbnuts."
Kiki snorts. "Numbnuts."
"What's wrong with 'numbnuts'?"
"Nothing, in 1987."
"Fine. Is 'asshat' still au courant?"
"Ooh, you're sexy when you speak French." She lipstick-pouts at me. I take a swipe at her head, and she laughs.
Here's me: a tall drink of coat hangers with a lit match on top. You remember those troll heads you used to stick on your pencil eraser, with the hair that would spike out when you spun the pencil between your hands? My hair looks kinda like that. It's orange. I'm wearing tight black everything, so people can see exactly how much I look like a skeleton. Kiki dressed me. Except for the Jolly Roger bandanna. That's mine. Always got that. Jack Saturday, land pirate.
Used to be, people got out of my way. Back in '79, people would see Sex Pistols on a t-shirt and stare like you were eating a baby right in front of them. Now I'm not worth a second glance. We walk by a supermarket, and two girls who look like spotty limp-haired Kikis smile as they pass us to go in, thinking they recognize their demographic. Always cracks me up, seeing these host organisms for space acne trying to pretend they're vampires. They wouldn't last a week if they got made for real.
"Fiiiine," Kiki says, drawing it out with adolescent sarcasm. "What did you hate?"
She just rolls her eyes.
"Seriously! Foreheads! Like Star Trek! Do I look like a fucking Klingon to you?"
"So, not the fact that they were all demonic evil, then?"
"Nah. Fuck, we're parasites, let 'em be scared."
We're walking through one of the harder neighborhoods on the south side, waiting for somebody to start shit. That's Kiki's idea. When I eat alone, I get my lunches in rest stop bathrooms. Wait for some guy to come in alone, trance him, slurpity. By the time he comes round I'm gone, and if he notices he's feeling kinda woozy, well, he's been on the road a while, he just thinks he needs another coffee.
But that's not good enough for Kiki. She bought that 'prey on the evildoer' crap. I go along when I feel like a fight, which is usually. Could do without getting shot, though. That shit hurts, and one of these days somebody's gonna put a hollowpoint in my skull. That'll kill a vamp way better than a stake in the heart. But I guess I kinda like the danger too. Besides, I can't let the girl do it by herself. She's my best friend. Gotta watch her back. Even if she does tease the shit out of me.
"Or the fact that Buffy got more cock than you do?" Kiki grins.
"Nah." I hesitate. "Aright, yeah, that was annoying."
"Man, the guys she dated were fugly, though."
"The hell they were, Spike was hot."
"Okay, but the rest of them."
"Commando boy was okay. I'd do him. Duct tape his mouth first, though, cuz every time he talked it was like -- I dunno, this pathetic attempt to alpha-male everyone, he was just made of fail. But he was buff."
"Please, please tell me you wouldn't do Angel."
"I would rather take a nailgun to my nutsack," I tell her solemnly. She laughs. "What, that's a funny image to you?" I say, pulling a hurt face, which makes her laugh harder.
It's a nice warm summer night, and everybody's out on their porches. I don't know how this is gonna get us lunch. Even if somebody starts something, there's like a million witnesses. We get yelled at every other block, but nobody wants to get off the front step and do anything, not even when Kiki flips them off. They just laugh and hoot. They're not really making threats, they just don't know anything nice to yell at a stranger.
"I know where there's a crack dealer," Kiki suggests.
"I'm not drinking any damn crackhead."
"You know we can't get addicted. We don't have a metabolism."
"I don't care, I'm not drinking any fucking crackhead. No junkies, no tweakers -- maybe potheads. That'd be okay."
"We could kill him. Do the neighborhood a favor."
"Against the rules. Besides, somebody else'd take over five minutes later."
She sighs. "I know."
"Only Abe gets to be Batman. You know that."
"I know." Another sigh. "Anyway, Batman doesn't kill people."
"I thought he did and then angsted about it."
"I dunno, maybe once or twice. I'm not a big fan."
"Oh, you're kidding. How can you not like Batman?" Me, I like Batman. He'd be a role model if I had those. I'm a psychopath, though. I have feelings, but they're only my feelings. I have no empathy. Apparently, not getting a contact high from other people's emotions is a mental illness. Well, that and I enjoy killing people. But I do like Batman.
