Chapter 8

Dinner with the Vampire

"Is there something wrong with your food?"

"No, I'm just not very hungry."

"You're going to break my heart, aren't you?"

Chapter 9

He Knows If You've Been Bad or Good, So You'd Better...

For the few days he had been in San Francisco, because of the newness of it all, because of the mystery of the flowers and the worries of finding a job, Tommy had completely forgotten that he was horny. He had always been horny, and had accepted that he always would be horny. So when Jody sat down across from him and the tsunami of hormones washed over him, he was quite shocked that he had ever forgotten.

Through dinner he missed most of her small talk and bought all the polite lies she told about her eating habits because his mind was busy with a single obsessive thought: She must move that scarf so I can see her breasts.

When Tommy finished eating, Frederick came to the table. "Was there something wrong with your food?" he asked Jody.

"No, I'm just not very hungry."

Frederick winked at Tommy and took their plates. Jody sat back, unwrapped her scarf and threw it over the back of her chair. "What a nice night," she said.

Tommy ripped his gaze from the front of her blouse and pretended to look out over the street. "Yep," he said.

"You know, I've never asked a man out before."

"Me either," Tommy said.

He had decided that he would throw himself at her feet and beg. Please, please, please, take me home and have sex with me. You have no idea how badly I need it. I've only done it twice in my life and both times I was so drunk that I had to be told about it the next day. Please, for the love of God, end this suffering, fuck me now or kill me!

"Would you like a cappuccino?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Tommy, can I trust you? Can I be honest with you?"

"Sure."

"Look, I don't want to be too forward, but I think I have to be..."

"I knew it." He fell forward until his head hit the table, rattling the silverware. He spoke into the tablecloth. "You just broke up with a guy, and this date seemed like a good idea at the time, but you think that you're still in love with him. And I'm a really nice guy and you'll always be my friend. Right?"

"No. I wasn't going to say that."

"Oh, then you've just gotten out of a bad relationship and you're not ready to get into another one. You need to be alone for a while and find out what you really want. Right?"

"No..."

"Right," Tommy said into the tablecloth. "But things are moving a little too fast and maybe we should see other people for a while. I knew it. I knew you would break my  - "

Jody whacked him on the back of the head with a soup spoon. "Ouch!" Tommy sat up, rubbing the rising lump. "Hey, that hurt."

"Are you okay?" she asked, holding the soup spoon at ready.

"That really hurt."

"Good." She put the spoon down. "I was going to say that I don't want to be too forward, but you and I both need a place to live, and I need some help with some things, and I like you, and I was wondering if you wanted to get a place together?"

Tommy stopped rubbing his head. "Now?"

"If you don't have other plans."

"But we haven't even, you know..."

"We can just be roommates if you'd like. And if you need to think it over, I'll understand, but I really need your help."

Tommy was stunned. No woman had ever said anything like that to him before. In just these few minutes she had come to trust him enough to lay herself open to total rejection. Women didn't do that, did they? Maybe she was nuts. Well, that would be okay; she could be Zelda to his F. Scott. Still, he felt as if he owed her some sort of confession that would leave him equally vulnerable.

"Five Chinese guys asked me to marry them today," he said.

Jody didn't know what to say, so she said, "Congratulations."

"I didn't accept."

"Thinking it over?"

"No, I wouldn't two-time you."

"That's sweet, but technically you'd be six-timing me."

Tommy smiled. "I like you, I really do."

"Then let's move in together."

Frederick appeared at the table. "Well, I can see things are going along just swimmingly between you two."

"Check, please," Jody said.

"Right away." Frederick headed back into the cafe in a bit of a snit.

Tommy said, "You're going to break my heart, aren't you?"

"Irreparably. Would you like to go for a walk?"

"Sure, I guess."

Frederick returned to the table with the check wallet. Jody pulled a wad of cash out of her backpack and handed him a hundred-dollar bill. As Tommy started to protest, standing to dig money out of his jeans pocket, Jody picked up her soup spoon and brandished it threateningly. "I'll get this." Tommy sat back down. To Frederick, Jody said, "Keep the change."

"Oh, you are too generous," Frederick gushed. He started backing away from the table in a half-bow.

"And, Frederick," Jody added, "Batman is far more over-accessorized than I am."

"I'm sorry you heard that," Frederick said. "An overdeveloped sense of fashion will be my downfall." He looked at Tommy. "You're right, she's going to break your heart."

"Have you seen Coit Tower?" she asked as they walked.

"From a distance."

