"Tall half skinny two percent extra hot!" said in barista as he set what looked an ordinary small coffee on the counter in front a blond woman.
After Christine and I had donned our coats. We hailed a cab and suffered through higher than usual traffic. With it being Valentine's day, I was wondering how Paris was doing as far as traffic. If we were crawling along bumper to bumper with each and every of the city's countless restaurants filled to capacity, the City of Love had to be suffering tenfold spike. We did manage to find a coffee shop only a few blocks away from Bellevue on east twenty-third street between Park and Madison Avenue that didn't have line wrapped around the block.
It was standard as far as coffee shops went I suppose, if you ignored the red and pink hearts everywhere. It was simply called Soprano's. It had a long counter with a few registers at the very end near the back of the shop. Most of the counter was taken up by a display case to show off an impressive collection of pastries, cookies, cakes, and the ever famous New York bagel. I tried not stare at them too long and resisted the urge to lick my lips. I had to be the only vampire in the world that still found human food appetizing.
On the other side, separated by indoor plantbox, were dozens of small round table and chairs. They were, of course, all occupied by couples celebrating Valentine's Day. It was a smorgasbord of flirting and laughter mixed with the occasional sigh of boredom. Not to mention the palaple scent of lust blending perfectly, somehow to my nose, with coffee and perfume. It was then that I realized that it hadn't fed in about two and half nights and it had been roughly two and half months since I had sex. Like the pastries behind the glass, I tried not to stare too long and not lick my lips.
"And a quattro scissione shot latee with whip!" said the barista and set another cup of coffee down only this one had whipped cream.
"These coffees." I said to distract myself.
"What do you mean?" Christine asked.
"Driving a car is less complicated." I said.
"Some would say you're wrong."
"Right pedal go and left pedal stop." I looked at her. "What's so hard about that?"
"Even if you were right." She smirked. "You don't need a license to order coffee."
"Good thing." I remarked. "Otherwise it would take you three times." I looked up at the menu and noticed that a good majority of the menu wasn't english. "Though considering you failed Italian freshman year — Oof!"
"Alright, I get it." Christine elbowed me and tried to hide a smile. "Sometime I wonder if I should done what you did and took Latin instead."
"It wouldn't have worked out for you." I told her.
"And why is that?" She folded her arms and did a good job of pretending to look offended.
"I took Latin to improve my Spanish and Italian." I explained. "They're both just latin slang really."
"But you are Spanish and Italian." Christine reminded me. "I think you told me your — "
"We only spoke English in the house." I cut her off before she could mention my mother or anyone else from my family. "I taught myself for the most part."
It was mostly true. I never told anyone, except HER, that my grasp of Italian, or Sicilian if I was being honest, was mediocre since I hardly ever saw my mother's parents. While no one ever told me directly, I figured out eventually that they never really approved of my father and it was only the fact that he gotten my mother pregnant with me that they allowed him to marry her.
Truth be told, I didn't remember much about them other than I could hardly understand a word they said at first. I could count the times, the ones that I could recall, I saw them on two hands. At least I could say they were all pleasant and normal. My grandmother, whom I called nonie, would let me help in the kitchen which why I think my love for the culinary arts began. My grandfather, whom liked to be called nonnino, sat me in his lap and we would watch soccer, or calcio as he called it, and would translate every now and then.
I tried to recall why exactly I began see them less and less. There had been a reason for it. I knew there was. They didn't just stop visiting. For some reason, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't remember exactly how or why, but I did recall feeling confused and angry. It was exactly the same when those, for the lack of a better word, memories came to me in the moments before I fell asleep only these were solely emotion.
"Hey!" I felt someone shove me from behind. "Can't ya see the line movin'?"
I really need to keep that check. It was becoming difficult to know when I retreated into myself. Perhaps it was a side effect of my mental gift or, just as likely, it was something else SHE failed to teach me to control. A third option came to me and it was one I'd rather be wrong about. SHE had explained that over time vampires grew stronger and faster, but the difference between a one year old and five year old was hardly noticeable even under careful observation. SHE also mention that sometimes it took time for newborn, like me, to reach the normal level. From there, it would be a steady crawl that matched the rest of race. Based on that, I supposed that my gift grew along with me. I just hoped it had and reached its limit soon.
"Whadda ya deaf?!" demanded voice. "Hey!"
This time my hand instinctively shot out and seized a thick wrist. In the time it took to blink, I turned to see a Yuppie or at least he was dressed as one. His nails were meticulously clean and manicured. On his wrist, which was what I was really gripping, an expensive looking gold Rolex watch which I had seen advertisements for in yesterday's New York Times. It could be a counterfeit, but this person probably thought he wouldn't be caught dead buying even a pair of sunglasses off the street. He wore a navy blue suit and polished black loafers. His hair pristinly combed and styled. He was handsome enough and very clean shaven.
