Chapter Four

Red and White and Dead all Over

Rapoc stuffing and chicken feathers lay in great, fluffy drifts across the room, along with the shreds of their clothing, the futon cover, pieces of a fuzzy, Muppet-skin rug, and the crushed remains of a couple of cheap-ass Pier 1 paper lanterns. Sparks crackled from the bare wires over the breakfast bar, where the pendulum light fixtures used to hang. The loft looked as if someone had thrown a hand grenade into the middle of a teddy-bear orgy and the only survivors had had their fur blown off.

"Well, that was different," Jody said, still a little breathless. She was lying across the coffee table, looking out the window at a streetlight from an upside-down angle, naked except for one sleeve of her red leather jacket. She was smeared with blood from head to toe, and even as Tommy watched, the scratches and fang marks on her skin were healing over.

"If I'd known," Tommy said, panting, "I'd have grown a foreskin a long time ago." He lay across the room where she had thrown him, sprawled on a pile of books and kindling that had once been a bookshelf, also smeared with blood and covered in scratches - wearing only a sock.

As he pulled a pencil-sized splinter of bookcase out of his thigh, Tommy thought that he might have been a little hasty about yelling at Jody for turning him into a vampire. Although he couldn't really remember much of it, he was pretty sure he'd just had the most amazing sex ever. Apparently what he had read about vampire sex being all about drinking the blood and nothing else - it was just another myth like the changing into a bat and the inability to cross running water.

"Did you know that was going to happen?" Tommy asked.

"I had no idea," Jody said, still on the coffee table, and looking more to Tommy every minute like a murder victim, except that she was talking, and smiling. "I was going to make you buy me dinner and take me to a movie first."

Tommy chucked the bloody bookcase splinter at her. "I don't mean did you know we were going to do it, I mean did you know that it was going to be like that?"

"How would I know that?"

"I thought maybe the night you spent with the old vampire..."

Jody sat up. "I didn't do him, Tommy, I just spent the night with him trying to find out about how to be a vampire. And his name is Elijah."

"Oh, so now you're on a first-name basis."

"Oh, for the love of God, Tommy, would you stop thinking? You're taking what was an amazing experience and sucking all the life out of it."

Tommy fidgeted on his pile of rubble and started to pout, but winced when he tried to push out his lower lip and it caught on his fangs. She was right. He'd always been like that, always overthinking, overanalyzing. "Sorry," he said.

"You have to just be part of the world now," Jody said softly. "You can't put everything into categories, separate yourself from experience by putting words on it. Like the song says, let it be."

"Sorry," Tommy said again. He tried to push the thoughts out of his head, closed his eyes, and listened to his heartbeat, and Jody's heartbeat coming from across the room.

"It's okay," Jody said. "Sex like that does sort of beg for a postmortem."

Tommy smiled, his eyes still closed. "So to speak."

Jody stood up and crossed the room to where he was sitting. She offered him her hand to help him up. "Careful, the back of your head is kind of stuck in the dry wall."

Tommy turned his head and heard plaster cracking. "I'm still starving."

She pulled him to his feet. "I'm feeling a little drained myself."

"My bad," Tommy said. He could remember now, her blood pulsing into him, at the same time that his was pulsing into her. He rubbed a place on his shoulder where the punctures from her fangs hadn't quite healed yet.

She kissed the spot he was rubbing. "You'll heal faster when you've had fresh blood."

Tommy felt an ache, like a sudden cramp in his stomach. "I really need to eat."

Jody led him into the bedroom, where Chet the huge cat was cowering in the corner, hiding unsuccessfully behind the wicker hamper.

"Wait," Jody said. She padded back out into the great room and came back a few seconds later wearing what was left of her red leather jacket (really more of a vest now) and her panties, which she had to hold together on one side where they'd been torn off. "Sorry," she said, "I'm not comfortable being naked in front of strangers."

Tommy nodded. "He's not a stranger, Jody. He's dinner."

"Uh-huh," Jody said, nodding and shaking her head at the same time, making her appear like a bloodstained, bobble-head doll. "You go. You're new."

