Authors: A. M. Jenkins
He could pull her into the shadows and take advantage of everything she was offering, all at once. It was what she wanted, and there was so much temptation here. The open feeds, the omni’s reactions. Seeing the girl slide to the couch, limp and vulnerable. The exposed curve of Mary Kate’s neck.
Here in the Building anything he wanted was his, and he wouldn’t even have to ask for it. He could let his usual caution slip even more than it already had—there was no hurry; he and Sandor didn’t
to take Gordon out tonight.
He could wait, and make Mary Kate wait, till Thirst began to uncurl inside his body. He could wait till even the sight of any one of the omnis sent him quivering and he could smell the faint salt and metal through the thin skin over a pulse.
he could let himself have her.
He could. But he knew he wouldn’t. He needed to get out of the city as soon as possible. The tantalizing atmosphere of the Building had already begun to seep into him. Just being here took the edge off his thinking.
“I’m sorry, Mary Kate. I would like to feed. But that’s all.”
She peered up at him for a moment and apparently saw something in his face that told her he meant it, because she dropped the subject.
The dryer was set for thirty minutes, so he
allow himself to take his time. There was a metal folding chair leaning against a trunk; he pulled it into the ring of light in front of the machines and sat on it. Then he took Mary Kate’s hand and pulled her onto his lap. And this time he used his teeth, but carefully; she offered her wrist, but he held it in his fingers and instead concentrated on the tender skin in the inner crook of her arm. He kissed and sucked on it for a few moments, enjoying the sound of her breath and the scent of her skin and clothes. When he nipped the skin she instantly grew still, and he listened to her breathing and counted the pulses of her heart while he fed slowly, intermittently, thinking of that long-ago dream, always careful of the time and her pulse: not too much, not too little, and with absolute self-control.
When he was done, the dryer wasn’t quite finished. Mary Kate’s head rested on his shoulder, her arms draped around him. It made him feel as if he was smothering under a blanket, but since she liked it, he
let her stay. It was little enough to do.
The basement, with its silence and shadows, its cool dank smell of dust, its memories of centuries, pressed in around him. He thought again about his sketchbooks; he used to draw, but that was before photography, and he had long since tossed away his charcoals and pencils for cameras and film. If he didn’t remember the pictures he’d drawn, if he didn’t think about the people in them, then no one would. He could almost see them crumbling along with the pages, clutching at the yellowed paper.
But he sat quietly, finishing the moment with Mary Kate.
When the dryer whirled to a stop, he had to ask her to get up. She leaned against the washing machine, watching his movements as he pulled out his clothes. She ran her eyes eagerly over each item of clothing as he folded and laid it carefully in the basket, ready to go upstairs for repacking.
He realized suddenly that she would follow him to four-and-a-half if he took his clothes up now. She would install herself, would stay there while he took Gordon to feed. She would stay there until the moment he packed his belongings and got out of New York.
So he left the basket on top of the dryer and headed up the stairs.
Mary Kate trooped after him.
“I enjoyed it, Mary Kate,” he told her as they stood in the hallway, and then added, “Good night.” He had to find Sandor so that the two of them could take Gordon on his first hunt.
But Mary Kate picked up Cole’s hand, lacing her fingers into his as she leaned against him.
“I need to go now,” he told her.
“Yes. I have business to attend to.”
“What kind of business?”
“Private business. For Johnny.”
She nuzzled his chest. “Can’t you put it off another night?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“Come and get me when you’re done then. Promise?”
“I will if there’s time,” Cole said; it wasn’t
a lie. He opened the door to Johnny’s apartment with his free hand and held it for her.
Finally, reluctantly, she let go. She gave him a long look, then walked in.
He made sure she was out of sight before he set
about looking for Sandor. Sometimes it was hard to be firm with omnis. Their lives were already both fragile and short, and treating them rudely had always seemed to Cole to be unnecessarily cruel.
But he’d have to buck up, starting now. Gordon wasn’t an omni, but he was close enough that Cole would have to watch his step. Cole could not afford to let his feelings make him tentative about his responsibility. Not this time.
