Vampyrs Anonymous Chapter Eight
“You believed that?”
“I believe Balki is telling me the truth,” Barnard said. “Certainly no business owner wants the pall of death hanging over their heads, even if it was ruled a suicide. But I also believe that he was withholding information. For example why was he so intent to kill you last night?”
“Because he's a psychopath,” James said, defensively. “All werebeasts are, you-”
James stopped as Barnard gave a rare frown of disapproval.
“I mean, come on, I didn't even know there were werebeasts in the bar. I go to Orson to hunt all the time and I never ran into one before I met him”
“Well what drew you to the bar in the first place?”
James hesitated. He fidgeted with the ring on his empty soda can, feeling like a kid about to tell his dad about the wet dream he had last night.
“There was a...band playing.” He said, never lifting his head. “Balki was the drummer.”
“Well I assume you didn't go in to watch him play,” Barnard said.
“No. I didn't even like the band name. Teenaged Angst. Heh, I mean, talk about your doomed to fail garage band titles. But their lead singer has a real gift.”
A spark of enlightenment flickered across Barnard's mind. Keeping his tone and expression neutral he decided to follow his hunch.
“And this singer was...a gentleman?”
“So you feel this might have had to do with this singer.”
James rubbed the bridge of his nose as if the headache were still bothering him. “Barney, look, I know I'm just a 'wee lad' compared to you and Odhran and I know you and Freud shared a room in college. But I'm not some kid caught up in puberty and I don't appreciate being tricked into giving up info.”
“James, I'm your friend,” Barnard said. “If you only want to tell me about the events leading up to you and Balki's fight I won't dig for anything else. But if you wish to talk about this girl...you wouldn't be the first men to fight for the honor of a lady.”
James sighed. He explained about Felicity's voice and how it seemed to draw him into the bar and how it seemed to have a similar effect on the crowd.
“You should have heard her sing,” he said, smiling as he leaned back in his chair. “She was just so...there. She had such a small stage to work with and she just made it seem bigger. I wanted to leave. The crowd was making me uncomfortable but when I saw her, whenever I made eye contact with her, it just felt like she was singing to me. You want to know what the worse part is?”
“When Balki was after me in all of his butt-naked glory the thing I was worried about the most is what would have happened if he died. To Felicity, I mean. I could have cared less about him. But he was her drummer and she loves him-like a brother.”
Barnard had to suppress a grin. He took James' soda can and put it in the recycling bin underneath the sink. As he checked the pork roast and his stew he marveled at the history of man, vampire, and all of the creatures that inhabited the earth with them and how so simple a thing as a chance encounter had caused an untold amount of bloodshed and sorrow.
“I understand you played the guitar for a while.” He said, deciding to change the subject for now. There'd be plenty of time to discuss spin control and biological anomalies when Father arrived.
“On and off.”
James told Barnard about Sister Goyette in the weeks before his mother's death.
“After my mother died I was ready to give up,” he explained. “They sent me to an orphanage on the other side of town and I had to change schools. But Sister Goyette found out where they had sent me and except for some social worker who stopped by every few months, she was my only visitor for the next two years.”
“She still considered you her student,” Barnard guessed.
“She was amazing,” he said. “Whenever I wanted to give up at school or start blaming myself for my mother she reminded me that God had a purpose for all of us.”
Barnard expected a snort, or one of James' trademark smart remarks. Instead James just smiled warmly as he seemed to be remembering a person who truly made a difference in his life.
“What ever happened to her?” He asked.
James shrugged. “She was with me when I started getting sick, still playing her guitar and signing me to sleep while I was at the hospital. I tried to sing along with her when I wasn't vomiting but pretty soon they moved me to quarantine and I was in so much pain I didn't know who was there.”
James shuttered as he relived that awful February in 1932. The awful flashes of heat and pain, the violent tingling sensation beneath his skin like a thousand red ants chewing on his nervous system. The doctors did everything they could but no painkiller was strong enough to numb it or calm him down.
When his teeth began to fall out he was forced into a cold, sterile room that was marked off by big yellow signs. His bed was surrounded by a plastic sheet and he spent much of the time strapped to the bed to keep from hurting himself as he thrashed in pain and discomfort. The nurses couldn't stand his screams for long so they came in to do what they had to and left just as quickly.
“Then it stopped. I was still getting sick from whatever it was they were pumping into me but the pain was mostly gone.”
“The glucose more than likely,” Barnard said. “Many vampires are mistakenly given glucose intravenously and it makes them violently ill.”
