Chapter 6

Ray should not come with me to Los Angeles. I feel this in my heart. But after the sun sets, and he awakens, and I explain to him what is happening in L.A., he insists enjoining me. How he shudders at the thought of more vampires! How his horror breaks my heart, even though intellectually I share his opinion. Truly, he still sees us as evil. But, he says, two are stronger than one, and I know his math makes sense. I might very well need him at a critical moment Also, unless I take him with me, I know he will go another night without feeding. How many nights he can survive, I don't know. I can endure for as long as six months without drinking blood. As long as I don't have other vampires throwing knives in me, that is.

Anxious to get down to Los Angeles, we fly south in my Learjet without feeding. But once on the ground, before we do anything else, I tell Ray we are going hunting. He agrees reluctantly, and I have to promise him we will not hurt anybody. It is a promise I make reluctantly. Opening large veins, I never know what complications might result.

We go to Zuma Beach, north of Malibu. The beaches have always been a favorite den of victims for me. Plenty of out-of-state travelers, homeless people, drunks-portions of the population who are not immediately missed. Of course, I seldom kill my meal tickets these days, since I have begun to believe in miracles, or since I have fallen in love with my reluctant Count Dracula, whichever came first. Actu?ally, I once met Vlad the Impaler, the real man Count Dracula was based on, in the fifteenth century in Transylvania during the war with the Ottoman Turks. Forget those stories about his mean-looking canines. Now, there was a fellow who needed modern dentist?ry. His teeth were rotting out of his mouth, and he had the worst breath. He was no vampire, just a Catholic zealot with a fetish for decapitation. He asked me out, though, for a ride in his carriage. I attract unusual men. I told him where to stuff it. I believe I invented the phrase.

Driving north on the Coast Highway, I spot a young couple on the beach making out on their sleeping bags. Up and down the beach, for at least half a mile, there isn't another soul. Looks like dinner to me, but Ray has his doubts. He always does. I swear, if we were a normal couple going out to a restaurant, he would never be satisfied with the menu. Being a vampire, you can't be a picky eater, it just doesn't work. Yet you might wonder-what about blood-borne diseases? What about AIDS? None of them matters. None of them can touch us. Our blood is a fermented black soup - it strips to the bone whatever we sink our teeth into. This particular young couple looks healthy and happy to me, a blood type I prefer. It is true I am sensitive to the "life vibration" of those I feed upon. Once I drank the blood of a well-known rap singer and had a headache for a week.

"What is wrong with them?" I ask Ray as we park a hundred yards north of them. They are behind and below us, not far from the reach of the surf. The waves are big, the tide high.

"They're not much older than I am," he says.

"Yes? Would it be better if they were both in their eighties?"

"You don't understand."

"I do understand. They remind you of the life you left behind. But I need blood. I shouldn't have to explain that to you. I suffered two serious wounds last night, and then I had to feed you when I returned home."

"I didn't ask you to feed me."

I throw up my hands. "And I didn't ask to have to watch you die. Please, Ray, let's do this quick so that we can take care of what we came for."

"How are we going to approach them?"

I open my car door. "There's going to be no approach. We are simply going to rush them and grab them and start drinking their blood."

Ray grabs my arm. "No. They'll be terrified. They'll run to the police."

"The police in this town have more important matters to deal with than a couple of hysterical twenty-year-olds."

Ray is stubborn. "It will take you only a few moments to put them at ease and hypnotize them. Then they won't suffer."

I stand up outside the car and scowl at him. "You would rather I suffer."

Ray wearily climbs out of his side of the car. "No, Sita. I would prefer to fast."

I walk around and take his hand-a handsome young couple out for an innocent stroll. But my mood is foul. "You would rather I suffer," I repeat.

The blond couple doesn't even look up as we approach, so entranced are they in each other's anato?my. I throw Ray another unpleasant glance. I am supposed to hypnotize these two? He shrugs-he would prefer I anesthetize them before pinching their veins. My patience has reached its limit. Striding over to the hot-blooded boy and girl, I reach down and grab their sleeping bag and pull it out from under them. They fly three feet in the air-literally. They look up at me as if I might bite them. Imagine.

"You are about to be mugged," I say. "It will be a novelty mugging. You will not be hurt and you will not lose any money. But you are going to perform us a great service. Stay calm and we'll be done in ten minutes."

They do not remain calm. I don't care. I grab the girl and throw her to Ray, and then I am on the guy. Pulling his arms behind his back and pinning them there with one hand, I don't worry when he opens his mouth and screams for help. With the pounding surf, no one will hear him. Not that it would make much difference if someone did. In L.A. the earth could shake and people would think it was the Harmonic Convergence. A little screaming on Zuma Beach never worried anyone. Yet I do end up clamping the guy's mouth shut with my free hand.

"I prefer to dine in silence," I say. Glancing over at Ray who is struggling with the girl-for no reason-I remark in his direction, "You make it worse by dragging it out."

"I do things my own way," he says. "Hmm," I grunt. Closing my eyes, using my long thumbnail to open a neck vein, I press my lips on the torn flesh and suck hard. I have cut the carotid artery. The blood gushes into my mouth like hot chocolate poured over ice cream. My young man goes limp in my arms and begins to enjoy the sensation. For me and my victim, feeding can be intensely sensual. I know he feels as if every nerve in his body is being caressed by a thousand fingers. And for me the blood is a warm pulsing river. But if I wish, feeding can be terrifying for my victim. By the time I finished with Slim, for example, he felt as if hell would be a wel?come respite.

None of my victims, of course, becomes a vampire simply by being bitten. There has to be a massive exchange of blood to bring about that transformation. I wonder if Eddie Fender has needles and syringes.