Now normally, I would have begun to slowly squeeze until he was on his knees, but normally hunger wouldn't rear it's ugly head. SHE had said that the difference between vampire and human minds was that vampire are much more in tun with their natural instincts, but wasn't to say humans had lost those instincts. The way his eyes went wide and rapid hum of his pulse I felt through the watch combined with the quick deep breath he took when we locked eyes, I might as well be a tiger and he an antelope.
"Dominick?" I heard Christine just ahead of me. "Problem?"
"No." I said after a moment and said to the Yuppie. "Just a misunderstanding, right?"
"Uh, yeah." he said as he took back his hand. "Thought you were someone else. Sorry."
"Mhm." I turned my back and returned to Christine's side.
"What was that about?" She demanded in a low whisper.
"You know how you were toying with getting a bagel or not when we walked in?"
"Imagine that bagel's relief when you said you were in the mood for scone."
"My god!" She whipped her head back to see. She apparently didn't like the effect I had on him. "He looks like he's gonna piss his pants." She turned to me. "You're not gonna bite him are you?"
"Obviously not." I said. "We surrounded by witnesses for one thing."
"And if there wasn't?" She demanded.
"Then I would have without a second thought." I told her. "I haven't eaten for almost two nights now. Plus, he was being an ass."
"So just because he annoyed you he deserves to die?"
"I wouldn't kill him." I assured. "He's too important."
"Look at him, expensive suit and shoes with hair and nails to match." I shrugged. "The watch he's wearing is a Rolex. He probably works on Wall Street or a big law firm. He goes missing and his picture will on morning news tomorrow." Then I recalled something. "A heroin dealer or mugger, on the hand, won't exactly cause too much of a stir."
I licked my lips at the thought of either catching the subway to Hell's Kitchen or East Harlem. According to Monday issue of The Times, they were prime locations if you were looking to score. Whether you were looking for a prostitute or a dealer for drugs hardly made a difference. That was when I noticed the stare I was getting.
"What?" I asked
"I'm just having a hard time hearing this from you." She looked away. "I know it's not your fault, but even drug dealers and muggers deserve to live." Then shook her head like she wasn't confident in her words. "Maybe that's just dad's bull I've soaked in over the years."
"Well, if you consider I don't have to deal with lawyers and I guarantee that they stay off the streets with no chance of getting off on a technicality." I said jokingly. "All at zero cost to the taxpayer. If you ask me, I'm a bargain." Then I noticed she wasn't in the mood for jokes just this second, I added. "Though if it makes you feel better, I make an effort to stick with multiple murderers and pedophiles."
"What part of that is suppose to make me — "
She was cut off by the barista. I had only been paying half attention, but he seemed to be having trouble taking the orders of two young women ahead of us. Apparently it had degraded into charades and miming.
"Look, ladies." The barista sighed and slid a pad and pen in front of them. "Ya holding up the line. Just write down whatcha want."
I took a quick glance at them. One had plain brunette hair while the other was a platinum blond. They both looked to in their college years. They were attractive enough and thier make-up was perfect, but simple. Their clothes, their coats and boots really, seemed high-end for me. The had a voluptuous build. Her skin was cream-colored while her friend had more a feminine shape.
I was about to do what any real New Yorker would have done and simply ordered, but that was when the blond turned to brunette and asked her in another language. That gave me another problem because I understood every word. I could intervene, but Christine would ask questions. I threw caution to the wind and decided whatever got me to a feed sooner the better.
"Que dit-il?" asked the blond.
"Je ne sais pas." said the brunette. "Je pense qu'il veut que nous écrivons quelque chose."
"Goo yang jong duh goo yang!" I muttered to myself.
"What did you say?" Christine asked.
"Nothing." I stepped behind the two girls. "Excusez-moi, mais pourriez-vous me souhaitez traduire?"
That was when I received four sets of stares. One from each of the girl, one from the barista, and one from Christine.
"Vous parlez français?"
"Qui!" I held my hand out. "Dites-moi ce que vous voulez et je vais l'écrire en anglais pour cet imbécile."
Hardly three minutes later, they were holding two large cups filled with more sugar,syrups, and milk then coffee. The barista, along with those behind us, seemed grateful.
"Thanks a bunch for that, man." he said. "You've got no idea how much I owe you."
"Yeah," I said under my breath. "Who would have thought a large coffee would be so complicated."
"Large black coffee." I snapped. "What's so hard about that?
"Do you mean a Vente?"
"No." I noticed the hunger was getting to me. Like a child, I tended to become irritable when I was hungry. "I mean a large!"
"Vente is large."
"No. Vente is twenty." I said like I was correcting a child.
