Saturday, September 14, 2019

Bite Me: A Love Story Chapter 18

18. Carpe Noctem MARVIN Marvin the big red cadaver dog had done his job. He sat and woofed, which translated from the dog meant, â€Å"Biscuit.† Nine vampire hunters paused and looked around. Marvin sat in front of a small utility shed in an alley in Wine Country, behind a particularly nasty Indian restaurant. â€Å"Biscuit,† Marvin woofed. He could smell death amid the curries. He pawed the pavement. â€Å"What's he doing?† said Lash Jefferson. He, Jeff, and Troy Lee carried Super Soakers loaded with Grandma Lee's Vampire Cat Remedy, other Animals had garden sprayers slung on their backs, except for Gustavo, who thought that making him carry a garden sprayer was racial stereotyping. Gustavo had a flame thrower. He wouldn't say where he got it. â€Å"Second Amendment, cabrones.† (The guy who sold Gustavo his green card had included two amendments from the Bill of Rights and Gustavo had chosen Two and Four, the right to bear arms and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. [His sister Estrella had had seizures as a child. No bueno.] For five bucks extra he threw in the Third Amendment, which Gustavo bought because he was already sharing a three-bedroom house in Richmond with nineteen cousins and they didn't have any room to quarter soldiers.) â€Å"That's his signal,† said Rivera. He was wearing his UV-LED leather jacket and felt like a complete dork. â€Å"When he sits and does that with his paw he's found a body.† â€Å"Or vampire,† added Cavuto. â€Å"Biscuit,† woofed Marvin. â€Å"He's fucking with you,† said Troy Lee. â€Å"There's nothing here.† â€Å"Maybe in the shed,† said Lash. â€Å"There's no lock on it.† â€Å"Who would leave anything unlocked in this neighborhood?† asked Jeff. â€Å"Biscuit please,† woofed Marvin. They had an agreement: As consideration for finding dead things, the cadaver dog, heretofore referred to as Marvin, shall receive one biscuit. There was some flexibility, however, and Marvin understood that in this case, they weren't looking for dead humans, but dead cats, and despite their inherent tastiness, Marvin was not to eat the findees. â€Å"Biscuit,† he rewoofed. Where was the biscuit? It had been months since he'd led them to the dead things. (Well, it seemed like months. Marvin wasn't very good with time.) â€Å"Open it,† said Troy Lee. â€Å"We'll cover you.† Rivera and Cavuto moved to the shed, which was aluminum and had a roof shaped like an old-fashioned barn's. The Animals moved in a semicircle and trained their weapons on the shed. (Grandma Lee had stayed home to watch wrestling on TV when she realized there weren't going to be any firecrackers.) â€Å"On three then,† said Rivera. â€Å"Wait,† said Cavuto. He turned to Gustavo. â€Å"No fuego. Comprende? Do not fucking light up that flamethrower.† â€Å"S,† said Gustavo. They had tested the flamethrower on the basketball court in Chinatown. It had a fairly short, wide spray. In other words, if Gustavo used it in the alley he would probably fry them all. Barry turned and sprayed the flamethrower's pilot light with a stream of vampire cat remedy. The flame went out with a sizzle. â€Å"Okay, go.† â€Å"On three, then,† said Rivera. They all raised their weapons. â€Å"One,† Rivera nodded to Cavuto and grabbed the switch to his jacket LEDs. â€Å"Two.† Troy Lee crouched and aimed his Super Soaker to the center of the doors, ready to strafe in any direction. Cavuto drew his Desert Eagle, cocked the hammer, and thumbed off the safety. â€Å"Three!† The cops threw open the doors and lit up their jackets, the Animals leaned in. Six surprised kittens and a mother cat looked out from a box set on stacks of five-gallon detergent buckets. They all looked around, not saying anything. The Animals lowered their weapons. The cops turned off their jackets. â€Å"Well, that's embarrassing,† said Troy Lee. â€Å"Biscuit,† Marvin woofed. They all looked at Marvin. â€Å"You suck, Marvin,† said Cavuto. â€Å"Those are normal cats.† Marvin didn't understand. He had followed the trail, he had made the signal when he came to the end of the trail. Where was his biscuit? â€Å"Bad dog, Marvin,† said Lash. Marvin growled at him, then turned to Rivera and woofed, â€Å"Biscuit.