"Me? Don't you know some superanimal hypnotism to call him to you?"

"Nope. Go get him. I'll wait."

Tommy looked at her. On top of the blood that streaked and smeared her pale skin, there were gobs of futon stuffing stuck to her here and there, as well as white chicken feathers in her hair from one of the exploded cushions. He had feathers and cat hair stuck to his chest and legs. "We're going to have to shave him first, you know?"

Jody nodded, not looking away from the huge cat. "Maybe a shower first."

"Good idea." Tommy put his arm around her.

"But just washing. No sex!"

"Why, we already lost the cleaning deposit?"

"Those shower doors are glass."

"Okay. But can I wash your - "

"No," she said. She took his hand and dragged him into the bathroom.

It turned out that superhuman vampire strength came in handy when shaving a thirty-five-pound cat. After a couple of false starts, which had them chasing Chet the huge shaving-cream-covered cat around the loft, they discovered the value of duct tape as a grooming tool. Because of the tape, they weren't able to shave his feet. When they were finished, Chet looked like a big-eyed, potbellied, protohuman in fur-lined, duct-tape space boots - the feline love child of Golem and Doddy the house elf.

"I'm not sure we needed to shave all of him," Tommy said, sitting on the bed next to Jody as they considered the bound and shaven Chet on the floor before them. "He looks creepy."

"Pretty creepy," Jody said. "You'd better drink. Your wounds aren't healing." All her scratches, bruises, and love bites were completely healed, and except for a fleck of shaving cream here and there in her hair, she was as good as new.

"How?" Tommy asked. "How do I know where to bite him?"

"Try the neck," Jody said. "But sort of feel around for a vein with your tongue before you bite, and don't bite hard." She was trying to sound confident in her instructions, but she was in unexplored territory as much as he was. She was enjoying teaching Tommy about the particulars of vampirism, just as she enjoyed teaching him how to do grown-up human things like how to get the power and phone turned on in the loft - it made her feel sophisticated and in charge, and after a series of boyfriends for whom she had been little more than an accoutrement, whose lifestyles she had affected, from heavy-metal anarchists to financial-district yuppies, she liked being the pacesetter for a change. Still, when it came to teaching him about feeding on animals, she couldn't have been winging it more if she really could turn into a bat. The only time she'd ever considered drinking animal blood was when Tommy had brought her two large, live snapping turtles from Chinatown. She hadn't been able to bring herself to even try biting into the armored reptiles. Tommy had named them Scott and Zelda, which hadn't helped. Now Zelda was functioning as a lawn ornament in Pacific Heights and Scott was encased in bronze and standing next to the old vampire in the great room. The biker sculptors downstairs had bronzed them, which is what had given Tommy the idea to bronze Jody and the old vampire in the first place.

"Are you sure this is okay?" Tommy said, bending over Chet the huge shaved cat. "I mean, you said that we were only supposed to hunt the sick and the weak - the black auras. Chet's aura is shiny and pink."

"It's different with animals." She had no idea if it was different with animals. She'd eaten a moth once, whole - snatched it out of the air and downed it before she could think about it. She realized now that there were a lot more questions she should have asked Elijah when she had had the chance. "Besides, you're not going to kill him."

"Right," Tommy said. He put his mouth on Chet's kitty neck. "Like thith?"

Jody had to turn away to keep from laughing. "Yeah, that looks good."

"He tathes like thaving cream."

"Just go," Jody said.

" 'Kay." Tommy bit and started to moan almost immediately. Not a moan of pleasure, but the moan of someone who has his tongue stuck on the ice-cube tray in the freezer. Chet seemed strangely calm, not even struggling against his kitty bonds. Maybe there was something to the vampire's power over his victims, Jody thought.

"Okay, that's enough," Jody said.

Tommy shook his head while still feeding on the huge shaved cat.

"Tommy, let off. You need to leave some."

"Nu-ih," Tommy said.

"Stop sucking the huge cat, Tommy," Jody said sternly. "I'm not kidding." She was kidding, a little bit.