"Let's go there. It's all lit up at night."

They walked for a while without talking. Jody walked on the inside and dealt with the barkers with a shake of her head and a wave of dismissal. To one barker she said, "Thanks, but we're going to put on our own show."

Tommy coughed and tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. He looked at her as if she'd just announced the Second Coming.

"I have to go to work at midnight," he said.

"You'll have to keep an eye on the time, then."

"Right. I will."

I can't believe I'm being this aggressive, Jody thought. I hear myself say these things and it's as if they're coming out of someone else's mouth. And he just agrees. I'd have become a tramp a long time ago if I'd known what a great sense of control it gives you.

They passed two tall women with enormous breasts and impossibly narrow hips unloading wigs, wads of sequins, and a boa constrictor from the back of a rusted-out Toyota. Shift change at the strip joints, Jody thought.

Tommy was riveted. Jody watched the heat rise in his face, just as it had when she caught him staring at her own breasts.

He's so open, like a little kid, Jody thought. A cute little neurotic kid. I was lucky to find him. Lucky, considering everything that has happened.

They turned on Kearny and Jody said, "So what do you think about my offer?"

"It sounds okay, if you're sure. But I won't get my first pay-check for a couple of weeks."

"Money isn't a problem. I'll pay."

"No, I couldn't..."

"Look Tommy, I meant it when I said I need your help. I'm busy all day. You will have to find the place and rent it. And I have a lot of other things that you'll have to do. For one, my car is in impound and someone has to get it out during the day. If it would make you feel better, I can pay you so you'll have the money."

"Is that why you asked me if I had my days free in the parking lot last night?"

"Yes."

"So it could have been anyone who worked the right hours?"

"Your buddy works the right hours, and I didn't ask him. No, I thought you were cute."

"I can't deal with that."

He walked along looking straight ahead, saying nothing. They had passed into a neighborhood of apartment houses with security bars on the windows and electric locks on the doors. Ahead, Jody saw waves of red heat signatures coming out of one dark doorway. They were too hot for one person and too cool to be a lightbulb. She focused and could hear men whispering. She suddenly remembered the phone call: "You're not immortal. You can still be killed."

"Let's cross the street, Tommy."

"Why?"

"Just come on." She grabbed his jacket and yanked him into the street. When they were on the opposite sidewalk, Tommy stopped and looked at her as if she had just hit him on the head with a spoon.

"What was that all about?"

She waved for him to be quiet. "Listen."

Someone behind them was laughing. Laughing loudly enough to be heard without Jody's acute hearing. They both turned and looked back. A thin man dressed in black was standing under a street lamp a block away.

"What's so funny?" Tommy asked.

Jody didn't answer. She was staring at something that wasn't there. There was no heat signature coming off the man in black.

"Let's go," Jody said, hurrying Tommy up the street. As they passed the doorway across the street, Jody looked over and flipped a middle finger to the three toughs that had been waiting to ambush them. You guys are nothing, she thought. Laughter from the man in black still rang in her ears.

It had been a long time since the vampire had heard the sound of his own laughter, and hearing it made him laugh all the louder. So the fledgling had found herself a minion. It had been a good idea to leave her hand partially exposed to the daylight. She had learned that lesson quickly. So many of them just wandered until daylight and burned to death, and he couldn't even enjoy the show unless he wanted to join them in perdition. This one was interesting: so reluctant to give herself to the blood.

They only seemed to have two instincts, the hunger and the hiding. And this one had controlled the hunger on her first feeding. She was almost too good. So many of them, if they lasted the first night, went mad trying to live with their new senses. One night and he had to send them to hell with a snap of the neck and a fare-thee-well. But not this one. She had made him laugh; afraid of a few mortals whom she could crush like insects.

Perhaps she was protecting her new servant. Perhaps he should kill the boy, just to watch her reaction. Perhaps, but not yet. Some other fly in her ointment then. Just to keep the game going.

It felt so good to laugh after so long.

Chapter 10

Walking, Talking, and Bumping in the Night

Coit Tower jutted out of Telegraph Hill like a giant phallus. Impressive as it was, all lit up and overlooking the City, it made Tommy feel nervous, inferior, and pressured to perform. She had as much as admitted that she was going to take him to bed  -  had even offered to solve the problem of the Wongs. She was a dream come true. It scared the hell out of him.

She took his hand and looked out over the City. "It's pretty, isn't it. We're lucky it's a clear night."