"Dominick." Christine nudged me to stop talking. "It's not— "
"Large is large." I went on. "In fact, tall is large and Grande is Spanish for large. Vente is the only one that doesn't mean large. It's also the only one in Italian. Congratulations! You and this entire place is incoherent in three major languages with a significant Latin root!" I pulled a hundred dollar bill and slammed it on the counter which thankfully was not made of glass. "Now take this lady's order."
With that, I walked out and lit a cigarette. I just didn't trust myself. I gazed around. There was a couple of policemen buying coffee from food-cart parked on the corner at the end of the block. Opposite them on the adjacent corner was a middle aged black man carefully and quickly packing up dozens of sunglasses and hats. Truth be told, I thought he didn't have much to worry about. Despite it was technically illegal, most cops tend to overlook the droves of street vendors. It took him less than a minute to roll up his blanket, merchandise and all, and quickly disappear into a nearby alley.
I flicked the butt onto the ground.
That was when a thought, or instinct rather, popped into my head. His hands would be occupied so there was no chance of him drawing a weapon if he had one. He'd also be wary of an approach from behind, but not from above the fire escape only a few feet overhead solved that and there were no lights to cast a shadow. It would be child's play to climb and follow him by the rooftop. I wouldn't have to worry about the drop injuring me like a human would.
I looked up and down the block. The street was full with gridlocked cars and taxis, but their drivers were occupied shouting at the traffic and honking their horns. That meant plenty of cover, but no witnesses and a near impossible chance of anyone hearing a scream. The foot traffic was light, light considering the circumstances, and they were already occupied. I glanced behind me and saw Christine impatiently waiting for whatever she had ordered. I had a minute and a half to cross the street, ambush to street vendor, feed and glamor or feed and hide the body, and get back before Christine noticed I was gone.
I took a step just as the cigarette butt touched the ground.
"Bonjour!" called a voice.
I stumbled as I turned to see the two french girls from earlier. I steadied myself and fought to keep a straight face while we chatted. I tried several times to disengage, but they just didn't take the hint. Normally this would have been a most welcome chance. Instead of a random feed and glamor off the street, I had an opportunity for, what they would call, a one night ménage à trois as well as a feed. The problem was that Christine was with me. While we were not in a relationship, she wouldn't approve in the slightest. Ignoring the fact I was abandoning her for sex, she'd probably thought I might kill them.
We chatted for a bit and eventually I mentally canceled my dinner plans. The street vendor had been out of sight for too long and I could not track. Even if I could, I didn't have enough time to both feed and glamor/hide him. In the end they handed me a slip of paper with the name of their hotel and room number just as Christine exited the shop carrying two pastry boxes and two trays filled coffee cups.
"A bientôt, chérie!" called the blond as they walked down the street
"Si votre petite amie vous permet sans laisse ce soir." The brunette followed and they shared a laugh.
"What was that about?" Christine asked suspiciously, though I wasn't sure why.
"Oh, nothing really." I slipped the paper into a pocket and took a tray of coffee and a pastry box. "Just some harmless flirting."
"Speaking of flirting." She asked. "Where did you learn french?"
"Remember that I told you that I spent my first year stuck in my apartment?"
"Yeah." She nodded.
"Well four months of that year I listened to instructional tapes." I began walking towards Bellevue. "Come on."
"It took you four months to become fluent in french?" She asked sounding amazed.
"Only to speak it." I explained carefully. "I can't read or write and it took another two months to get the accent right."
It was true, partly. I never did bother learning written french, but I purposely left out how SHE had helped greatly with my accent and idioms if I required to pass myself as a native frenchman.
"Still," She said. "I took Italian through high school and I'm lucky I can still count to ten."
We continued walking and reached Bellevue after about five minutes. I followed Christine through the lobby. Security quickly gave me a visitor's pass and we rode the elevator and walked to a wing that sat right over the ER. Everything was a sea of white, beige, and gray with a couple of primary colors thrown polished tiled floor reeked of chemicals, faux pine scent, and ammonia. Sometimes a heightened sense of smell was more of a burden than a gift. I noticed this part was mostly offices and the like. There was also hardly anyone around. The occasional doctor in a white lab coat or nurse in scrubs passed, but they were clearly in a rush somewhere. Then I realized how late it was and most of the staff probably had gone home for the night. The hospital would probably be empty minus the patients and the ER staff.
"Here!" Christine stopped in front of a door.
I observed a door that had two very plain black plaques that appeared they were actually part of the door and couldn't be removed. The first simply read, The office of Aimé Laurie. MD. Under that one was a much larger plaque that read Head of Diagnostic Medicine, Residency in Pathology, Nephrology, infectious disease specialist.
"Hmm." I said. "That's strange."
"The other offices have the doctors' name on the side of the door with those little plaque holders that let slide the names in and out." I motioned to the door. "Why is his office different?"
"Well, he's got tenure here so he thinks he should have first pick of an office." Christine looked uncomfortable. "He kinda has a bit of an ego."
