Authors: A. M. Jenkins
The next evening started off as a repeat of the one previous. Cole was sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting, when Gordo came out of the bathroom. He flung his belongings into his suitcase, then himself into a chair, where he sat, glaring at nothing.
His death wish didn’t extend to letting his hair go uncoiffed, Cole noted with some acerbity.
Sandor went into the bathroom to make sure they weren’t leaving anything behind. “I guess that’s it,” he said to Cole as he came out. Then he added a little louder, “Gordo, are you ready?”
Gordo ignored him.
“What kind of place would you like to try tonight?” Sandor continued, as if nothing was wrong, as if the kid
wasn’t sulking like a two-year-old omni. “Would you like to learn about feeding in movie theaters?”
Gordo didn’t even look around. “
go wherever you want.
There was no question now. The kid had drawn an invisible circle around himself. All matters heme were now shut out.
Or so he thought. But Cole knew better.
as if he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he would—and much, much worse.
Cole thought about it as he pulled out of the hotel parking lot. God—what if Gordo didn’t feed, and didn’t feed, and finally went wild? What if he lost control in a hotel, in public; what if he attacked someone who was walking by? What if he jumped out of the car while it was moving?
Johnny had said it wouldn’t come to that—but clearly Johnny was wrong. The boy
And it was Cole’s responsibility to see that Gordo
get out of control. That’s what he’d signed up for.
He eased up the freeway ramp, driving as carefully as ever. But his stomach twisted into a sour knot at the
thought of what he might have to do to solve this problem. He couldn’t help but wonder what had gone through the mind of that Old World heme when the predawn light had begun to glow between the boards of that shed.
Morning light was mechanical, inhuman. Once it started rolling over the horizon it was relentless. What had that heme felt as it came?
What would Gordo feel?
God. The kid didn’t deserve to be tortured into a brittle shell of a human being just because he was an omni-ish dope.
Cole noticed that he was gripping the steering wheel too hard. He relaxed his fingers, flexing them. He could not afford to get emotional or panicked about this. He had to push emotion aside and
The bottom line was that missing an occasional night of feeding wasn’t a big deal. Two nights of refusal wouldn’t hurt anybody either.
Before the third night was out, though, the kid would probably start to feel it. As the evening wore on, Thirst would start to uncurl in his body. He’d likely give in pretty quickly then, not being used to feeling any Thirst at all.
But if he didn’t?
By the fourth night Gordo’s instinct to feed would be stronger than any internal promise, any stubbornness. Cole himself had managed to go longer than that a few times, long ago.
They were now on night number two.
Okay. Cole still had tonight and at least part of tomorrow night before anything happened. He could get this turned around.
get this turned around.
Sandor was subdued, looking out the window at the passing businesses and office parks. Gordo leaned against the door; Cole could only see part of his shoulder and head in the mirror.
Methodically, Cole thought through everything he knew about control and Thirst. He knew quite a bit; more than he should have. It wasn’t something he liked to remember; he had let it all fall into a general hole somewhere in the back of his brain, because bringing it out was pointless and rather cringe inducing.
The fact was, in the years between the time Bess had left him till the moment of her fall, Cole had come as close to having a death wish as a hemovore could. He’d been a
lot more experienced than Gordo by then, but there was no denying that he’d done some pretty stupid things.
He began to sort through those things now, ticking off possible courses of action, considering, rejecting—trying to come up with a plan.
When Cole pulled over at a truck stop, Sandor sat up.
“Do we need gas already?” he asked, looking around. The truck stop was good sized, a gas station with a store and restaurant attached.
“No,” Cole said. “It’s just a change from bars. Ready to feed, Gordo?” he asked, keeping his tone casual.
“No,” said Gordo.
“Then you won’t mind waiting for us in the car.” He didn’t bother to keep the coldness out of his voice. As he got out he gave Sandor a glance:
I want to talk to you.
Inside, the restaurant had a couple of customers. A cashier watched over the store section, but Cole saw a small arcade area next to the restaurant, and that’s where he headed, followed by Sandor.
As he’d hoped, no one else was in the arcade. As if by agreement, he and Sandor walked over to the token machine.
“I think maybe we should call Johnny,” Sandor said, as Cole pulled out his wallet—Cole didn’t really want to play anything, but he didn’t want to be accused of loitering either.
“No,” he told Sandor. “Johnny might come out here.”
“Do you think that would be bad?”
“Not exactly.” Cole took out a dollar bill and stuck it in the slot. “It’s just that I don’t know where Johnny draws the line.” Tokens rained down, but he didn’t pick them up; he was searching for words to explain what he was thinking. “The way Gordo is right now,” he finally told Sandor, “I don’t know how Johnny’s going to see him. He might see an asset that needs help to reach its potential—or he might just see a liability.” Now Cole bent and scooped up the tokens. “Do you know what I mean?”