"Your hand is freezing," he said. He put his arm around her and pulled her close. God, I'm smooth, he thought, a complete stud. I'm making a move on an older woman  -  an older woman with money. Now what? My arm is lying on her shoulder like a dead fish. I'm a geek. If I could just turn my mind off until it's all over. Just get shit-faced and do it. No, not that. Not again.

Jody stiffened. She thought: I'm not cold. I haven't been cold since I changed, nor warm, for that matter. Kurt used to say I was always cold. How strange. I can see the heat around Tommy but there's none around me.

"Feel my forehead," she said to Tommy.

Tommy said, "Jody, we don't have to do this if you're not ready. I mean, maybe, like you said, we should just be roommates. I don't want to pressure you."

"No, feel my forehead and see if I have a fever."

"Oh." He put his hand on her forehead. "You're as cold as ice. Do you feel okay?"

Oh my God! How could I have been so stupid? She tore away from him and began pacing. The guy outside her apartment, the laughing man on Kearny Street, he had been cold. And so was she. How many vampires were out there that she hadn't seen?

"What's the matter?" Tommy asked. "Did I say something wrong?"

I've got to tell him, she thought. He's not going to trust me if I keep it from him.

She took his hand again. "Tommy, I think you ought to know. I'm not exactly what I seem to be."

He stepped back. "You're a guy, aren't you? I knew it. My dad warned me that this could happen here."

Maybe not, she thought.

"No, I'm not a guy."

"Are you sure?"

"Are you?"

"There's no need to get nasty."

"Well, how would you feel if I asked you if you were a girl?"

Tommy hung his head. "You're right. Sorry. But how would you feel if five Chinese women asked you to marry them? Things like that don't happen in Indiana. I can't even go back to my room."

"I can't either," she said.

"Why not?"

"Give me a minute to think, okay?"

She didn't want to go back to the motel on Van Ness again. The vampire knew she had been there. But he'd probably know even if she moved.

"Tommy, we need to get you a motel room."

"Jody, I'm getting mixed messages here."

"No, don't take it wrong. I don't want to send you back to that room with the Wongs. I think we should get you a room."

"I told you, I don't get paid  - "

"My treat. It'll be an advance on your new job as my assistant."

Tommy sat down on the sidewalk and stared up at the lighted shaft of Coit Tower. He thought, I have no idea what I am supposed to be or what I'm supposed to do. First she wants me for my body, then she wants me as an employee, then she doesn't want me at all. I don't know whether I'm supposed to kiss her or fill out an application. I feel like one of those nervous little dogs from an electroshock test. Here's a bone, Spot. Zap! You didn't really want that, did you?

He said, "Whatever you want me to do, I'll do."

"Okay," Jody said. "Thanks." She bent and kissed him on the forehead.

I have no idea what I'm supposed to do, she thought. If we go to a motel and go to bed together, then he'll have to go to work, and when he comes back in the morning he'll come back to the room, open the door, and the sunlight will hit me. Bursting into flames is no way to impress someone on the first date. Separate rooms is the only way to go. He's going to get fed up and leave me like all the rest.

"Tommy, can you go get your stuff tomorrow?"

"Whatever you say."

"I can't explain now, but I might be in a little trouble and I have a lot of things to do. I need you to do a lot of things for me tomorrow. Can you do that after working all night?"

"Whatever you say," he said.

"I'm going to get you a room at my motel. I won't be around until tomorrow night. I'll meet you at the motel office at sunset. When you come back to the room in the morning, the papers for my car will be on the bed, okay?"

"Whatever you say." Tommy looked dazed. He stared into his lap.

"I'll give you money for an apartment. Try to find a place that's furnished. And no windows in the bedroom. Try to keep it under two thousand a month."

Tommy didn't look up. "Whatever you say."

I've taken over his mind, she thought. It's just like in the movies, when the vampire can control people's actions. I don't want that. I don't want to force him with my will. It's not fair. He was helpless enough, but now I've turned him into a zombie. I want help, but I don't want this. I wonder if there's enough of his mind left even to function, or if I've ruined him.

"Tommy," she said sternly, "I want you to climb to the top of the tower and jump off."

He looked up. "Are you out of your mind?"

She threw her arms around him, kissed him, and said, "Oh, I'm so glad I didn't turn you into a vegetable."

"I'll give you time," he said.

Jody stood outside the four-story apartment building on Chestnut, watching and listening. There were no lights on in Kurt's apartment. Already it had become Kurt's apartment, not hers, not theirs. The moment she asked Tommy out, she had transferred whatever dreams and delusions she attached to being a couple to Tommy. It was always that way for her. She didn't like to be alone.