"And the story behind those?" I asked about the plaques
"They tried moving him, but he went an got the door handmade and installed here before the paperwork went trough." She shrugged. " From what I heard, the door is impossible to remove. Somehow it can still open, but it's impossible to carry out of the doorway like it's too big."
That was when the door opened on its own accord. At least that was my first impression. Half a beat later I caught a strange scent. It was not unpleasant, just different. Then I looked down and saw JRR Tolkein's inspiration for Bilbo Baggins. He couldn't be more three feet tall. He also had a large nose and olive skin. His neatly combed hair was coarse golden brown and very thick. He also had no shaved in the past few days and stubble covered his cheeks and chin.
He wore a wrinkled navy blue buttoned shirt under a light gray suit jacket with plain denim jeans and sneakers on his feet. I briefly wondered if he had a tailor or went to the opposite of a big and tall shop. I hid a smile at the thought of him shopping in the children's section trying to find clothes without cartoons on them.
I suppose I could have been wrong this man being a, for the lack of a better word, a hobbit, but his scent was not human enough. He was a supernatural being of some kind and I just didn't know what. In a world where vampires, werewolves, shifters, and fairies exist I didn't think that hobbits were too much of a stretch. I really needed to get out more.
"Well this new." He said with a surprisingly deep voice. He looked up at me for a moment before he looked at Christine. "Especially for you."
"Dr. Laurie!" Christine squeaked. "I — "
"Large, two sugars, skin and cream?" He asked.
"Uh, yeah." Christine plucked a cup from the tray I was holding and handed it to him. "Like you take it."
"Mhm." Dr. Laurie took a sip, but eyed me curiously. "At least something's going right. Come in."
Christine quickly stepped in with her tray of coffee and pastry box and I heard two voices greet her.
"Here." I bent down to hand him the coffee and pastries.
"I'd rather not." He pushed the door open and motioned for me to follow. "The scones in those boxes are bigger than me and twice my weight. Just put 'em on the table."
I stepped in and saw it wasn't exactly an office. It was more break room. A television hung in the corner on the far wall with a bookshelf filled with thick books. The carpet was thin and was a bluish gray color. There long white vertical shades along the far wall, but it was clear that this room had a view. On the wall adjacent to the door I entered from was a glass door that led to an actual office with a desk, a chair, and a computer.
"Wǒ de shén!" cried a voice.
I turned to see the other half of the room. There was a microwave tucked into the corner along with a small refrigerator and an old coffee machine covered in a thick layer of dust. There was a chalkboard facing a table. At the table sat a young black man, an attractively bookish woman, and a very terrified and angry Asian man. Other than Christine and Dr. Laurie they all wore white lab coats which meant they were all doctors. A quick sample of the air told me that the black man was the only pure human. The woman was a Were and Asian man was a shifter some sort and very large one at that.
"I can explain!" Christine said quickly.
"Get out!" exclaimed the Asian doctor "I revoke your invitation!"
"I'm afraid that won't work, Xióng ." Laurie laughed as he walked past me. "If he needed an invitation then he wouldn't have be able to get past the lobby."
"That doesn't exactly help us any." said the black doctor.
"What were you thinking bringing one these things here?!" Xióng snapped at Christine.
"He has a point." the woman turned to Christine. "Considering what's been — "
"Can we get back to the medicine?" shouted Laurie. Everyone instantly turned to look at him and he responded. "I only ask because there's a potentially dying man downstairs who might need some and it might help to narrow down the list."
"You don't honestly expect us to ignore this guàiwù." Xióng snapped. "Do you even know what they're capable of?"
"So shot in the dark." I pointed to Xióng and looked to Christine. "But I'm sensing he doesn't like me very much or is it just me?"
"He'll kill us — "
"If he wanted to kill us he would have done so already." Laurie said lazily. "So unless you have death wish, I'd suggest sitting down and start offering diagnoses that don't match any of the symptoms like you usually do." Laurie sipped his coffee. "You of all people should know what happens when you poke a sleeping bear."
"So you shift into a bear." I said in mock astonishment. "That's impressive."
"You would do well to remember that." Xióng growled. "Monster!"
"Oh, I'm a monster." I leaned forward on the table and let my fangs run out slowly. "Then perhaps you should speak softly to me then because just recently Weres and Shifters are dropping like flies."
"Ladies, ladies, ladies." Laurie said nonchalantly. "You're both very pretty and I'm sure someone will ask you to the prom. Now can we get back to the matter at hand."
"Alright." I stood up straight and said wryly. "But don't expect me to put out until I see a ring first."
Despite the tension in the room, Christine stifled a laugh. Unfortunately even the human could have heard it. Xióng shot her a look before taking his seat all the while staring daggers at me. I ignored him and drifted to the bookshelf and looked at the interesting complicated titles, but one caught my interest. I picked up History of Hematology and opened it to the first page. As I read, I was aware everyone else had begun talking.