Tommy was breathing hard now, and a little color had come into his skin. Jody looked around for something to get his attention. She spotted a vase of flowers on the night-stand.

She pulled out the flowers and tossed the water on Tommy and the huge cat. He kept feeding. The cat shuddered but otherwise remained immobile.

"Okay, then," Jody said. It was a heavy, stoneware vase, something Tommy had picked up to hold some apology flowers he'd brought her from the grocery store where he worked. He'd been good that way, sometimes bringing home apology flowers before he'd even done anything to apologize for. Really, you couldn't ask for more than that from a guy - which is why Jody slowed to half speed as she brought the vase around in a wide arc that ended with it smacking Tommy in the forehead and knocking him back about six feet. Chet the huge shaved cat yowled. Miraculously, the vase did not break.

"Thanks," Tommy said, wiping the blood from his mouth. There was a crescent-moon-shaped dent in his forehead that was rapidly filling in, healing.

"Sure," Jody said, staring at the vase. Great vase, she thought. Elegant, fragile porcelain was all well and good for the collector's case or the tea party, but for the girl who finds herself in need of a vessel that can deliver a wallop, Jody was suddenly sold on the sturdy value of stoneware.

"Tastes like cat breath," Tommy said, pointing to Chet. The punctures from Tommy's fangs had already healed. "Is it supposed to?"

Jody shrugged. "What's cat breath taste like?"

"Like tuna casserole left out in the sun for a week." Being from the Midwest, Tommy thought everyone knew what tuna casserole tasted like. Having been born and raised in Carmel, California, Jody knew it only as something eaten by the extinct people on Nick at Nite.

"I think I'm going to pass," Jody said. She was hungry, but not cat-breath hungry. She wasn't sure what she was going to do about feeding. She couldn't very well try to live off Tommy anymore, and regardless of the rush and the sense that she was serving nature's cause by taking only the weak and the sick, she didn't like the idea of preying on humans - strangers anyway. She needed time to think, to figure out what their new life was going to be like. Things had been happening too quickly since Tommy and his friends had taken down the old vampire. She said, "We should get Chet back to his owner tonight if we can. You don't want to lose your driver's license - we may need a valid ID to rent a new place."

"A new place?"

"We have to move, Tommy. I told Inspectors Rivera and Cavuto that I would leave town. You don't think they'll check?" There had been two homicide detectives who had followed the trail of bodies to the old vampire, and ultimately the discovery of Jody's delicate condition. She'd promised them that she'd take the old vampire and leave town if they'd let her go.

"Oh yeah," Tommy said. "That means I can't go back to work at the Safeway either?"

He wasn't stupid, she knew he wasn't stupid, so why was he so slow to see the obvious? "No, I don't think that would be a good idea," Jody said. "Since you're going to pass out cold at sunrise, just the way I do."

"Yeah, that'd be embarrassing," Tommy said.

"Especially when sunlight hits you and you burst into flames."

"Yeah, there's got to be company policy against that."

Jody screamed in frustration.

"Jeez, kidding," Tommy said, cringing.

She sighed, realizing that he'd been goofing on her. "Get dressed, cat breath, we don't want to run out of dark. We're going to need some help."

Out in the great room, the vampire Elijah Ben Sapir was trying to figure out exactly what was going on around him. He knew he had been constrained - bound inside a vessel, and whatever held him was immovable. He'd even turned to mist, which relieved his anxiety somewhat - there was an ethereal mind-set that accompanied the form, it took concentration to not let yourself just float off in a daze - but the bronze shell was airtight. He could hear them talking, but their comments told him little except that his fledgling had betrayed him. He smiled to himself. What a foolishly human mistake to let hope triumph over reason. He should have known better.

It would be days before the hunger was on him again, and even then, without any movement, he could last indefinitely without blood. He could live a very, very long time constrained like this, he realized - it was his sanity that would suffer. He decided to stay in mist form - drift as in a dream at night, sleep like the dead during the day. This way, he would wait, and when the time came, and it would come (if nothing else, living for eight hundred years had taught him patience), he would make his move.