This evening would be a test—not for Gordon, but for Cole himself.
we take the subway?” Sandor asked. The three of them stood on the sidewalk in front of the Building. Gordon was silent, with an odd look on his face—something, Cole judged, between fear, embarrassment about last night, and stubborn dignity. He was dressed much the same as he had been before: jeans, T-shirt. He’d nodded to Cole but had not said a word to him.
“Do you know how to get there on the subway?” Cole asked Sandor.
“More or less.”
More or less
? Cole had a sudden flash of all those colored lines on the subway map. “Let’s walk,” he said.
“It’s at least twenty blocks.”
“Let’s start walking, and if we see a cab, we’ll take
that.” It would be just as well, he thought; he could use the time to dive in and start instructing Gordon. He would not be able to speak freely in a taxi, and there was a lot Gordon needed to know.
So he began right away, as they started down the street. “It’s always good to feed early in the evening,” Cole told Gordon. “That way, if there’s some sort of trouble, you still have plenty of time.”
Gordon walked along, slouching, hands crammed in his pockets. He did not ask what kind of trouble.
Cole explained anyway. “For example, if you had trouble with an omni, bungled your approach—anything that might cause suspicion or distrust. You must never do anything that makes people look at you askance.”
Sandor kept turning to see if any cabs were coming. Gordon was acting as if this was his first time on the streets of Manhattan. The Missouri boy in him was obviously taking everything in: buildings squeezed against the sidewalks, stoops jutting in invitation, asphalt like a river at the bottom of a small canyon of brick and stone. His eyes went avidly to every pedestrian they passed, while the objects of his attention, natives all, kept their focus unwaveringly ahead. But he
did not ask any questions.
“This will be the interactive type of feeding,” Cole told him. “It involves striking up an acquaintance, flirting, conversation. It’s necessary to know how to physically overpower someone too, but you’re not ready for that yet. That’s a hazardous, last-resort kind of thing. You must be strong for it too. You don’t look like you’ve been working out.”
“Yes, here is good news, Gordon,” Sandor put in. “You can add muscle quickly now. If you’ve ever wanted six-pack abs, now you may have them. This is one of the things that’s a nice change from being omni,” he said encouragingly, as if offering a child a candy bar. “You don’t have to work hard at looking ripped.”
Gordon was starting to look a little annoyed at all the information, but there was no telling which bits might be crucial at any given moment. So Cole elaborated anyway. “Your muscles tear a little every time you lift weights,” he informed Gordon. “Omnis have to wait for the tears to heal, and when they heal, they build muscle. You do not have to wait. What would take an omni months to achieve, you can do in a few days. Hours, if you—”
“Oh, look,” Sandor said, stopping at the corner of Ninety-sixth Street. “There’s a subway stop. Shall we go down?”
Cole and Gordon stopped, too. Gordon turned his head, searching eagerly till his eyes lighted on the railing that marked the stairway. Apparently he had not seen a subway entrance before.
Cole didn’t bother to look. “Only if you know exactly what trains are down there, Sandor. Only if you know precisely which one we get on and exactly where it will end up.”
Sandor shook his head. “Where is your sense of adventure?”
“The goal for tonight is to
adventure,” Cole said, and started walking again.
The other two followed.
“Do you have any sort of tool?” Cole asked Gordon.
“I gave him one of my rings,” Sandor put in.
“Good.” Cole turned to Gordon again. “Have you used it yet?”
“Yes,” said Sandor.
“I’m asking Gordon.”
“Yeah,” said Gordon in a don’t-nag-me tone.
“Only in the Building though,” Sandor added.
“The world is not the Building,” Cole told Gordon. “You must be very careful not to let anyone see the ring with the cap off. Read the situation. If the omni is drunk, you have more leeway than if it’s sober. With a sober omni, in a nonsexual situation, you often have exactly one try to get close. You can’t go touching their neck over and over, and you certainly can’t go putting your face up against them.”
“Oh,” said Sandor, stopping again. “I’d forgotten about this place.” He pointed to a building across the street. “It’s much closer than Seth’s bar. What do you think?”