So caught up am I in replenishing my strength that I don't immediately notice that we are three when we should be four. Opening my eyes, I see that Ray's girl has escaped. She is running down the beach at high speed, soundlessly, in the direction of concrete steps that will lead her past the beach boulders and back up onto the Coast Highway.

"What the hell!" I say to Ray.

He shrugs. "She bit my hand."

"Go get her. No, I'll get her." I hand over my happy boy. "Finish with this guy. He's good for another pint."

Ray accepts the young man reluctantly. "His strength is ebbing."

"You worry about your own strength," I call over my shoulder as I chase after the girl. She's a hundred yards away, on the verge of leaping onto the steps-it is a wonder that she hasn't started screaming yet. I have to assume she is in shock. She is ten feet from the highway when I pounce on her and drag her back down the steps. There is more fight in her than I expect, however. Whirling, she punches me hard in the chest. To my great surprise, the blow hurts. She has hit me exactly where the stake penetrated my heart. But my grip on her does not falter. "This is going to hurt, sister," I tell her as she stares at me in horror.

My right hand pins her arms, my left closes her mouth. Again, the thumbnail opens her big neck vein. But I am even more eager than before and suck her red stream as if I am drinking from the elixir of immortal?ity itself, as indeed I am. Yet it is not the matter, the fluids or elements in the blood, that grant the vampire his or her longevity. It is the life-that essence that no scientist has ever been able to replicate in his laboratory-that makes any other source of nourish?ment pale by comparison. But this feeding with this girl is not erotic-it is ravenous. Feeling as if I am trying to drown my pain and weariness in one gulp, I drink from this girl as if her life is my reward for all the evildoers I have been forced to bring to justice.

Yet my thirst deludes even my sense of right and wrong. My vast experience fails me. Suddenly I feel Ray shaking me, telling me to let go. Opening my eyes, I notice the boy lying lazily on the beach, still a hundred yards away, sleeping off his unexpected en?counter with the creatures of the night. He will wake with a bad headache, nothing more. The girl in my arms is another matter. Desperately pale, cold as the sand we stand on, she wheezes. Her heart flutters inside her chest Crouching down, I lay her on her back on the beach. Ray kneels across from me and shakes his head. My guilt is a bitter-tasting dessert.

"I didn't mean to do this," I say. "I got carried away."

"Is she going to make it?" Ray asks.

Placing my hand over her chest, I take a pulse reading that tells me more than an intensive care unit filled with modern equipment could. It is only then that I note the girl's heart is scarred-the right aorta; possibly from a childhood disease. It is not as though I have drained her completely. Yet I have taken more from her than I should have, and in combination with her anatomical weakness, I know she is not going to make it.

"It doesn't look good," I say. Ray takes her hand. He has not reached for my hand in over a month. "Can't you do something for her?" he asks, pain in his voice.

I spread my hands. "What can I do? I cannot put the blood I have taken back inside her. It's done-let's get out of here."

"No! We can't just leave her. Use your power. Save her. You saved me."

I briefly close my eyes. "I saved you by changing you. I cannot change her."

"But she'll die."

I stare at him across my handiwork. "Yes. Everyone who is born dies."

He refuses to accept the situation. "We have to get her to a hospital." He goes to lift her. "They can give her a transfusion. She might make it"

I stop him, gently, slowly removing his hands from the girl's body. Folding her hands across her chest, I listen as her heart begins to skip inside. Yet I continue to look at my lover, searching his expression for signs of hatred or the realization that this being he is to spend the rest of eternity with is really a witch. But Ray only looks grieved, and somehow that makes it worse for me.

"She is not going to live," I say. "She would never make it to a hospital. Her heart is weak. I failed to notice that at the start. I was so thirsty-I got carried away. It happens sometimes. I am not perfect. This is not a perfect creation. But if it is any consolation, I am sorry that this has happened. If I could heal her, I would. But Krishna did not give me that ability." I add, "I can only kill."

Ray follows the girl's breathing for a minute. That is all the time it lasts. The girl gives a soft strangled sound and her back arches off the sandy floor. Then she lies still. Standing, I silently take Ray by the hand and lead him back to the car. Long ago I learned that death cannot be discussed. It is like talking about darkness. Both topics bring only confusion-espe?cially to us, who have to go on living through the night. All who are born die, I think, remembering Krishna's words. All who die will be reborn. In his profound wisdom he spoke the words to comfort all those born in Kali Yuga, the age in which we now live, the dark age. Yet it's strange, as we get in the car and drive away from the beach, I cannot remember his eyes, exactly what they looked like. The sky is covered with haze. The stars, the moon-they are not out. I cannot think what it means to be young. All is indeed dark.

When I met Private Investigator Michael Riley, Ray's father, he talked to me about my previous residence. Trying to impress me with how much he knew about my wealth.

"Prior to moving to Mayfair, you lived in Los Angeles-in Beverly Hills, in fact-at Two-Five-Six Grove Street. Your home was a four-thousand-square-foot mansion, with two swimming pools, a tennis court, a sauna, and a small observatory. The property is valued at six-point-five million. To this day you are listed as the sole owner, Miss Perne."

I was very impressed with Riley's knowledge. That was one of the main reasons I killed him. It is to this house we go after Zuma Beach. Mr. Riley forgot to mention the mansion's deep basement. It is here I keep a stockpile of sophisticated weapons: Uzis, grenade launchers, high-powered laser-assisted sniper rifles, 10-millimeter pistols equipped with silencers- toys easily purchased on any Middle Eastern black market. Loading up my car, I feel like Rambo, who must have been a vampire in a previous incarnation. Loved the way that guy snapped people's necks. Ray watches me pile on the weapons with a bewildered expression.

"You know," he says, "I've never even fired a gun."

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