We leave the fruitless residential street and turn onto a row of run-down shops. Tattoo parlors, 'adult bookstores', mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurants. Customized cars roar up and down the street, occasionally stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic while the driver yells to a friend on the sidewalk. Hoppers, low-riders; glass pack 'mufflers' that don't muffle shit. Jesus I fucking hate glass packs. A particularly loud one rips the air like a jumbo jet as it goes past, drowning my defense of Batman.
"Let's kill that jackass in the Camaro," I suggest once Kiki can hear me again.
"What do you mean, which one?" I point. "The only Camaro in sight."
"I don't give a shit about cars."
"The red one with a white stripe."
"Oh, the loud one."
"Yes, the fucking loud one. Like he ever drives the fucking thing fast enough for backpressure to matter. Fucker needs to keep his goddamn Nascar fantasies out of my airspace."
"Right, well, go catch him." She makes shooing motions at me.
The Camaro's six blocks away by this point. I'm faster and stronger than I was with a heartbeat, but I still can't do that. "Har har."
It's getting late. The crowds are thinning. Still no lunch. I'm getting tired of this. The cars are giving me a headache.
"Let's go to the airport and bite some tourists," I suggest.
"They don't let you do that anymore."
"How can they not let you --"
"You can't get into the terminals without a ticket." She rolls her eyes. "You remember that 9-11 thing? Or is that a bit too pop culture for you?"
"Oh. Yeah. That."
"Oh yeah that? It was only, like, the defining moment of the 21st century."
"I'm sure something worse'll come along soon enough. You buy the hype too much."
She looks honestly pissed at me now. I'm a little worried, because she holds grudges, and anyway, I didn't mean to hurt her feelings. I like Kiki even more than I like Batman. But before she can light into me, I hear a guy scream this really serious agony scream less than a block away. It's not a playing-around scream, like you hear all the time in the city, or an angry scream, or something from a TV. It sounds like somebody got kneecapped.
Some guys sitting on the step in front of a pawnshop glance up, then go back to their conversation. An old woman closing up a convenience store glances up and down the street, then goes inside and slams the gate down. I look at Kiki, wondering if we care. She's already turning down the alley. Apparently we care. I follow her. She's determined to get involved, so I guess I'm involved too. Wondering what happened would ruin her evening anyway if we let it be.
The back end of the alley has a piece of chain link fence across it. Kiki jumps it. I climb over it the normal way. I'm not in a hurry. By the time I get to the parking lot on the other side, Kiki's already lighting into somebody. I pause to take in the scenery.
Big long strip of parking lot running along the backs of the shops, divided by stripes of weeds, telephone poles, dumpsters. Handful of cars in each, probably residents of the apartments above the stores. Beside a rusty yellow Continental, Kiki is kicking the living shit out of a fat black dude in a red wifebeater and sweat pants, while a skinny white dude in a blue basketball jersey tries to pull her off him, somewhat hindered by his baggy jeans, the crotch of which is somewhere around his knees.
I light a cigarette and stroll around the scene, dodging briefly when Kiki throws the black dude at me so she can wale on the white one for a while. Once I get past the yellow car, I see who screamed. Young white guy, maybe twenty years old. Long blond hair, baby face, split lip; sprawled out flat on his back, out cold. I can see the pulse in his neck, but somebody whose attention doesn't gravitate automatically to the carotid might think he was dead. He's dressed like us, only serious. Fishnet shirt, leather jeans. Ring in his belly button, ferchrissakes.
I glance at Kiki. She's back on the black guy; seems Whitey didn't last very long. She's not hurting them too bad, though. They might need a hospital, but they'll live. She's not really all that mad. She knows as well as I do that walking around in this neighborhood dressed up like a rentboy is a good way to get your ass beat, and Blondie shoulda known that. I leave her to it. Ignoring the pained obscenities and thumping noises, I squat next to Blondie and have a look, grinding out my cig on the pavement.
He's pretty damn hot, actually. Almost as skinny as me, which I don't usually go for, but he's got a sweet face, and one sexy long knuckly hand -- the other hand is unsexy, swelling up and turning purple. That's probably why he screamed. Looks like somebody stomped on it. The contents of his messenger bag are scattered around him. Paperback copy of 'The Tao of Pooh', notebooks with band stickers on them, some pens and reciepts and small change, a couple pieces of gum, a Zippo with Bettie Page on it. I like the Zippo, so I take it. I shovel the rest of it back in the bag and drop the bag on his stomach. He opens his eyes. They're blue. Crazy cobalt blue, like nobody really has. Like those people in Dune. Fucked up.