"I know, Xióng." Laurie sipped from his coffee. "This hospital would be the greatest place in the world if it wasn't for those inconsiderate sick people who keep you from moonlight as Van Helsing."
"Now that's out of the way." the black doctor, who's name I had to learn, opened a folder. "Thirty-two year old male. Two hundred pounds. Five foot ten. Sudden and unprovoked cardiac arrest. Works as a security guard."
"Where was he when he had the attack?" Laurie asked as chewed on something.
"See? This is why Epps got the gold stars in kindergarten." Laurie mockingly praised before he paused. "Hold on. Anyone with him in bed?
"He's married." said the woman.
"Not what I asked, Wilde." Laurie clarified. "I meant was he sleeping when he had the attack?"
"He said his wife is on vacation in France." said Dr. Wilde.
"So no then." Laurie sighed. "Next."
"Hold on." said Christine suddenly. "It says here that he was alone in bed when the attack happened."
Despite being surprisingly engrossed in how there were than the four blood types I was familiar with, I chuckled.
"See?" Laurie said. "He gets it."
"Hey, vampire." Laurie called.
"D —" Christine said and I quickly cut her off.
"Donald." I said quickly.
"What?" Laurie asked.
"My name." I explained. "Donald Blake."
"Alright, Donald." Laurie motioned Christine. "Explain to her why the security guard is an open and shut case."
"Have you even been to medical school?" Xióng asked smugly.
"No." I said. "But I've never missed an episode of Doogie Howser."
"I'm starting to like to him." Laurie smiled. "Xióng, let him talk."
"His wife is in France. Since she probably told him it was going to mean they couldn't spend Valentine's day together, I'm guessing it's not a happy marriage." I explained. "Normally, I'd say he was having an affair, but it turns out they both are."
"How did —"
"Come on, the city of love on Valentine's day with her short and fat husband on another continent. If she's not having an affair, it's probably crossed her mind." I pointed to the folder. "At two hundred pounds, assuming he's not a body builder, means he probably has some heart problems or at the very least it's a strain for his heart to pump blood." I made a 'what are you gonna do' gesture with my hands. "So unhappy marriage coupled with valentine's day and both on opposite of the globe, he'd probably got a hooker and excitement was too much for his already strained heart which led to the heart attack."
"But. . ." Christine flipped through the folder. "How did . . ."
"How did he dial 911?" I asked. "He didn't. She did and disappeared before the ambulance showed up."
"Why would he lie?" Christine asked. "He could die if —"
"People lie." Laurie said lazily as he repeated a hundred times a day. "Especially stupid people."
"And bears make excellent throw rugs." I winked at Xióng. "These are things we know."
"Was that a threat?" Xióng growled.
"And you're, what, shocked and surprised?" I mocked. "You said yourself, I'm a vampire."
"Well that was pretty accurate deduction, but you're half right." Laurie held up a slip of paper. "It was erectile dysfunction medicine that caused the heart attack and the stress."
"It doesn't say that." Wilde said.
"Please, he's overweight and probably has a host of blood flow problems." Laurie motioned to me. "And working at a dead end security job. If he's not completely brain-dead then he'll probably be miserable." Laurie asked. "And Wilde here can tell you from experience it's as much as a mental issue as it a physical."
"How about this one?" Wilde open another file and made attempt to hide her annoyance. "Thirty-five year old magician. Sudden cardiac arrest."
"No history of heart disease and no angina?" Laurie asked sounding interested.
"Assuming he isn't lying, yeah." Wilde nodded.
"What was he doing?"
"It says Chinese water torture." Epps shrugged. "Whatever that is."
"Sounds like that's up your alley, Xióng." Laurie teased.
"I don't know." Xióng looked offended. "I'm not a magician."
"It's where they tie him up and lower him upside down into a tank of water." I turned a page to an old diagram of major blood vessels in the body which made my hunger rear it's ugly head again. "So that's what it's called."
"How do you know that?" Xióng demanded.
"Oh, don't feel too bad, Xióng." I looked up and smiled. "It's not actually Chinese."
"How do you know, Donald?" Christine asked putting an emphasis on my new name.
"In 1975, I saw a magician Doug Henning perform it on NBC." I explained, although I purposely left out I had been six and had been amazed by what I saw. "Houdini invented it."
"So a drowning man's heart stopped?" Laurie sighed. "That is a mystery."
"According to his assistant," Wilde turned a page in the file. "He lost consciousness almost immediately as he hit the water."
"ER confirmed." Epps took the file from Wilde. "No —"
"About everything!" Laurie rolled his eyes. "He's a magician. It's what they do. Screwed up the trick, started drowning, and he got a cardiac arrest."
