Authors: A. M. Jenkins
started to call Sandor’s cell phone to warn him, but he wasn’t sure of the number. He thought about banging on the wall, but that would alarm Sandor to no purpose. There were windows at each end of the hall, and Sandor couldn’t come over to see what he wanted.
So he waited. He watched the clock, and when it was time he peeled a corner of the tape from the curtain to make doubly sure.
The sky was dark. Cole could hear thunder in the distance, but no rain was falling.
He was already dressed. He felt hyperaware, hyper-alert, as if he moved in a slipstream of time that was ticking a few seconds ahead of everything around him. But he had himself under complete control. And before
else, he had to get Gordo’s feed. He had to do it quickly.
Next door, Sandor looked a little disturbed when he answered Cole’s knock.
“He’s in the shower,” he said, as Cole stood impatient in the doorway. “He’s been in there for almost an
with the water running. He doesn’t answer when I knock. Before I was even up, he was—”
“I’m going to get him a feed right now,” Cole interrupted. “You keep him here—whatever you do, don’t let him out of this room. It’s hitting him already,” he said, to Sandor’s confused look. “He’s standing under cold water in there. He’s fighting it. But I guarantee he’s going to blow in a bit. Keep him here, and I’ll be right back.”
“Do you want me to go instead?”
“No. I’ll be quicker.” He would, too—he was in the grip of a sharp, crisp urgency. Every one of his senses was hungry and on the prowl.
But Cole was already gone.
He took the steps three at a time and was in the car in less than a minute.
And he quickly found what he needed, less than five
blocks away—the plan would have been a good one, if he hadn’t screwed up this one point.
She was older than Gordo would like, he was sure—but she would do. She was in her thirties, with a rather hard face but with laugh lines that made her almost seem as if she were still pretty. She wore white shorts with stilettos and a flannel shirt with the tails tied tightly just under her breasts. She was thin but sturdy, and very tan, with wiry muscled arms and pale hair that looked white over her bronzed skin.
He thought about feeding from her himself, just a
bit—it wouldn’t take long at all, he told himself—but he knew she needed to be full and intact. It might be hard to get the kid off her once he got started.
A cigarette poked out of her mouth at a right angle; she was surrounded by a stagnant swirl of smoke. Cole was glad—one more brick to add to his wall of self-control.
He paid her in advance and took her back to the hotel. She was a talker; in those five blocks he learned that her name was Crystal and that she wasn’t originally from Maryland but from a small town in Virginia. She’d run track in ninth grade but dropped out of high school when she was sixteen. She had a little girl back
in Virginia, living with Crystal’s mother and stepdad. She was hoping to go home for Thanksgiving.
The few remarks he made were soothing, low, and quite controlled.
At the Vickery Moe, Cole didn’t even try Sandor and Gordo’s door, knowing that Sandor would have locked it. He pounded a couple of times on the door frame, Crystal patient beside him.
When Sandor let them in, Gordo was just coming out of the bathroom. The kid was fully dressed, but for once he hadn’t attended at all to his hair. It was still wet, and pieces were stuck together in damp clumps.
He saw Crystal and stopped in his tracks—the intense focus, Cole thought, of a dog that just spotted a rabbit.
After a few stunned seconds, Gordo managed to pull his gaze away from her. He turned accusingly to Cole. “What’s she doing here?” he demanded.
“She’s for you,” Cole said.
“What do you mean?”
“She’s a gift.”
“I don’t want any ‘gift.’”
But Cole saw Gordo’s eyes flick back to Crystal. “Yes,
you do,” Cole said, calm in certainty. This would be over within minutes.
“Where did you find her?” Gordo said, aiming a glare at Cole now.
“What difference does it make?”
“I want to know why she came here with you.”
Crystal spoke up. “Hi, sweetie,” she said kindly, as if Gordo were eight instead of eighteen. “I’m Crystal. What’s your name?”
Gordo scowled down at the floor.
“Gordon,” Cole told her.