† He was not a bad dog. It wasn't his fault that no one had taught him how to point up. It wasn't his fault they weren't looking up, past the top of the shed, up the wall, to the roof, four stories up. Couldn't they hear them? â€Å"Biscuit,† he woofed. CHET Chet watched the vampire hunters moving below. He understood what they were doing and how badly they were doing it. The other cats had moved away from the edge of the roof, the smell of flame, the sunlight jackets, and the dog had made them weary. A few of them were survivors of the encounter with the little Japanese swordsman, and Asians in general still freaked them out a little. Although they couldn't see the life auras that a human vampire could, it was still in their instinct as predators to take the weak and the sick, and the group below appeared to be neither. Chet, on the other hand, was less and less of a cat every night. He was bigger than Marvin now, and had lost most of his cat instinct, and whatever he was now, it wasn't a cat. Although he was still a predator, words kept invading his mind, sounds that produced pictures in his mind. Abstract concepts whirled around in sound and symbols. His kitty brain had been rewired with human DNA, and what had resulted was not only an alpha predator, but a creature with the capacity for revenge, mercy, and conscious cruelty. Chet watched the group below move out of the alley, led by Rivera and trailed by Barry, the bald, portly scuba diver of the Animals. The kitty part of Chet's brain saw Barry's bald spot like a ball of yarn, teasing him to attack. He needed to get it. He went to mist and snaked down the side of the building. He liked climbing face-down, especially since he had grown thumbs, but stealth was the only way to pick off the last one without facing the whole group in combat. He rematerialized in front of Barry, on his hind feet, and before the hapless grocery clerk could call out, Chet thrust his entire paw into his mouth and unsheathed his claws. There was only a slight gurgling sound, and Clint, the born-again, who had been walking ahead of Barry, turned to see only an empty alley behind him. Chet was already three floors above him on the wall. Barry dangled from Chet's claws, twitching, as the huge, shaved vampire cat drank his life away. TOMMY â€Å"Foo,† Tommy said, right in Foo's ear. â€Å"I want you to remember, before you move, at all, that I was the one who wore your sun jacket to rescue Jody from Elijah. So if I see you even look like you're going to touch a switch of any kind, I'm going to tear that arm off, okay?† â€Å"I didn't want to put you in the statue,† said Foo for the third time. â€Å"I know,† Tommy said. â€Å"Where's Jody?† â€Å"She went looking for you.† Jared started to back away from the door into the kitchen area. â€Å"You too, Jared. If I don't see your hands for one second, I'm taking them off so I don't have to worry about it.† Jared waved his hands in front of him like he was drying his nails. â€Å"Whoa, badass much? I'm the one that let you in. I was going to get you some blood.† â€Å"Sorry, stress,† Tommy said. He had Foo by the throat, but lightly. â€Å"Give him the one that's already opened,† Foo said. â€Å"The one with the drugs in it?† asked Jared. Foo flinched as if waiting for the sound of his neck snapping. â€Å"Yes, that one, you fuckwit.† â€Å"I'm good for now,† Tommy said. Then to Foo, â€Å"Jody went where to find me?† â€Å"Just out. Right after she got you out of the shell. She took half the money and most of the blood. Abby said that she was at the Fairmont, but Rivera and Cavuto found her. We don't know where she is now.† â€Å"Where's Abby?† â€Å"She's at her mom's,† said Foo. â€Å"No, she's not.† Tommy choked him a little. â€Å"She's here. I can smell her.† He cocked his head. â€Å"I don't hear her heartbeat. Is she dead?† â€Å"Kind of,† said Jared. â€Å"She is nossssss-feratu. That's how she says it. I'm so jealous.† â€Å"Did I do that?† â€Å"No,† said Foo. â€Å"She did it herself. You were out of your mind, and you bit her, but Jody pulled you off of her and threw you through the windows. You don't remember?† â€Å"Not much. Probably a good thing for you, too.† â€Å"She's under the mattress,† Jared said. â€Å"Foo made me hide her there.† â€Å"I'm going to change her back. I told you I could do it and I can. I'm already working on her batch of serum.† â€Å"And she saw Jody last?† â€Å"Her friend Lily saw Jody coming out of the Fairmont a few nights ago. Abby went there to find her and saw Cavuto and Rivera.† â€Å"Then we don't know if they found Jody while she was out?† â€Å"They didn't. They didn't say anything when they came to get their jackets.† â€Å"Their jackets? Sun jackets? You gave them sun jackets?