"Even if he was drowning." Wilde protested. "It would have taken longer to set off—"
"Fine!" Laurie dismissed them with a wave of hand. "Go run your stupid tests. If you're wrong, you're fired."
"If I'm right, do I stay?"
"That depends." I said and looked up from the book. "If he says no, are you going to let the patient die?"
"What he said."
Everyone stood and left one by one.
"Not you, Willis." Laurie called out. "Close the door behind you, Xióng."
He did as he was asked, but paused to look at Laurie and give me a death stare which I responded with a wink.
"Take off your shirt." Laurie ordered.
"W-what?" Christine stammered.
I paused in my reading and flicked my gaze towards the diminutive doctor. In the next few seconds, it might turn out that Xióng wasn't the only one with a death wish. I just might get a feed tonight after all. It would be more like an appetizer, but it was better than nothing.
"Your shirt." Laurie repeated. "Off!"
"Uh, I'm not wearing a bra." Christine said in way of protest.
"I noticed when I opened the door." Laurie said surprisingly without leering. "It's also not why I asked. You've been favoring your right."
Christine looked to me and I carefully set the book down. Instead of removing it, she merely rolled it up to expose her hip. Christine might not have been a vampire, but clearly Shifters had increased healing as well. She'd probably have a scar, but it was better than the alternative. The hole was about the size of penny and with little bits of black caked blood around the edges. The flesh was a bright pink where there was a slight indent and the raised edges made it look it was slowly being swallowed up.
"I'm going to go out on a limb and say you had one crazy round of paintball." Laurie motioned for her to come closer.
"Ow!" She yelped.
"Hmm." He tilted his head. "It looks weeks old."
"I sense a but coming." I said.
"But," He looked up at Christine. "The dried blood hardly looks a day old." Then he looked to me and he smiled. "Ah, it was you."
"Yes." I said knowing it was pointless in denying it.
"Strange." Laurie scratched his chin. "You're kind isn't exactly knowing for treating wounds. Especially for Weres and Shifter." He asked. "What happened?"
"I made a turn down an alley and found some young wannabe tough guy calling themselves the Latin Kings or something." I made air quotes for wrong turn. "I try to pick and choose my meals so they don't cause too much of a fuss."
"And everyone would think a rival gang killed them." Laurie nodded his understanding. "Go on."
"I miscounted and she took a bullet." I said. "I thought she was some stray that wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Why help her?"
"Self interest." I half lied. "The police were closing in. If for some reason events led to humans discovering Shifters then it would be a short road to assuming that alongside Werewolves that vampires existed as well." I smoothly added. "Plus the last thing I need is her family or pack or whatever sniffing around my apartment and assuming I had something to do with it." I motioned to the wound. "I sucked out the bullet and cleaned the hole and getting my dinner in the process, dripped some of my blood into the hole, and then fed her some of my blood."
"Then why follow her here?"
"She mentioned she worked here." I shrugged. "I had plans with the coroner and thought I'd kill two birds with one stone."
"Coroner?" Christine lowered her shirt.
"She's a vampire." Laurie said. "Practically built this place."
"You know her?" I asked.
"We've met her and there." Laurie admitted. "Helped me with some of my more difficult cases."
"Here!" Laurie took a pad and scribbled on it. "Go to the pharmacy and have them fill it out. Even with your guardian angel's blood, you're going to be sore. Pop two and go down to that poser's room and assist Wilde."
"Yessir!" Christine tucked the paper into a pocket. "Come on, Don."
"Mind if I borrow this?" I held up the book.
"A bit of light reading?" Laurie asked. "Or considering a career choice?"
"A bit of both." I admitted. "Saves me the time figuring it out over the next hundred years."
"Better things to do?"
"Well, it's a bit cliche, but I've always wanted to sing on Broadway."
"Keep it." Laurie said as he reached for a danish. "My way of saying thanks for getting her to work and spicing up an otherwise boring night."
Christine and I both exited together. We walked down the hallway and rode the elevator down. It would have been in silence but Christine broke it hardly a second after the doors closed.
"Donald Blake?" She asked.
"No, I meant what's with the new name?"
"As far as everyone knows, Dominick Valentino is dead." I said. "I can't go around using my name with everyone I meet."
"I guess you're right." She nodded reluctantly. "But why Donald Blake?"
"When Marvel introduced Thor in '62, he had an alter ego like every super hero." I smiled. "Thor's human name was Dr. Donald Blake."
"Oh." Christine said. "I didn't think you still read those things."
"Seems kinda weird to read about guy who can bench-press a car, run at the speed of light, and fly when you can do it yourself."
"I never thought about it that way." I said. "The way you put it, I'm a pair of tights and a cape away from living every nerd's dream."
"I can it see now." Christine laughed. "Asleep during the day, but villains beware the darkness."
"I am vengeance. I am the night." I said in a dramatic voice. "I. Am. Batman!"