“Anyway Sister Goyette stopped coming in after that,” James finished. “But this guy came in shortly after the pain stopped. I guess he was one of those hopsital knights or something.”
“Right. Anyway he got me off the IV and the other guy that was with him, the vampire, turned out to be from the Corvinus School. I think in the history of people finding out they're vampires this had to be the most informal incident ever. He just shoved a bag of blood in my hand and told me to get ready to leave.”
“When did you next pick up the guitar?” Barnard asked. Odhran would be here soon and he didn't want James dwelling on thoughts of resentment. Talking about music seemed to be a positive thing for him and he wanted James in a positive state of mind for what lay ahead.
Manhattan, New York
July 23rd, 1973
So much had changed. Not that it surprised James. It wasn't like the world just stopped because you weren't there. Although to him it sure as hell felt like the world was taking it's sweet time.
Forty years. It took forty long, excruciatingly boring years for his body to age enough to satisfy the vampires who wrote the law that he was old enough to live among humans without drawing their attention. Although technically he was only seventeen by human standards, he pointed out that many humans at this age were dropping out of school and finding jobs in supermarkets and other places that didn't ask for backgrounds.
“But where will you live?” The records keeper asked once he'd received a permit to leave Los Eros. “You have no family or allies and you haven't made much money working on the blood farm.”
James snorted. Human or vampire if you didn't have two cents to rub together, or if you didn't have a close connection with every swimmer in your end of the gene pool then you just wouldn't make it in the world. It was the kind of logic that would make Mister Spock throw in the towel and after forty years of hearing how he would never make it in the real world James was beyond sick of it.
“Somehow I think I'll manage.” He said. It took every ounce of self preservation not to say something that would cause his exit visa to get revoked, stranding him on the one island in the world where he was convinced he'd stick the straw if the Earth ever needed an enema.
Forty-eight hours later he was back in Manhattan with a backpack full of clothes hanging over his shoulder, absorbing the smells and taking in the sites of his birthplace. New York was a very different place now and he was enjoying every minute of being back among living breathing humans.
Humans. Human beings. What did that make him? A vampire being? He never quite worked that part out. It was just strange, even after all this time. His mother, Sister Goyette, and the people he passed on the street were all of a different species.
They dressed the same, more or less. He was wearing jeans, a white long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of work boots that still contained the faintest scents of mud and manure. Of course in forties right on through the sixties the fact that he wore sunglasses at night might have stood out, but a quick glance at some of the natives told him he was in good company. Though judging from their scent and the full color of their skin he was probably the only one who wore them to protect his light sensitive eyes from the street lamps and headlights that gave the Manhattan skyline it's monochromatic tone.
He ran his tongue along the curvature of his canines. James knew kids in school who had some pretty strangely shaped teeth. Some came from families that couldn't afford proper dental care and others just plain didn't take care of themselves. They were just as human as Sister Goyette had been and yet if a dentist ever managed to get a look at James' gums they'd find a series of muscles that made his fangs longer when he flexed them.
James took a deep breath and smelled the one thing that made him feel less like the dominant species than anything else. Beneath the hot dogs and pop corn, stronger than even the most expensive perfume or cologne, was the very distinct smell of blood. Even in the warmth of the summer evening he could feel the body heat of men and women as they passed by.
James stopped at end of the street and turned to the sound of a dog barking. At first glance it appeared to be a border collie, with typical golden brown fur. But as James drew closer he could make out the patterns of thick gray fur that weren't typical to this breed, mainly because no one had ever tried to crossbreed a collie with a wolf.
“How's it going, boy?” James asked, trying to sound like a friendly dog person. He even held out his hand, hoping there weren't any avid dog enthusiasts out on the town with cameras.
The collie sniffed his hand and began enthusiastically licking it, moving from the palm to his wrist and biting down gently. An elderly couple witnessed the exchange and as the dog appeared to pull him towards the ally.
“Are you all right son?” The man asked, still chuckling.
“Oh, I'm fine,” James said, yanking his wrist out of the dog's mouth. “I think he just needs to use the potty.”
“Well you be careful with him, young man,” the lady chimed in. “You should have a leash on him so he doesn't get hurt in this big city. And it's the law.”
James couldn't help but smile at the irony of a man and a woman who were probably younger than he was, if only by a few decades, giving him advice. He thanked them for their concern and politely said good bye before following the collie into the darkest part of the alley.
“They're worried about me attracting attention but they let you loose,” he muttered when they were out of earshot.
A series of fleshy sounding crunches later and where the collie/wolf hybrid stood there was now a fully grown man.