“It’s all right, Gordon,” Crystal told him. She moved over and sat on the closest bed. “Come sit down.” She patted the spot beside her. “I’m not going to bite you.”
Sandor evidently knew it was about to end. “I’ll be in the hall,” he whispered in Cole’s ear, and Cole heard the door click softly as he stepped outside.
Gordo shook his head. “I don’t want her,” he told Cole. But Cole could hear the panic edging his voice.
want her,” Cole said. “And if you don’t do it now, you’re going to create a mess. Just like you did with your
,” he added pointedly.
“Oh, my,” Crystal said softly. “What happened with
your girlfriend, love?”
This time when Gordo’s eyes went back to her, they locked on. And he wasn’t staring at her face or body, Cole noticed—no, the kid was full-out hemovore for once, entranced with the curve of skin between her jaw and shoulder.
Cole thought. Now he’s going to do it.
But Gordo turned his head away.
“God,” Cole said in disgust, “you’ve got no instincts at all. You’re a freak of nature.”
He had himself under tight control, but he pulled that control even tighter and stalked over to her, pasting on a smile that felt wolfish to him but that seemed to enthrall Crystal. “He’s just shy,” Cole told her soothingly as he held out his hand, and she, still caught in his gaze, let him pull her to her feet. Now he stepped behind her, so that he could watch Gordo over her shoulder.
“Oh no,” said Gordo as Cole pulled his necklace out from under his shirt.
“She’s pretty sturdy,” Cole told him, lining up the point against her neck. “And you’re pretty empty. You could probably go to as much as thirty.”
“Thirty what?” Crystal asked.
“Don’t do it,” Gordo said, his voice scaling up. “I’m warning you.”
Cole stuck his cross into her neck.
Almost instantly that metallic scent curled into his nostrils and then everything seemed to happen at once. He heard Crystal give a faint cry; he saw the dark red drop welling up, felt his fingers tightening on her shoulder as the drop burst its boundaries and fell into a trickle.
And then Gordo was on her.
Cole stepped back. He was sweating again, his breath coming in quick puffs. He turned his back on Gordo’s feed, and, with jerky movements, forced himself to walk across the room. He found himself standing in front of the window, sucking in deep breaths. The plastic curtain had been pulled aside, and he suddenly realized that he was standing exposed to view, the lights in the room clearly visible from the darkness outside. He began to fumble for the edge of the curtain, to draw it closed.
Finally he heard a rustle, and he knew: Gordo had stopped on his own.
The kid had potential. If he’d just stop being such a pain in the ass.
“Wow.” That was Crystal, her voice a little weak but
breathless with wonder, and Cole allowed himself to turn around.
“Feel better now?” he asked Gordo.
Gordo fell back to sit on the bed. “You’re the devil,” he told Cole, sounding suddenly weary. “You know that?”
“I’m whatever I have to be. Do you want her for anything else?”
“No. I’m tired.”
Cole studied him. He looked about as exhausted as Cole felt. “I imagine you are,” Cole agreed, and then he turned to Crystal. “Come on, I’ll take you back.”
She didn’t seem puzzled at all by the sudden change of plan. Just…awed. By the whole experience.
When they stepped into the hall, Sandor was waiting, lounging back against the wall. “All done?” he asked cheerfully. “I can take Miss Crystal if you’d like to stay with Gordo.”
“No,” said Cole. “I need to go.” He took Crystal by the elbow and started herding her down the hall.
“Cole,” Sandor said, “are you—?”
“Yes,” Cole told him without looking back.
noticed that his hands were shaking now—it was difficult to get the key into the lock of his car door. Crystal stood quiet but pale, waiting and watching him with an oddly reverent look.
“Mind if I smoke?” she asked, as soon as she got in. For a second he thought he could hear her pulse under the flannel of her blouse, but he realized that was silly—of course he couldn’t.
“Please do.” He would get her back safely and untouched. Gordo had taken too much; she could not hold up to another feed.