Cole looked it over.
the sign said. No windows, so he couldn’t see inside. But there was an awning. And the sign was classy, subtly lit cursive on a white board. Not a dive. Cole hoped it wasn’t too upscale; he didn’t want to drag an uncouth, grumpy, beer-guzzling teenager into a place where he’d stand out—not when he himself looked like a teenager as well. “We can give it a try.” He thought quickly as they crossed the street—what else did Gordon need to know before they went in? “Stay away from the wrist,” he
said. “That’s almost useless everywhere except in the Building, because they can see everything you’re doing. Sandor, can you think of anything else?”
“No, you’re doing wonderfully well. But it reminds me; did you know Mitch has a tongue stud?”
“He said it doesn’t work very well, because it’s hard for him to get the cap on and off. And once it’s off he has to be careful not to cut up the roof of his mouth.”
“And it draws attention as well,” Cole pointed out, for Gordon’s benefit.
“Not so much these days. But I expect he’ll give up on it.”
“Probably.” They were outside the door now. It opened to let a couple exit, and the heavy thrum of dance music swirled out with them. The couple strolled off holding hands, and the door shut, locking the sound inside again.
Cole turned to Gordon, who he could tell was beginning to feel a little nervous. “Now listen. All you have to do is put your hand on your omni’s neck. Don’t grab, of course—you mustn’t frighten it—but naturally. If you can find its pulse with your fingers, just below the jawline,
things will go easier. After you have some experience, you won’t have to feel; you’ll be able to judge by looking. In any case, you must push the tool in quickly, do you understand? Like this”—Cole demonstrated, in the air—“like punching a hole. Quick and neat. Then you’ve got to latch on right away, as soon as you make the hole. If you don’t, the omni will likely be screaming and perhaps bleeding all over the place. Act quickly; get your mouth on the cut, because that will numb it. Don’t go too long; count to—hmm, let’s say twenty—as you’re feeding. Twenty seconds should be about right for the jugular, and the omni will be none the wiser. Oh.” Cole pulled out his wallet. “Here’s your ID.” He held out the plastic card he’d gotten from Alice.
Gordon stared at it. After a moment he reluctantly took the card between two fingers and studied it more closely.
“This is fake.”
“My birthday’s not in October.”
“It doesn’t matter when your birthday is.”
“And I’m not”—he squinted at the card—“twenty-one. I’m eighteen.”
“You’re as old as you need to be.”
“Hey. Does this mean I can buy beer?”
“You may buy beer to your heart’s content,” Cole said. He did not add that the kid wouldn’t want to once he’d tasted it.
“Good,” Gordon said, with the first real sign of spirit Cole had seen in him so far. “I’m going to get totally wasted. I’m not going to stop till I pass out. And then when I wake up, I’m going to start all over again.”
“Why not? I saw you’ve got that credit card. It’s not even yours, is it? What difference does it make to you if I check out for a bit? God, I deserve it. I—”
“It’s not the money. You can’t get drunk.”
“Oh yeah? Watch me.”
“No, I mean it’s physically impossible. Alcohol has no effect on you. It might make you sick, if you drink very much—but you won’t want to. Now hush and come on.”
Cole led the way into Fromm’s. It looked larger on the inside, with small round tables surrounding a dance floor and a long bar down one side of the room. Neon signs flashed the names of various beers.
“We’ll order drinks,” he told Gordon. “Go ahead and
get whatever you like. You can even try to drink it. But the reason it’s there is in case something goes wrong, and you need to excuse your behavior to an omni. Best to order from the bar tonight,” he said to Sandor.
“Ah, yes, good thinking,” said Sandor. “No interruptions by waitresses. See, Gordon, Cole thinks of everything. Now you two sit down, and I’ll go.”
“I want beer,” Gordon said stubbornly. “Something imported.”
“Same for me,” Cole told Sandor. He had already picked out a table. It was nestled in a corner but had a fairly good view of the room.
He led the way, and Gordon followed, willingly now. Cole watched him as he sat down. The kid looked around the room, and Cole noticed that he tilted his head back slightly—for a heme, the air was threaded with shifting currents of scents: skin, sweat, perfume, salt. And the room wasn’t even full, not like it would have been on a weekend. Even this kid’s underdeveloped instincts were shifting toward alertness, with the promise of a feed at hand.
That was encouraging, Cole thought. Even if the boy wasn’t aware of it.