"Hi," I tell him. He just blinks at the sky.
It sounds like Kiki's winding down. I get up and go over to Mister Saggy Pants, who is sitting against the rear wheel of the Lincoln with his legs sprawled out in front of him like a doll. Blood is pouring out of his nose and trickling onto his shirt in a thin, steady stream, like a rusty faucet that won't quite shut off. Smells kinda like meth, so I'm not interested. I ask him, "Who broke the kid's hand? Was that you?"
He spits. "Fuck you, man."
"Dude, my friend's not even close to tired."
"Who broke the kid's hand?"
"I got nowhere else to be tonight, and nobody's calling the cops. Who broke the kid's hand?"
"Fuck you!" he gurgles, spraying blood, and doubles over coughing. He spits up a tooth.
I wait until he's done staring at it, then ask him again, patient as Poe's pendulum. "Who broke the kid's hand?"
"He did!" He gestures vaguely in the direction of Kiki and the black man. She's not really beating on him anymore, she's just pushing him down every time he gets up, giggling like it's a fun game. She gets a little weird when she's got her poetic justice on. "Your fucking Chinese bitch better not kill him. I got friends, we come find you. You got a mama? I fucking rape your mama 'fore I kill her, cocksucker. You in trouble."
"He broke the kid's hand, huh? Well, yours is closer." And before he can snatch it away, I stomp his hand hard. He screams just like Blondie did. I might not be upset by injustice to other people, but balancing the scales does feel kind of satisfying. Like winning a game of solitaire.
He howls threats at my back as I walk over to tap Kiki on the shoulder. She knocks her toy down one more time, then throws me an irritated look. "I'm not done."
"You gonna eat that, or just play with it all night?"
"I already did." She grabs the man's hand as he struggles to scramble away, lifts him by it. Two neat punctures on the inside of his elbow. "He's just so stubborn, I can't stop knocking him over. He's like a Weeble."
"Now you're just being mean."
"Did you eat?"
"They smell like meth. You got a buzz?"
"Nah, don't want 'em."
She drops the man and shrugs. "Suit yourself."
"You're not gonna fix those holes?"
"I didn't even trance him. Like he's gonna say anything." She shoots the groaning heap a contemptuous look, then heads over to have a look at Blondie. "He got a concussion or something? He's just lying there."
"Probably." I bend to wave a hand in front of the boy's eyes. He tracks my hand, but then his gaze wanders away. "Hey," I say. He doesn't answer.
"We can't leave him here," Kiki says. "Somebody else'll mess with him. He's like a puppy in a cardboard box."
I do not point out that we are, actually, perfectly capable of leaving him here, nor that puppies in boxes aren't my job either. I prefer the Kiki who isn't mad at me. I hand her his bag, then sling him over my shoulder. This doesn't kill him, so I guess he doesn't have a spinal injury. A bright side occurs to me: "Plus, lunch."
As we start walking, Kiki says, "You really wanna say that without trancing him?"
"You're way too careless about telling people."
"You didn't trance the meth head."
"Because he's a meth head," she points out reasonably. "This guy'll start a web page about you or something. Abe's gonna be mad."
"You planning to tattle?"
"No, of course not! Don't be an asshole. I'm just saying. If it comes back on you."
"Never has yet. Besides, every dipshit who's a little pasty thinks he's fucking undead nowdays. Bet Blondie here thinks he's a vamp cuz he sucks his own hangnails. He probably already has a web page about it."
"So you're just gonna bite him and dump him? That's cold."
"I'm gonna dump him at the ER."
We hear sirens behind us. Guess somebody called the cops after all. Kiki snorts. "Shoulda left him. Now how are the cops supposed to know to hold those guys?"
I resist pointing out that it was her idea to take him. "They'd just walk anyway. They always do. You wanted a permanent solution, you shoulda killed them."
"Don't even joke. I'm so fucking tempted. I hate Abe."
"You don't mean that."
"His fucking rules don't make any fucking sense," she fumes. "Nobody'd miss a couple of assholes like that, and even if somebody did, how could that blow our cover? Like somebody's going to go, 'Hey, some druggies got beat to death on the South Side, it must be vampires!' You know it's not a moral rule, he kills people all the time."
"Dead people," I point out. I realize belatedly that I've opened up an old argument we never resolve, so I pick up the pace a little as I turn east toward the highway embankment. Good dark place for a snack, and it's on the way to the hospital. "Why don't you go get the car?"