“Well…yes, I suppose. Hmm, try that game by the window. That way we can keep an eye on Gordo.”
So they went over to Zombie Death House. Sandor was right; through the window they could see the car, with Gordo slouched in the backseat.
Cole dropped tokens into the slot and took the plastic gun out of its holster.
“I’m not sure Gordo would listen to Johnny anyway,” Sandor continued, leaning against the side of the game. “Johnny isn’t physically imposing, you know, and he makes suggestions rather than ordering people around. All the time we were in New York, I don’t think Gordo ever caught on that Johnny wasn’t just some little guy in the back.”
“I think we can take care of Gordo on our own anyway.” Cole pressed the button and began to play, halfheartedly shooting zombies as they popped out from their hiding places.
“We can’t force him to feed. There’s no way we can keep him from driving himself to the breaking point. What we
do is decide where and how the breaking point happens.”
“Are you suggesting that we lock him up somewhere?”
“No, no. Just listen for a sec. I figure he’ll start feeling it tomorrow or the next night. Do you agree?”
“Gordo’s not used to controlling himself,
he’s not used to feeling real Thirst.” Cole remembered how
the kid had lusted after the drops on that girl’s fingertips in New York. “I think we should find a place tonight and then settle in for as long as it takes. Not just any place—the
place. Tomorrow evening we’ll bring a feed to the room and wait Gordo out. When he shows signs that he’s getting antsy, we’ll
him crack—but at a place and in a manner of our choosing.”
, the screen said. Belatedly, Cole aimed off screen and pulled the trigger.
“Make him crack,” Sandor repeated. “You mean by tempting him as he’s on the point of losing control anyway?”
“Exactly. One little puncture at the right time, a whiff of blood, and he’ll drop like an overripe fruit.”
“Hmm. So when you say ‘the right place,’ you mean ‘cheap hotel in a red-light district.’”
a red-light district. I’d like to be able to get
“I think it’s a good plan, Cole. But what about afterward? What if he pulls this again? Are we to go on tempting him and making him crack every few nights?”
“If we have to. But I don’t think he will. That first feed of his was a nightmare. He’s already
quite real, and the farther he gets from it, the easier for him to
it wasn’t real.”
“It is rather a sobering thing, to be out of control in that way.”
“We’ll be with him this time.”
“Yes.” Sandor sighed. “I hope I don’t have to hit him again. By the way,” he added, “you’re out of ammo. And there’s a health pickup on the right.”
“What? Oh.” Cole reloaded again and fired at the screen without looking. “So we’re agreed?” he asked Sandor.
“Yes. Poor little fellow,” Sandor said, with another glance at the car. “We have to remember; he’s only eighteen. His hormones must be a raging mosh pit of emotion.”
hormones aren’t a raging mosh pit.”
“Maybe yours got worn out already.”
INSERT TOKENS TO CONTINUE
flashed on the screen. Cole stuck the gun back in its holder. He was missing more zombies than he shot anyway. “Are we ready to go then?”
“Yes. We need to get moving if we want to find a suitable place tonight. But…you didn’t feed last night, did
you? Would you like to find something here? Although it looks like your options are limited at the moment.”
Cole looked around. No one was in sight except the cashier, who now leaned against the register, talking to someone on the phone.
Cole quickly weighed the possibilities: subdue the guy in full view of the store security cameras, hide in the bathroom to wait for one of the restaurant customers, or feed later when they stopped for the day.
The cashier laughed into the phone, and Cole saw that his teeth were stained with nicotine.
“I’ll wait,” he said. Sandor was right; they needed to get moving. He wanted to get out of West Virginia, head as far east as they could get in a few hours—to DC, maybe Baltimore. After they got checked in, he should have time to get a decent feed.
Night number three—he hoped that would be the key.
found the “right place” in Baltimore, along a street lined with check-cashing places, pawnshops, and bail bondsmen.
The hotel was a two-story rectangle tucked between a corner thrift shop and an abandoned storefront. Its bricks had been painted white—only recently, from the fresh look of the paint—but dark streaks had begun to run down from the roof, which evidently was made from something that didn’t stay put during rain. The sign out front was missing the
so it said:
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
DAILY AND WEEKLY RATES
It was the “daily and weekly rates” that drew Cole. He didn’t want anything that rented rooms by the hour.
“The Vickery Moe,” read Sandor, as Cole pulled into the lumpy parking lot. “Oh, I like that.”
” Gordo looked up at the dark streaks in disgust.
is where we’re staying until you feed,” Cole told him. He felt quite calm, now that he’d lined up a reasonable plan of action. And if the kid thought the Vickery Moe was punishment for not feeding, that was fine with Cole.