"So I gotta work on the name." I smiled and looked at her "Not to mention a sidekick."
"Yeah, you're right." I teased. "You'd be my Lois Lane."
"I've already saved you once." I pretended to muse. "What's a few more dozen times?
Rather than respond, she punched my arm.
"Okay." I made a show of rubbing my arm. "Any chance we can split those pills?"
With that we walked together down several halls and corridors. I was beginning to understand why my kind were attracted to hospitals. It was an effort not stop every time the scent of blood passed me by. It didn't matter if it was an old man who was bleeding through a slight cut from scratching at a cast or a janitor pushing a trash bag that had a large amount of bloodstained scrubs and bandages. It was becoming difficult not to think of of a way to disappear and head to the ER. This was a New York hospital. There had to be some unfortunate soul that was not long for this world. I wasn't sure if Christine was aware of it or not, but she made no mention of it either way.
We reached a room, but it was empty.
"Excuse me," Christine asked a plump black nurse who's had several paper cuts. "Where is Dr. Wilde and the patient."
"O.R." the nurse said lazily. "Something happened when they tried to give him an MRI."
To my surprise, Christine took off in a flash running down a hallway and disappearing when she hung a left.
"Looks like Laurie found a case then." the nurse said to herself.
"That or she really wants him for a birthday party." I smiled polite. "Any chance you can tell me how to get to the O.R ?"
"You can't go inside, but you can look in the observation deck."
Unlike Christine, I walked. I knew I had a perfect opportunity to find a much needed meal. So why didn't I do that? Truth be told, I wasn't sure myself. Perhaps it was that for the first time in months, I felt some semblance of content. Sure, I'd rather that Christine and could catch up over a drinks or take in a movie, but it was enough that I had friend who didn't demand I drop whatever I might be doing to rub her belly. At least not until the full moon in three weeks.
I eventually reached the observation deck. To my surprise, Christine was there as well and it was clear her wound hadn't healed as well as Laurie thought. It was either that or she had sustained another injury in the three minutes it took for me to reach the observation deck. I could smell the blood in the air. She was speaking into an intercom.
"A fungus in his lungs?" Christine asked.
"It would lead to decreased oxygen saturation." Wilde said over the intercom. "Which leads to cardiac failure."
"The E.R didn't pick up anything." Christine sounded confused.
"They wouldn't be looking for it." Wilde continued. "They'd be too busy keeping him alive."
"What should I do?"
"Find out what causes internal bleeding without trauma while we stabilize him." Wilde said. "Get me three bags of AB positive!"
"Doogie Howser never got this intense." I said.
"Not now." She snapped. "This isn't the time for jokes."
"It's also not the time for the hundred meter dash."
"There." I pointed. "You're bleeding."
"What?" She looked down and sighed. "Damn it!"
"Come here." I set the book down.
"Uh, that's alright." She protested. "I'm fine."
"But I'm not." I said. "I'm hungry and you bleeding like a stuck pig is really distracting."
"What are you going to do?"
"Stop the bleeding."
I carefully made sure no one was watching us and noticed that the observation deck was hardly more than small corridor. There were a line of cushioned benches opposite floor to ceiling windows overlooking an operating room. It was currently filled with the patient and half a dozen nurses and doctors in light green scrubs and surgical masks.
I let my fangs run out and stealthily pricked a finger tip. Before she could ask I intended to do, I slipped my hand up her shirt and dabbed my blood into the hole. I guessed it would stop the bleeding and speed up the healing process a tad.
"Better?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah." She said clearly uncomfortable. "Thanks."
I retrieved my hand and saw my palm was slightly stained with Christine's blood. I suppose it was possibly rude and creppy for me to lick it clean and follow it up with a longing licking of my lips, but I'm not perfect.
"It's really hard for you isn't it?" Christine said softly. "Being around so many people who are hurt."
"Yeah." I admitted as I sat down. "I'm starting to think this is how a lion feels at the zoo."
"What do you mean?"
"All that blood and excitement down there." I nodded towards the windows. "And I'm stuck up here." I realized I didn't like that pitying look on she was giving me. I forced a smile. "But it helps if I can keep my mind busy. So what's wrong with our Houdini wannabe?"
"Internal bleeding." Christine said sounding grateful for the change in subject. "With no trauma."
"What can cause that?"
"It's a long list." She sighed. "Liver disease or a Vitamin K deficiency."
"Is it possible that the E.R doctors missed something?"
"They would have noticed something chronic like liver disease. It could be an intestinal infarct."
"So assuming no one missed anything, then something happened between being stabilized in the E.R and having an MRI." I paused when I realized something. "What is an MRI?"
"It's medical jargon for magnetic resonance imaging." She explained patiently. "Short version, it's like an x-ray that uses really powerful magnets to see organs and anything softer than bone."