“Hey, who said I needed their permission?” Devon retorted, completely unashamed of his present nudity.
James tossed him the backpack.
“Get dressed before I go blind.”
“But we're in America now!” Devon shouted throwing his hands in the air. “Land of the free!”
“Shut up!” James growled, looking back and forth frantically. There were windows in the alley and he was afraid someone would wake up. Devon found this particularly amusing, of course.”
“Well come on, James, you've seen the news. Streaking is the in thing now!”
“So is taxidermy.” James muttered. “Now get some clothes on so we can find a place to crash before dark.”
Devon finally did as he was told, but not without flashing a sardonic grin at James and making “tsk, tsk” sounds as he pulled his clothes from the pack. He stepped back into the shadows while James kept an eye out. There were busy streets on either end of the alley and he was still worried that Devon's psychotic tribute to the US would bring an unwanted audience.
At twenty-six years of age, Devon Cripin had the mentality of a kid half his age. James couldn't tell if it was a side effect of being a hybrid or of he was genuinely that brain dead. On the blood farm Devon was annoying, immature and possessed a tenancy to mouth off to authority figures, making business negotiations between his employer, AKA his father and the King's officials and other important contacts extremely difficult.
“So why didn't you lure the old lady and her husband in here with us?” Devon asked, grunting as he pulled the pants on. “I know you've had a mean craving for human blood since you left the island.”
James rolled his eyes.
“My craving for werewolf blood is getting even stronger, do you want to test me?”
Devon laughed. He tied his shoes and threw the backpack over his own shoulder before placing a friendly arm around James.
“Personally, mate, if you're going to drink yourself into the grave you might want to consider a margarita. It's a much sweeter death.”
James shoved Devon's arm off as they made their way back to the street. While he tried to find a suitable victim to satisfy his appetite Devon made a show of hitting on every female that walked by.
“Hey baby,” he called out. “Want to meet a real werewolf of London? Ooooooh!”
“Get a life!”
James shoved his hands into his pockets and walked ahead, hoping he could pretend not to know Devon, at least until he had fed. The chance that one of these Manhattan girls might actually take Devon up on one of his many, colorful offers of a night they'd never forget crossed his mind once or twice, but it was a risk he'd have to take.
As the night wore on and they ventured further into the city James' hunger grew stronger. He regretted not grabbing a travel guide before leaving Los Eros. Unlike most travel guides, the ones written in Los Eros contained the locations of active blood banks and vampire friendly butcher shops. Most of the convenience stores they passed didn't sell meat and the grocers were all closed for the night.
“Hey, I'm starving.” Devon said, after what had to be the thousandth harshly worded rejection. “Where's a good place to eat a round here?”
“I don't know.” James answered, gritting his teeth. “I can only do so much on my own. Why don't you make yourself a little easier to tolerate and put your own wonderful sense of smell to work.”
Devon placed his hand over his heart, feigning hurt.
“Why, my dear friend,” He said. “To think that all I've been doing all night is embarrassing you is truly an insult to all of my wonderful talent.”
James was about to flip out when he noticed Devon becoming very focused. It was so sudden that James nearly thought they were in danger, but he didn't smell anything out of the ordinary. On the other hand, even for his age, Devon had senses that made a mockery of the most experienced vampire.
“Perfect,” Devon said.
Devon pointed at a parking garage and crossed the street.
“We can't go in there,” James said, following him.
“Can't you hear that?” Devon asked when they were on the other side.
The garage was a block away and all James could hear was the sound of their footsteps, their heartbeats and the occasional car going by. Some of the buildings had people inside but other than that the street was fairly quiet by now.
“Hear what?” He asked. Devon was like a different person when he was hunting, which almost frightened James since werebeasts didn't drink human blood.
“There are no guards,” Devon said in a low voice. He began looking around as he slowed his pace. “There's no one close enough to see us. You're going to have to run up the top most floor.”
Devon, who must have realized that James would sunbathe on Brighton Beach before taking orders from him, dropped the backpack and ran.
James grabbed up the backpack and gave chase. He didn't know why, of course. If he was smart he'd have taken off in the opposite direction. Then again, if he'd been smart, he'd have left Devon at Los Eros International Airport.
Devon rounded the entrance of the garage. James hesitated before realizing that Devon was right, there was no one watching the gate. Still he was cautious. He knew humans used special cameras for monitoring secure areas. A building where people left their cars was probably one such location and according to the Hospitalar knights vampires and werebeasts had to be very careful about using their abilities where they could be filmed.