In the hotel office, a tiny elderly man sat on a stool behind the desk, watching a small black-and-white TV. His hair was a white mop, his back bent over on itself like a shepherd’s crook. He didn’t say a word; but as the three hemes came to the desk, he slid down off his stool and hobbled over. The counter came to the middle of his chest.
“One single, one double,” said Cole. “We’ll be staying at least four nights.” That was one of the unfair things about being heme; you had to pay an extra night every time you stayed somewhere, because you could never leave before checkout time in the morning.
The man eyed them. “Twenty-five for a single, forty
for a double, fifteen-dollar deposit.”
“Deposit on what?”
“Sheets and towels.”
Cole and Sandor exchanged a glance.
“We’ll take the sheets and towels,” Cole said, and pulled out his wallet.
The little man counted the money carefully and put it in the register. He gave Cole two keys, then reached under the counter and pulled out a white stack of tidily folded linens. He silently pushed them across the counter. Then he hobbled to his stool and climbed back up.
Cole checked the keys: rooms 211 and 213. “Second floor,” he told Sandor.
Sandor sniffed the stack in his arms as they walked to the stairs. “They’re clean,” he whispered. “Thank God.”
Room 211 turned out to be the double. The floor was bare grayish green tile. The beds were neatly covered with tan bedspreads. A small window was half filled by an air-conditioning unit, the top draped with a heavy, plastic-looking curtain.
“We have a TV!” Sandor said. “My God, it must be as old as I am. Look, you have to turn a knob to change the channel!”
“A TV, but no phone,” Cole told him; a broken wire dangled from the wall by the bed.
“I have my cell. Pillows and blankets in the closet,” added Sandor, checking. “You know what this place reminds me of?”
“The bad old days?” said Cole.
“Yes. This is a reminder to be thankful for our blessings. Look, there’s a cupcake wrapper under the bed!”
“This place is a dump,” Gordo muttered.
Cole said nothing but checked his watch—still a few hours to sunrise; at least two before the sky started lightening.
He entered 213 alone. No TV here, but there was a heavy rotary phone next to the bed.
If you put two eleven and two thirteen together,
you’d have one almost-decent hotel room.
The floor wasn’t tile but dark carpet. The light switch by the door didn’t work, but the lamp by the bed did. When he turned it on, Cole could see that the old man—or whoever was responsible for cleaning—
vacuumed, at least partially, because the vacuum cleaner had left tracks around the bed. He didn’t look
the bed though; he didn’t want to know what the
previous occupants had been eating or doing.
Still, this place gave him an odd feeling, as if he’d been here before. He hadn’t, of course—but something about it seemed familiar.
The carpet. It was old, brown, with a matted look.
The place reminded him of Royal’s lair.
And now he realized that he’d been so preoccupied with Gordo that he’d forgotten about the stray. He’d driven all the way to Baltimore without paying more than usual attention to the rearview mirror. Of course, he
been paying attention on the way from Ohio to West Virginia and hadn’t seen anything. But that was no excuse. It was likely Gordo had seen some omni back in Castile rather than the stray, but that was no excuse either.
Cole had already dropped the ball once by losing his temper. He couldn’t afford to do any more dropping.
Now he intended to grab a quick feed so he’d be fresh for tomorrow, but there was something he had to attend to first. Experience had taught him that windows in places like this sometimes required extra attention, if one wanted to avoid unpleasant surprises during the day.
The Vickery Moe was no exception. The window was like the one in 211, an air conditioner in the bottom half. But this curtain was missing some hooks so that it drooped in spots. Cole would have to take care, not wait till the last minute to get it covered.
He got his things out and set about the task, and was soon glad he’d started on it. The curtain was an odd rubbery material, and the tape wouldn’t stick well. It looked likely to fall off during the day, especially when the air conditioner kicked on. Cole ended up digging in the pocket of his suitcase for the wrinkled black garbage bag he kept for emergencies.
He taped that directly to the wall around the window, securing it carefully along the top of the air conditioner. Finally, satisfied, he collected his keys and his wallet.
He’d go hunting on foot tonight. He wanted to get a better idea of the area right around the hotel. He already knew that the cruising strip was less than half a mile away; it would take moments to get there in his car. But he wanted to get a mental picture of the immediate neighborhood.
Because what if Gordo botched it, and they ended up
with a screamer? Or, say, the timing was off, and the kid took a little too much? They’d have to discreetly remove his passed-out feed from room 211 and deposit it somewhere else.
No, Cole wanted to know where the nearest isolated corner was and where the dark alley behind the hotel led. He wanted to know which businesses and dwellings were close and whether anyone was likely to be in them during the night.
There was no room for slackness, no room for carelessness. Cole had his mind on the particulars now: He intended to be prepared.