"Why don't you?" she snaps, but gives way before I can answer. "Fine. Just for fuck's sake trance the kid before you bite him, okay? Don't need him screaming bloody murder and attracting some other Good Samaritan." She stomps off toward where we left her car.
I set the kid down in the long grass of the embankment. We're in the shadow of a billboard, and the buildings on this block are all boarded up. Nice and private. He looks at me with scared, suffering eyes. Still not a word out of him. I bet his hand hurts. Trance will fix that.
I take his chin in my hand and stare into his eyes. He goes on staring back, making it easier for me. Behind his dazed eyes, I feel the web of his consciousness. Tattered and flailing; he's not all there. I barely have to flick at his will to put him into a waking dream. He sighs and sags as the pain from his hand goes away, tension draining from him. He looks up at me trustingly, fear banished. His face is still waxy, though, and there's a cold sweat on him, which makes me wonder if he's hurt worse than he looks. Well, they'll figure that out at the ER. I straddle his hips and sit on his thighs, the better to reach him for biting. And also because it's kind of hot.
Goddamn he's pretty. I could fuck him now if I wanted to. I could make him want it. It's been a long time since I had anybody half this fine. I can tell he wants me a little, and I could turn that into a lot, make him beg for my cock like some slut in a porno, and he wouldn't remember a thing afterwards. Abe tells me that's rape, but I don't see how.
Abe's the boss, though, and I follow his rules. I don't have to understand them. So I don't even give Blondie a little kiss, even though his lips look delicious all swelled up and bloody. I just pick up his arm and bite him right through the fishnet.
Oh yeah, this is the good stuff. Healthy, young, clean -- I think he's even a vegetarian. I taste a trace of something chemical, but I think it's just aspirin or something; the bitterness is kind of a nice contrast to how sweet his blood is. There's adrenaline and endorphins galore, too, and that gives it a real kick, good enough that I understand how some vamps get a taste for playing with their food. And if it's good for me, it's good for him; that's how the trance works. As I lap at his vein, he begins to whimper softly in pleasure. His hips twitch, thighs tensing beneath me. I have a hardon and so does he. His whimpers turn to moans, getting louder. I cover his mouth with my hand. That just seems to excite him more.
And then he bites me. Just sinks his teeth right into the pad of my thumb, grinding hard. I try to jerk my hand away, but his head comes with. I back off his arm in a hurry, leaving blood squirting out in little spurts. His teeth grind harder, and he yanks at my hand like he's trying to rip out a mouthful. I smell my own blood now.
His adam's apple bobs. He swallows.
"Oh, shit," I growl. I yank hard, and that gets me my hand back, but there's a flap of skin hanging loose, and his mouth is lipsticked with my blood. He dives after my hand, hooking it with the arm I bit, and gets another good slurp before I shove him off. "Jesus! What are you doing?" He's still in trance, I can feel it; he shouldn't be doing this. He shouldn't be doing anything.
He stares hungrily at my bloody hand. We're both spattered all over, and his arm's still spurting. His eyes flick to it. Then he holds it out to me. I clamp my hand over it, disgusted with the whole fiasco, and deep down a little scared. He didn't get enough blood out of me to matter... did he?
He reaches for my bloody hand with his broken one. Which doesn't look nearly so broken anymore. I put my hand behind my back to keep it out of his reach. My stomach feels like a cold marble as I let go of his arm. No blood spurts up. I wipe at the spot with my thumb. The punctures are half closed already.
I fling myself back off him as the implications hit me. "Fuck no," is all I can say for a while. "Oh fuck no." I'm losing the trance; he's blinking at his healing hand, prodding at it curiously. "Oh, I did not just make a total stranger. Oh Jesus."
He looks at me, and finally, after all this, he fucking deigns to talk. "You really are a vampire."
A car horn honks, and I jump a mile. I twist to see Kiki's piece-of-shit Chevy parked below, lights off. I have about two seconds to make a decision. Bury the evidence and maybe get nailed for killing, or make myself responsible for this random dipshit I don't even know. I'm not feeling real happy with him right now. He practically made himself -- he bit me, ferchrissakes!
Kiki honks again. I look back at Blondie. Slowly, dreamily, a weak smile spreads across his face. "Your ride's here," he whispers.
When in doubt, I ask myself what Abe would want me to do. That makes my choice for me. "Our ride is here," I correct.