Cole let his gaze roam around the room, looking for prospects. Sandor came back with the drinks, but Cole ignored him. He’d already zeroed in on a table where four young women sat in varying postures. Two were dressed in jeans. The third wore a short plaid skirt, the fourth an even shorter dress of thin clingy material. They were intent on their conversation, apparently having a good time, not needing anyone else.
Cole heard Gordon sputtering—he’d tried his beer, obviously—but ignored it; Cole was on the hunt, waiting to make eye contact.
The girls burst into laughter, doubling over, and one laid her head on the table.
But another happened to look up, across the room, where she met Cole’s gaze.
She grew silent.
She stared at him, eyes caught, intent.
Then she slowly smiled back.
Cole turned away. “That’s a good place to start,” he told Gordon. “Look at all the empty glasses on the table. And see how they’re acting? They’re half drunk, at least.”
Gordon turned to look. Then he shook his head. “Those girls—those girls are out of my league.”
“No they’re not. Go and introduce yourself. Look into their eyes. Listen to this song—it’s slow—so ask one of the girls to dance. This is good luck—tipsy girl, slow dance. You may be able to get done quickly. Be flexible, be alert. Keep your wits about you. And remember,” Cole added. “The most important thing is that you won’t want to stop when you hit twenty—but you
. Let me hear you say it back to me.”
“Count to twenty,” Gordon repeated, eyes on the girls. “Then stop.”
“Good. Good. Now, put on the ring. Ah—nice ring, Sandor.”
“That’s one of my Ivy League collection.”
“So, Gordon, you’re now a graduate of Yale. Congratulations. Do you know how to get the top off?”
“Go ahead and do it now; that’s best for your first time. Now turn it so the point is hidden in your palm. That’s right.”
Gordon gave the girls a frightened, eager look. His breath was coming in quick puffs. When he spoke, it
was to himself, not to Cole. “Okay,” he said, running his eyes up and down the girl in the clingy dress. “Okay. Count to twenty. Okay.”
And he got up and walked stiff legged across the room.
Cole and Sandor watched as he said something to the girl. He looked quite nervous, but the girl was caught in his gaze. She smiled and got up, sliding her hand into his although he hadn’t offered it.
“So far so good,” Cole heard Sandor say. He didn’t answer. He glanced back at the bouncer who stood by the front door, arms crossed, lazily watching the doorman check IDs.
On the dance floor, the girl locked her hands behind Gordon’s neck and gazed up into his eyes as she spoke to him. Gordon answered—and then looked over her shoulder to give Cole and Sandor a half-embarrassed, half-furious glare:
Quit spying on me!
Sandor immediately turned in his seat. “I think our boy is finding his land legs, so to speak,” he said, sounding relieved.
Cole didn’t bother to look away. Someone needed to keep an eye on things.
Because Gordon wasn’t making his move. He didn’t even seem to be able to talk to the girl. Every time she said anything, his lips moved in a monosyllable, and then he went back to dancing silently—not dancing, really, Cole thought, more like shuffling from foot to foot. He was too obviously working his hands up her back and couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to get the ring to its target. His face began to look more and more desperate until the song was ending, when he finally put one hand on the back of his partner’s neck.
She gave a muffled cry and jerked back, clapping one hand to the spot he’d pricked. “What the hell are you doing?” she said, so sharply that Cole and Sandor could hear her from where they sat. It didn’t help that the music had stopped. “What’s wrong with you?” Her eyes were narrow with suspicion. She didn’t walk away, though; she was caught between indignation and whatever it was in a heme’s eyes that drew omnis in the first place, whatever it was that kept her from smacking him and stomping off.
The ring had also done its work, Cole could see, because Gordon was becoming quite undone. The girl was now looking at the fingers she’d pressed to the
wound, and it was obvious they had a bit of blood on them, because Gordon looked for all the world as if he wanted to bite off her fingertips.
Cole knew the kid couldn’t possibly be feeling any Thirst; he’d fed just last night. No, what had happened was that two weeks of indulgence had conditioned him to instant gratification. His ring had released the coppery, tantalizing scent of her blood, and already he was salivating like Pavlov’s dog.
Sandor pushed back his chair, ready to get up and help, but Cole put a hand on his arm. “No harm done yet,” he said in a low voice. “Let him try to work his way out of his own mess. See if he has the sense to get himself under control.”