† â€Å"I have to do what they want. They were going to take me in for statutory rape and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.† â€Å"Really? Have they met Abby?† â€Å"Truth,† said Foo, as wistfully as you can when you're being choked. â€Å"Tommy, let me change you back. It's what you wanted. I can do you and Abby at the same time.† â€Å"No. And you're not changing her. Wake her up.† â€Å"What? Why?† â€Å"Because I'm going to go look for Jody and I'm taking Abby with me. I'm not leaving her here with you guys.† â€Å"Why? She's my girlfriend. I wouldn't hurt her.† â€Å"She's my BFF,† said Jared. â€Å"He's the one who can't be trusted.† â€Å"I'm taking her with me. I'm not going out there without someone watching my back. Haven't you ever seen a horror movie? When you split up and go off by yourself, that's when the monster gets you.† â€Å"I thought in this movie you were the monster,† Foo said. â€Å"Only if you don't do what I say,† Tommy said, a little surprised to hear himself say it. â€Å"Wake her up, Foo.† JODY The last thing she remembered before burning up were the orange socks. And here they were again, fluorescent orange, highway safety orange socks, at the base of a tiny, blood-encrusted man who was fussing about at some sort of workbench. â€Å"Well, don't you look yummy,† she said, and she was surprised at the sound of her own voice: dry, weak, and ancient. The little man turned, startled at first, but then he composed himself, bowed, and said something in Japanese. Then, â€Å"Sorry,† in English. â€Å"It's okay,† she said. â€Å"This isn't the first time I've woken up in a strange man's apartment where I can't remember how I got there.† This was, however, the first time she remembered where she had been on fire at the end of the night. Before it had gone quite that far, the girls she worked with held a lunchtime intervention in which each told her, frankly and sincerely, as people who loved her, that she was a drunken slut who took all the hot guys at the TGIF bar crawl every week and she needed to knock it the fuck off. So she did. Now, as in those days, she was disoriented, but unlike those days, it didn't even occur to her to be afraid. The little Japanese man bowed again, then took a square-pointed knife from his workbench and approached her shyly, his head down, saying something that sounded very much like an apology. Jody held up her hand to wave him off, say, â€Å"Hey, back off there, cowboy,† but when she saw her hand, an ash-white desiccated claw, the words caught in her throat. The little man paused just the same. Her arms, her legs? She pulled up the kimono-her stomach, her breasts-she was shrunken, like a mummy. The effort exhausted her and she fell back into the pillow. The little man shuffled forward and held his hand up. There was a bandage on his thumb. She watched as he raised his hand, pulled off the bandage, and put the point of the knife to the wound that was already there. She caught his knife hand and ever so gently, pushed it down. â€Å"No,† she said, shaking her head. â€Å"No.† She couldn't imagine what her face might look like. The ends of her hair were like brittle red straw. What must she have looked like before he had done this, done this too much, she could see. â€Å"No.† With him close, she could smell the blood on him. It wasn't human. Pig. It smelled of pig, although she didn't know how she might know that. When she had been at her best she would have smelled blood on someone just walking by on the sidewalk. It wasn't only her strength that was gone, her senses were nearly as dull as when she had been human. The little man waited. He had bowed, but did not rise up again. Wait, he held his head aside, his throat open. He was bending down so she could drink. Knowing what she was, he was giving himself to her. She touched his cheek with the back of her hand and when he looked she shook her head. â€Å"No. Thank you. No.