The garage was well dimly lit on the first level but as he followed the smell of human and animal hair up the winding path it got darker. He removed his glasses and stopped at the second level where he found a pair of boots, jeans and a torn shirt lying beside a parked Cadillac.
“You're buying a new shirt,” he grumbled, picking up the other clothes and stuffing them in the backpack.
He followed the scent until he heard the sound of growling and screaming.
“Get off me, mutt!”
What the hell was that idiot doing?
James bolted for the third level and arrived to witness Devon, this time in wolf form, attacking a man who had apparently been using the garage for a shelter. As the darkness melted away and his fangs extended he could make out a disheveled sleeping bag, along with a military duffel and an acoustic guitar.
“Devon stop it!” James shouted.
The man, who was dressed in what looked like an old army jacket and green camouflage pants, turned to James and cried to him for help. Devon lunged, slamming the full weight of his body into the man and forcing him to hit the ground. Acting on a buried instinct James rushed forward, thinking to stop Devon.
Devon, apparently sensing James intentions, simply jumped off the man's body scraping his neck with the claw of his forepaws. The smell of blood slammed into James like a fist forcing him to stop as he remembered why he was here.
“Help, please...” the man moaned as he lie on the concrete, clutching his throat. He looked up at James with eyes wide in terror.
James took a deep breath taking in the man's blood. Devon just sat there like an obedient dog waiting for his master to throw him a table scrap.
James grabbed the man by the lapels of his jacket and yanked him to his feet, roughly. The man cried out in surprise as James bit into his neck.
The blood flow was weak at first. It seemed like James had to bite harder, which only made the man flail about. James pulled back and held the man's right arm down, struggling with the left as he found a new spot to bite.
The man slammed a fist into James' eye forcing him to let go a second time as he cried out for help. James forced his mouth shut and bit down again, sinking his fangs deep into the man's shoulder blade but not getting enough blood to keep it there.
Damn, this wasn't as easy as they made it look in the movies. Usually the vampire was just strong and the victim died because the script needed it to happen. They never covered victims that liked to maybe live for a few more years.
Devon, who was now in human form and going through the man's duffel bag just laughed his ass off.
“You should have taken him on the ground.” He said. “I had him right there for you.”
James wanted to tell him to shove it but he was too busy trying to eat.
Finally the man seemed to loose enough blood and his arms began to go limp. Remembering something he learned in an anatomy class many years ago, James changed positions and bit into the man's jugular. The heart was all ready starting to die and the blood flow was too weak by now but James managed to get a few more mouthfuls out before the man died.
He dropped the body and looked down at his clothes. His shirt was completely drenched in blood and his pants weren't much better.
“Tsk, tsk,” Devon said, pulling on a pair of pants that looked way to tight on him. “Looks like we took away your toddler cup too soon.”
James wanted to flip him off but instead he grabbed the duffel and dug out another shirt. It seemed all he had were clothes, a sleeping bag and a guitar.
“Next time you decide to play Cujo would you mind telling me?” He asked, pulling his shirt off. He found a faded blue football jersey with broken lettering and the remains of what looked like a number thirteen at one point. “Good thing I'm not superstitious.”
Devon pulled the man's shoes off and tested them for size. As James pulled the shirt on he began to feel more like a vulture than a predator. He even had doubts about claiming this as his first kill since Devon initiated it.
“Waste not, want not,” Devon said, reading James' expression. “It's the way of the wolves my friend. We take care of one another, even when one of us is being a dick.”
James crumpled up his dirty shirt and chucked at Devon. Devon tossed it over the wall and went back to examining the dead man's clothes.
“You got blood all over his shirt. I'd kinda like that jacket but I'll need about a gallon of bleach to get all that cleaned off. Seriously, they didn't cover how to drink someone's blood in that school of yours?”
James just shrugged and tuned out Devon as he walked over to the guitar. It was an old acoustic, much like Sister Goyette's. The design was similar though there were chips and scratches in the finish.
He picked it up and held it in his arms. It felt lighter than Sister Goyette's, but then he was only ten when she was still his teacher. There was an old strap that went over the shoulder, making it easier to hold the guitar in place while he tuned the strings.
“We had a few hours before the cops showed up.”
The garage, Devon, and James' first sloppy kill seemed to fade into to the present. Barnard was hovering over the stove, stirring the pots of stew before taking the pot roast out and James was setting the table like he was asked.
It wasn't until he was done telling the story that he realized Barnard had asked him to set three places.
“Um...Barney, who are we expecting?”
Barnard sighed and turned to look James in the face. Before he could respond there was a very distinct knock at the door that could only have come from one person. The night was about to get very interesting.