Chapter Five

The Emperor of San Francisco

Two in the morning. Normally, the Emperor of San Francisco would have been tucked in behind a Dumpster with the royal guard snuggled around him for warmth, snoring like a congested bulldozer, but tonight he had been undone by the generosity of a Starbucks froth slave in Union Square who had donated a bucket-sized Holiday Spice Mochaccino to the cause of royal comfort, thus leaving the Emperor and his two companions jangled, wandering the wee hours on a nearly deserted Market Street, waiting for breakfast time to roll around.

"Like crack with cinnamon," said the Emperor. He was a great, boiler tank of a man, an ambling meat locomotive in a wool overcoat, his face a firebox of intensity, framed with a gray tempest of hair and beard such as are found only on gods and lunatics.

Bummer, the smaller of the troops, a Boston terrier, snorted and tossed his head. He'd lapped up some of the rich coffee broth himself, and felt ready to tear ass out of any rodent or pastrami sandwich that might cross his path. Lazarus, normally the calmer of the two, a golden retriever, pranced and leapt at the Emperor's side as if it might start raining ducks any minute - a recurring nightmare among retrievers.

"Steady, gents," the Emperor chided. "Lets us use this inopportune alertness to inspect a less frantic city than we find in the day, and determine where we might be of service." The Emperor believed that the first duty of any leader was to serve the weakest of his people, and he made an effort to pay attention to the city around him, lest someone fall through the cracks and be lost. Clearly he was a loon. "Calm, good fellows," he said.

But calm was not coming. The smell of cat was tall in the air and the men were jacked on Java. Lazarus barked once and bolted down the sidewalk, followed closely by his bug-eyed brother-in-arms, the two descending on a dark figure that lay curled up around a cardboard sign on the traffic island at Battery Street, beneath a massive bronze statue that depicted four muscular men working a metal press. It had always looked to the Emperor like four guys molesting a stapler.

Bummer and Lazarus sniffed the man beneath the statue, sure that he had to have a cat concealed among his rags somewhere. When a cold nose hit a hand, the Emperor saw the man move, and breathed a sigh of relief. With a closer look, the Emperor recognized him as William with the Huge Cat. They knew each other to nod hello, but because of racial tensions between their respective canine and feline companions, the two had never become friends.

The Emperor knelt on the man's cardboard sign and jostled him. "William, wake up." William groaned and an empty Johnny Walker Black bottle slid out of his overcoat.

"Dead drunk, perhaps," said the Emperor, "but fortunately, not dead."

Bummer whimpered. Where was the cat?

The Emperor propped William up against the concrete base of the statue. William groaned. "He's gone. Gone. Gone. Gone."

The Emperor picked up the empty scotch bottle and sniffed it. Yes, it had recently held scotch. "William, was this full?"

William grabbed the cardboard sign off the sidewalk and propped it in his lap. "Gone," he said. The sign read I AM POOR AND SOMEONE STOLE MY HUGE CAT.

"My deepest sympathies," said the Emperor. He was about to ask William how he had managed to procure a fifth of top-shelf scotch, when he heard a long, feline yowl echo down the street, and looked up to see a huge shaved cat, in a red sweater, heading their way. He managed to catch hold of Bummer and Lazarus's collars before they darted after the cat, and dragged them away from William. The huge cat leapt into William's lap and the two commenced a drunken reunion embrace that involved quantities of purring, baby talk, and drool, enough that the Emperor had to fight down a little nausea at the sight of it.

Even the royal hounds had to look away, the two realizing instinctively that a maudlin and shaved, thirty-five-pound cat in a red sweater was clearly above their pay grade. There was just no doggy protocol for it, and presently they began to turn in circles on the sidewalk, as if looking for a good place to feign a nap.

"William, I believe someone has shaved your cat," said the Emperor.