They were just a few blocks from where he’d picked her up; it would take only minutes to get her back and seconds to find somebody else nearby.
That was good; even snarls of cigarette smoke couldn’t
obscure all the lovely, rich, life-filled blood vessels that were feeding oxygen throughout her body.
“You guys are angels, aren’t you?” he heard Crystal ask. She sounded very wise.
Cole looked at her, and for a brief second he could really
her, a human being behind the blood vessels and the smoke. So pathetic. Her little girl. Her short life. All soon to be forgotten.
“Yes,” he said.
“I thought so.” She looked out the window. “Why did you choose me?”
Cole thought for a moment. He did not particularly believe in God. If there was one, Cole had been cut off from him forever. Cole didn’t have to answer to God, and never would.
But this woman…he had a sudden urge to give her something. Something she could use—belief, hope, a sense of worth—she could likely use those. He could almost see them filling her now—just because she thought she’d met an angel—putting light in her face, squaring her shoulders.
So he didn’t bat an eye at pretending to be God’s messenger. “God loves you, Crystal. No matter what, he
loves you. And,” he added as a thought occurred to him, “he wants you to take care of your little girl.”
She nodded, positively beaming.
He pulled over to the curb near the place where he’d first spotted her. She reeled a little when she got out of the car, but he felt it would be unwise to touch her right now, so he did not offer any help. When the door shut behind her, he let out the breath he’d been holding, nice and slow and controlled.
Fat drops splatted on the windshield. Crystal walked around the nearby corner and was gone.
Cole waited another moment, then got out.
In that moment the drops had turned into a downpour. Within seconds water was running in rivulets down his face. He ignored it and stepped onto the sidewalk, looking around.
There were only a few omnis scattered along the streets now, but it seemed to him as if they were
even in the wet air their salty skin smells and delicate blue veins seemed to be leaping out at him.
Most of them were heading away, trying to get out of the rain—a denim dress ducking into a brown sedan, a pink skirt scurrying into a doorway, a yellow rain
slicker bounding to cross the street like a gazelle—but one was completely in the open, a gift in the middle of the sidewalk.
Dark shirt with a low curving neckline. He could see the white of her face and neck and chest. Oh, she set his pulse pounding.
Because she was coming directly toward him. Her only shelter was a black umbrella and a man’s Windbreaker, unzipped, hood up. The streetlight behind her turned the rain into individual drops, a curtain of tiny pellets falling to Earth.
Dark, softly curling hair under the hood. Like Bess—she was like Bess.
She sensed someone standing in front of her and glanced up. Her step faltered. He must be in a wild state to be able to halt someone in midstride with just the force of his stare.
For a brief moment her eyes were fastened to his face. It had been so long since he’d had this much desire for anything—she was thin in faded jeans, but her breasts were full against the light lining of the Windbreaker. Her curls stopped just under her chin.
Whatever she saw in him, it didn’t scare her; she
dropped her gaze to the sidewalk and moved forward again.
Closer. Closer. Brown eyes big in her face—
he thought wildly, and then: No, he could not tell the color of her eyes from here. He took another deep, controlled breath—but this one refused to be held in check. It escaped, and as it fled, Thirst swelled over the boundaries he’d so carefully set, expanding into the space his breath had occupied and twining its way deep into his gut.
She had already curled around the hollow in his middle. Now she tugged him toward her as she passed. He just had time to think that he
restrain himself, that he could not do this in public, when his body took over and he was after her, one hand automatically reaching for his cross.
One splashing step, and in that step he could actually
the last shreds of control loosen and drop away.
His hand dropped the cross and shot out to grab the back of her Windbreaker, jerking it toward him while he flung his other arm around her shoulders and brought his weight to bear on her back. In the same second he was at her neck.
He bit down. Hard.
A sweet burst and flow, and then everything swelled in one slow wave. The richness filling his mouth. Her slow breath sweeping through her body. Her soft curls turning wet against his cheek. The warmth of her skin under the rain’s chill.