She and Tommy had walked Telegraph Park talking about their past lives and avoiding the subject of a singular, future life until it was time for Tommy to go to work. Jody had called a cab from a pay phone and dropped Tommy off at the store with a kiss and a promise. "I'll see you tomorrow night."

It was only when she got out of the cab at the motel that she realized that the registration and pink slip for her car were still at Kurt's.

Why didn't I take a damn key when I left?

She toyed with the idea of ringing the bell, but the thought of looking Kurt in the eye after what she had done to him... No, she'd have to get in on her own. Going through the two fire doors and the security bolts wasn't an option.

The building was a pseudo-Victorian, the facade decorated with prefabricated bolt-on gingerbread. Jody tried to imagine herself climbing the front of the building and shuddered. To her relief, the side panels on the fourth-floor bay window were closed. No way in there.

There was a five-foot-wide alley between Kurt's building and the one next to it. The bedroom window was on that side. No gingerbread for handholds there.

She went to the alley and looked up. The bedroom window was open and the wall was as smooth as polished stone. She eyed the space between the two buildings. With her hands against one side and her feet against the other, she could spider her way up the wall. She'd seen guys climbing chimney crevices at Yosemite that way. Experienced climbers, with equipment. Not secretaries who avoided escalators for fear of breaking a heel.

She focused on the open window and listened. The sound of someone breathing deeply, sleeping. No, it was the sound of two people sleeping. "You bastard."

She leaped into the air and caught herself between the two buildings, six feet off the ground, her feet against one, hands against the other. She was amazed that she could do it, but it wasn't that hard. It wasn't hard at all. She tested her weight against the tension in her limbs and it felt solid. She held herself with one hand while she pulled her skirt up over her hips with the other, then she tried a tentative step up.

Hand, foot, hand, foot. When she paused to look down she was right under Kurt's window, forty feet off the ground, with only a garbage can and a stray cat to break her fall. She tried to catch her breath, then realized that she wasn't out of breath. She felt as if she could hold herself there for hours if she needed to. But the fear of falling pushed her on. You're not immortal. You can still be killed.

She pushed the screen loose from the window with her left hand, got a grip on the windowsill, then loosed the tension in her legs and swung down against Kurt's building. Hanging by one hand, she removed the screen with the other and lowered it to the floor inside, then pulled herself up to the windowsill, where she crouched and looked around the room. Two people were in the bed. She could see their heat signatures rising through the covers and being dissipated by the cold breeze coming through the window. No wonder I complained about the cold. She stepped into the room and waited to see if the sleepers stirred. Nothing.

She moved to the side of the bed and looked at the woman with almost scientific detachment. It was Susan Badistone. Jody had met her at Kurt's office picnic and had disliked her immediately. Her straight blond hair was spread over the pillow. Jody twisted a lock of her own curly red hair around her finger. So this is what he wanted. And that's an after-market nose if I've ever seen one. But it's all about appearances, isn't it, Kurt?

Jody grabbed the covers and lifted them far enough to look under. She's got the body of a twelve-year-old boy. Oh Kurt, you should have let her finish the surgery schedule before you brought her home.

She let the covers fall and Susan stirred. Jody backed away from the bed slowly. She had kept all of her papers in an expandable file under the sink in the bathroom. She went to the bathroom and palmed the cabinet open. The file was still there. She grabbed it and headed for the window.

"Who's there?" Kurt said. He sat up in bed and stared into the dark.

Jody ducked below the light coming in the window and watched him.

"I said, who's there?"

"What's a matter?" a groggy Susan said.

"I heard something."

"It's nothing, honey. You're just jumpy after what that horrible woman did to you."

I could snap her scrawny blond neck, Jody thought. Then, in thinking it, in knowing that she could actually do it, she was no longer angry. I'm not "that horrible woman," she thought. I'm a vampire, and no amount of plastic surgery, or breeding, or money will ever make you my equal. I am a god.

For the first time since the transformation Jody felt calm, comfortable in her own skin. She waited there in the dark until they fell asleep again, then she climbed out the window and replaced the screen. She stood on the window ledge and threw the expandable file on the roof, then leaped up, grabbed the gutter, and pulled herself onto the roof.

At the back of the building she found a steel ladder that went all the way to the ground. The climb between the two buildings had been completely unnecessary.

Okay, not a particularly smart god, but at least a god who has her original nose.

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