"That would be me," said Tommy Flood as he came around the side of the traffic island, scaring the bejeezus out of everyone there. A pale and delicate hand reached out from behind the island, grabbed the collar of Tommy's coat, and snatched him back around the corner as if he were a rag doll.

"Tommy?" called the Emperor. The big man stalked around the concrete art bunker. Bummer and Lazarus had headed back down the street toward the waterfront, as if they had just seen a particularly fetching porterhouse steak hopping around down there that needed to be investigated. The Emperor found his friend C. Thomas Flood, held tight in the clutches of his girlfriend, Jody Stroud, the vampire, who had her hand pressed tightly over Tommy's mouth and was furiously giving him noogies with the knuckle of her other hand. There was a hollow popping each time she connected, and muted cries from Tommy.

"Jody, I must insist that you unhand the young man," insisted the Emperor.

And she did. Tommy twisted out of her grasp.

"Ow!" Tommy said, rubbing his head.

"Sorry," Jody said. "Couldn't be helped."

"I thought you were going to leave the city with that fiend," said the Emperor. He had been there, with the royal hounds and Tommy's crew from the Safeway, when they'd done battle with the old vampire at the St. Francis Yacht Club.

"Well, yes, of course. He left already and I'm going to join him," Jody said. "Just like I promised Inspector Rivera. But I wanted to make sure that Tommy was going to be all right before I left."

The Emperor liked Jody, and had been a little disappointed when he found that she was a bloodsucking fiend, but she was a pleasant girl nonetheless, and had always been generous with treats for the men, despite Bummer's dropping into yapping fits in her presence. "Well then, I suppose that will have to do," said the Emperor. "It appears that our young writer does require some adult supervision before being set loose on the City."

"Hey, I do okay," Tommy said.

"You shaved the cat," said the Emperor, raising a wild eyebrow that looked like a gray squirrel with a Mohawk.

"I - uh, we were testing him out, to see if I should get a cat to keep me company after Jody leaves." He looked at Jody, who nodded enthusiastically while trying to look wide-eyed and sincere.

"And... and," Tommy continued, "I was chewing some bubble gum, you know, the kind that you can blow really big bubbles with - well, long story short, before I knew it, Chet had lunged at one of my bubbles and was completely covered with bubble gum."

Jody quit nodding and just stared at him.

"So you shaved him," the Emperor added.

Now it was Tommy's turn to nod and look sincere. "Regrettably."

Jody was nodding again, too. "Regrettably," she echoed.

"I see," said the Emperor. They certainly seemed sincere. "Well, the sweater was considerate."

"My idea," Jody said. "You know so he doesn't get chilled. It's actually my sweater. Tommy washed it and put it in the dryer, so it's a little too small for me."

"And don't think it was easy getting a cat that size into a sweater," Tommy said. "It was like trying to dress a ball of razor wire. I'm cut to ribbons." He pushed his sleeves up to expose his forearms, which were distinctly not cut to ribbons. They were, in fact, unmarked, if a little pale.

"Well, good show, then," the Emperor said, backing away. "The men and I will be on our way, then."

"Do you guys need anything, Your Majesty?" Jody asked.

"No, no, we have been most fortunate this evening. Most fortunate indeed."

"Well, take care, then," Jody said, even as the Emperor backed around the corner and headed up the street.

She can be deceptively pleasant for a blood-drinking agent of evil, the Emperor thought.

Bummer and Lazarus were almost out of sight, four blocks ahead. They had known, the rascals. The Emperor was disgusted with himself, leaving William there like that, at the mercy of the fiends. There was no telling what they might do, the two of them, but he felt fear chilling his spine and he couldn't make himself turn around. Perhaps they wouldn't hurt poor William. After all, they had been sweet children in life, both of them. And even in her current state, Jody had shown a certain quality of mercy by waiting until now to turn Tommy. Still, he had a city he was responsible for, and he could not shirk that responsibility.

It was a long walk to the Marina Safeway, but he had to reach it before the night crew left. As knavish as they might be, they were the only people in his city who actually had experience hunting vampires.

"Bite him," Tommy said. He was standing over the huge cat guy, who had passed out again under the statue.