† He stood, looked at her, waited. She smelled the dried blood on the back of her hand, tasted it. She had tasted it before. She felt something tacky in the corner of her mouth-yes, it was the pig blood. The hunger wrenched through her, but she fought it down. He had fed her his own blood, obviously, but also pig's blood. How long? How far had he brought her? She gestured for him to bring her paper and something to write with. He brought her a sketch pad and a broad square carpenter's pencil. She drew a map of Union Square, then drew a crude figure of a woman and wrote down numbers, many numbers, her sizes. What about money? Rivera would have her things from the room, but she had hidden most of the money in another spot. From the brick-work in the apartment, the window frames, the angle of streetlights coming down from above, she guessed she was in a basement apartment right near where she'd been running on Jackson Street. Nowhere else in the City looked like this, was this old. She pointed to herself and the little man and then to the map. He took it from her and drew an X, then quickly drew a stick version of the Transamerica Pyramid. Yes. They were on Jackson Street. She wrote a â€Å"$† where she'd hidden the money, then scratched it out. It was hidden in a locked electrical junction box high on a roof, where she had been able to climb easily, two floors above the highest fire escape. This frail little guy would never get there. The little man smiled and nodded, pointing to the dollar sign. He went to his workbench, opened a wooden box, and held up a handful of bills. â€Å"Yes,† he said. â€Å"Okay, then, I guess you're buying me an outfit.† â€Å"Yes,† he said. She made a drinking gesture, then nodded. He nodded and held up the knife again. â€Å"No, you can't afford it. Animal.† She thought about making a piggy sound, but wasn't sure that might not give him the wrong idea, so she drew a stickman on the sketch pad, then Xed it out and drew a first-grade stick piggy, a stick sheep, and a Jesus fish. He nodded. â€Å"Yes,† he said. â€Å"If you bring me a Christian petting zoo I'm going to be disappointed, Mr.-uh-† Well, this was embarrassing. â€Å"Well, you're not the first guy I've ever woken up with whose name I don't remember.† Then she stopped herself and patted his arm. â€Å"I'm sounding really slutty, I know, but the truth is I used to be afraid to sleep alone.† She looked around the little apartment, at the meticulously arranged tools on the workbench, the one pair of little shoes, and the white silk kimono he had wrapped her in. â€Å"Thank you,† she said. â€Å"Thank you,† he said. â€Å"My name is Jody,† she said, pointing to herself. She pointed to him, wondering if that might not be rude in his culture. But he had already seen her nude and burned up, so perhaps they were past formality. He seemed okay with it. â€Å"Okata,† he said. â€Å"Okata,† she said. â€Å"Yes,† he said, with a big smile. His gums were receded, which made him look like he had big horse teeth, but then Jody touched her tongue to her fangs, which it seemed were not retracting in her new, dried-up state, and she realized that she should probably be less judgmental. â€Å"Go, okay?† She pointed to the sketch pad. â€Å"Okay,† he said. He gathered up his things, put on his stupid hat, and was ready to leave, when she called to him. â€Å"Okata?† â€Å"Yes.† She made a face-washing gesture and pointed to him. He went to the little mirror over the sink, looked at himself covered with blood, and laughed, his eyes crinkled into high smiles themselves. He looked over his shoulder at her, laughed again, then scrubbed his face with a cloth until he was clean and went to the door. â€Å"Jody,† he said. He pointed to the stairs outside. â€Å"No. Okay?† â€Å"Okay,† she said. When he was gone, she crawled from the futon and stumbled from there to the workbench, where she rested before trying to move farther, to look at Okata's work. Wood block prints, some finished, some with only two or three of the colors on them, proofs perhaps. They were a series, the progression of a black, skeletal monster against a yellow futon, then the gradual filling in of the figure. The care, wrapping her in the kimono, feeding her his blood. The last print was still in the sketch stage. He must have been working on it when she awoke. A sketch on thin rice paper had been glued to the wood block and he was carving away the material for the outline-the black ink in the other prints. They were beautiful, and precise, and simple, and sad. She felt a tear rise and turned so as not to drip blood on the print. How would she tell him? Would she point at the first sketch, the one where the figure looked like a medieval woodcut of Death himself, and point to his frail chest? â€Å"The first thing I noticed when I saw you was the life aura around you, and it was black. That's why I wouldn't let you give me your blood, Okata. You are dying.† â€Å"Okay,† he would say. â€Å"Thank you,† he would say, with his newly found grin.

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