It was ridiculously easy, so rich, so pulsing that he hardly even had to swallow.
He sank his teeth in till the trickle became a gush, so fast that he couldn’t keep it under control. He choked and sputtered. He couldn’t breathe.
But he couldn’t let go either. It was wonderful, to take what he wanted, all he wanted, without thought. It’d been so long—the wild, uncaring need.
His pulse, his heart, his tongue, his throat, all hummed with joy, and he was only vaguely aware when her hand, still clutching the open umbrella, slowly fell to her side. Rain pelted his shoulders. It ran down his cheeks, dripped from the end of his nose. He was wonderfully overloaded, flooded with pleasure; he knew this type of omni, his favorite, he ran his hand over the flat belly, and the breasts that swelled out from the rib cage and spilled so deliciously over his fingers—Bess
had been like that, although she had never allowed him to touch her; she’d hated him too much—he dug his teeth in even deeper….
It was so easy, to take whatever you wanted.
She swayed a little and began to droop as if her knees had gone to jelly, and a part of him began to be aware. Inside, part of him knew how far he’d gone.
A few more seconds and he could no longer ignore the thinning of the flow in his mouth. He was reluctant to let go—letting go would mean that he had to face what he’d done. But his Thirst was dying, and his stomach wasn’t used to being so uncomfortably full.
As soon as he raised his head, the wounds stopped bleeding and the girl sagged in his arms.
He clutched her tighter. As long as he made her part of him, they were both safe. His physical need was gone, but he was completely off balance inside now. He couldn’t think.
The girl was completely limp, and suddenly very heavy.
to think. Had to figure out what to do next.
The rain was slackening already; it had been only a shower, tailor-made to get everyone off the street long enough to hide his lapse. He did not look around to see who might be watching; he raised his head just enough to find the darkened windows of a closed palm reader’s shop a few steps away.
He half carried, half dragged her to its recessed doorway. As he lowered her to the ground, he saw her eyelids flutter.
She was alive.
He crouched and cautiously felt for a pulse. There, but barely. Weak. Too fast. Her Windbreaker had fallen open; her shirt was a tank top, clinging to those breasts, and he had to look away. Omnis and their black. Why did they always wear black?
He turned his head, furtively now, looking around.
Down the street, two omnis, two males in jeans, walking away from him. In the other direction the sidewalk was empty except for a quick glimpse of a dark figure stepping out of sight into one of the buildings. Cole squinted through the patches of dark and light on the sidewalk, but nothing moved; whoever it was must have gone into one of the businesses.
No one had seen. And he couldn’t linger another second: He had to get out of here.
He stood and started walking away.
After a few paces he realized suddenly that he didn’t know where he was going. And then he remembered that his car was in the opposite direction. Everything was crazy. He couldn’t
He looked around wildly, spotted his car, and headed toward it, head down now. He had to force himself not to run; he tried to keep his pace even but brisk. Nothing to stand out.
He hadn’t even locked the car doors.
He slid in—and then hesitated. The doorway where he’d left her was ahead on his right. If he hadn’t known what that small dark heap was, he wouldn’t have guessed. No one had seen her yet. No one would, unless they passed her. Should he go back and get her, take her to a hospital?
No. He must leave this place—he’d go back to the hotel and call 911. No, no—they’d know where to look for him then—no, he’d use Sandor’s cell. He’d make sure that his voice didn’t show anything. He’d hang up as soon as he’d said where she was, and no one would ever know.
The address—what was the address? He couldn’t see, couldn’t see; there were too many drops on the windshield—okay, the wipers—he started the car and turned on the wipers, and the drops swept away like magic. He was a mess right now, he knew—the past two days, and now this.
His eyes searched the building next to him for a number—2135. What street? Shit, what street? He’d have to read it from the corner street sign.
He pulled out and a moment later turned on the headlights. As he passed, he looked out the window to see her, a huddled lump on the concrete.
He drove away, watching the doorway that marked her body in the rearview mirror. It disappeared in the dark as if sinking into a current.