Jody shook her head and shuddered. "He's filthy. Don't tell me you can't smell that." Since she'd become a vampire, she'd only experienced nausea when she tried to eat real food, but she was nauseated now, despite the hunger grating in her core.

"Here, I'll clean off a spot." Tommy fished a tissue out of his coat pocket, licked it, and cleaned a spot on William's neck. "There. Go for it."

"Yuck."

"I bit the cat," Tommy said. "You said yourself that you were starving."

"But he's hammered." Jody said. She was taking little steps in place like a little kid who has to pee.

"Bite him."

"Quit saying 'bite him. I don't think of it like that."

"How do you think of it?"

"I don't really think of it. It's sort of an animal thing."

"Oh, I see," Tommy said. "Bite him before some cops come along and take him away and you miss your chance."

"Ewww," Jody said, kneeling beside William. Chet the huge cat looked up at her from William's lap, then put his head down and closed his eyes. (Blood loss had mellowed him.) Jody pushed William's head aside and reared back with her mouth open wide as her fangs extended. She closed her eyes and bit.

"See how easy that was," Tommy said.

Jody glared at him without letting go, her breath rasping through her nose as she fed. She thought, I should have hit him harder when I had the chance. Finally, when she felt she'd taken enough to sustain her, but not enough to hurt the huge cat guy, she pulled away, sat down, and looked up at Tommy.

"You've got a little - " Tommy gestured to the corner of her mouth.

She wiped her mouth with her hand, came away with a little lipstick and a little blood. She looked at William's neck. It's was sort of a dirt-gray color, with a white spot rimmed in lipstick. The punctures from her fangs had already healed, but the lipstick sort of stood out like a target. She reached over and wiped the lipstick off with her palm, then wiped her palm off on the huge cat's sweater. Chet purred. William snored. Jody climbed to her feet.

"How was it?" Tommy asked.

"How do you think it was? It was necessary."

"Well, I mean, when you used to bite me it was kind of a sexual thing."

"Oh, right," Jody snapped. "I planned all this because I wanted to fuck the huge cat guy." She was feeling a little light-headed for some reason.

"Sorry. We should get him off of Market Street," Tommy said, "before he gets robbed or arrested. He's got to have some of the money left. That much alcohol would have killed him."

"The hell do you care, writer boy? You shaved and ate his cat. Or was that a sexual thing?" She was definitely feeling light-headed.

"That was a mutual - "

"Oh, bullshit. Bite him. See how sexual it is. Get a taste of that down-home human hemoglobin goodness, Tommy. Don't be a wuss," Jody said. Well, he was being a wuss.

Tommy stepped back. "You're drunk."

"And you're being a wuss," Jody said. "Wuss, wuss, wuss."

"Help me. Take his feet. There's a sheltered alcove over by the Federal Reserve building across the street. He can sleep it off there."

Jody bent to take the guy's feet, but they seemed to move as she reached for them, and when she corrected, she missed, and fell forward, catching herself so that she was on all fours with her ass in the air.

"Yeah, that worked," Tommy said. "How about you take Chet and I'll carry the huge cat guy?"

"Whadever, Mr. Wussyman," Jody said. Maybe she was a little tipsy. In the old days, prevampire days, she'd tried to stay away from alcohol, because it turned out that she was sort of an obnoxious drunk. Or that's what her ex-friends had told her.

Tommy picked up Chet the huge cat, who squirmed as he held him out to Jody. "Take him."

"You are not the head vampire here," Jody said.

"Fine," Tommy said. He slung Chet under his arm and, in a single movement, scooped up the huge cat guy and threw him over his shoulder with the other arm. "Careful crossing the street," Tommy called back to her as he crossed.

"Ha!" Jody said. "I am a finely tuned predator. I am a superbeing. I - " And at that point she bounced her forehead off a light pole with a dull twang and was suddenly lying on her back looking at the streetlights above her, which kept going out of focus, the bastards.

"I'll be back to get you," Tommy called.

He's so sweet, Jody thought.

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