"Magnets?" For some reason it stuck out to me.
"Yeah. It's why no metal is allowed in the room."
"Because the second you turned the machine on, anything metal would be like shoot through the air like a bullet." A thought came to me. "Is there anything in history about car accident?"
"What does that have to with anything?"
"Remember when Eric broke his wrist when a car clipped him on his bike?" I asked. "Didn't they put metal screws or pins to set it?"
"Oh my god!" Her eyes went wide. "You're right!"
"Half right actually." said a voice.
We both turned. Well, Christine wheeled and jumped while I turned my head casually. I had heard her enter. Her vampiric scent mixed with a slight hint of cleaning alcohol and french perfume told me all I need to know. When she spoke, it was just a confirmation.
"Hello, Sally." I tried to hide a smile at Christine's reaction.
"This is Christine." I said quickly.
The last thing I needed was for Christine to learn I'm the dreaded Ductor. With her father being a Were, it wasn't too far fetched that she had family members among the dead. Even if she didn't, the fact that Ryuu and his nest had obliterated the Mahingan pack which had included innocent children would definitely cause her to look at me differently. She already did that enough.
"This is certainly new." Sally remarked.
"A vampire and a Shifter not tearing each other to pieces?" I smiled. "Well, Christine and I are old friends." I turned to her. "Right, Christine?"
"Uh, yeah." She said. "I,um, knew Dominick when he, uh, was human?"
"You sound unsure." Sally teased.
"She's still getting used to the fact of our condition."
"Do I make you uncomfortable?" Sally winked playfully. "I won't bite."
"What dose it take for you people to get that is not funny?" Christine demanded.
"Spirited." Sally smiled teasingly. "I like her."
"What did you mean I was half right?" I asked.
"The patient is a magician is he not?" Sally asked. "Not a genuine one, but an illusionist?"
"Yes." i said. "Chinese Water Torture."
"Ah, I see." Sally looked over and licked her lips at the bloody sight. It was the reason I avoided looking directly. "I was there one of the many times Houdini performed it in 1912." She smiled at me. "Have you figured out how it is done?"
"No." I said. "But in the interest of time could you just tell me?"
"Very well." Sally shrugged. "I said you were only half right because it is true that if a piece of metal was holding a joint or bone in place, it would be ripped out when an MRI was attempted. There are many ways and variation, but Houdini simply relied on the simple method of keeping a key to his bonds in his mouth."
"So he swallowed a key and didn't notice it?" I asked.
"All magicians learn to control their gag reflex." Sally explained. "From what I've seen it is fairly simple to learn and is the basis for many tricks, like having a dove appear out the mouth."
"I'd get down there." I told Christine.
"I'll just use the intercom." she said.
"You want to impress Laurie?" I asked.
"It'd be a big help."
"Then get down there, put on some scrubs, and pull a key out of spleen." I smiled amusingly. "And don't forget to say, nothing in my hands and nothing up my sleeve while you do."
Christine rolled her eyes, but quickly left through the door.
"You really are a strange one." Sally said once Christine was out of earshot.
"How so?" I asked, although I had a feeling I knew why.
"You have made many enemies among the two-natured of the city and Long Island not even a year ago." Sally reminded me. "Now you aid and fraternize with one."
"It seems you are having a difficult time deciding on which side of genius and insanity to remain upon."
"It's complicated. I haven't told her that I'm the Ductor. I'm not sure how she'd react." I told her. "We were friends when I was human. One of the few to treat me with any decency. I happened to walk by an alley while she was being mugged."
"She is a Shifter. They can take care of themselves." Sally said callously. "If a few pathetic humans can overpower her then she deserves it."
"The alley was too full of rotten garbage to catch her scent." I chose not agree with her on whether Christine did deserve whatever misfortune fell upon her. "Had I waited, then I would seen her shift. Instead, I jumped in and killed them. I was careless and she took a bullet." I finished. "I manage to carry her to my nest. I healed her wound."
"Your nest?" Sally frowned. "How did you convince your maker and your nestmates?"
"Do you remember the night we met?" I asked.
"In the weeks before that my nestmates all left one by one." I tried to sound matter of fact and not let any emotion into my voice. "The night before we met, my maker had me running to Brooklyn then to Mill Neck on Long Island before bringing back Westbury." I paused to let that sink in. "That was the last of I saw her."
"Am I to understand you have been without guidance since we last spoke?"
"Yes." I added. "I'm assuming Mai has told Matthew by now and I'll probably return to find out what he plans. It's part of the reason I'm tagging along with Christine. Like you pointed out, who would think to find the Ductor in company with Shifters and Weres?"
"You think he means to kill you?" Sally looked surprised. "You are young, yes, but he would be a fool to do so. He will likely invite you under his command."
"And if I refuse?"
"Why would you?"
"Sally, I spent my entire human life keeping my head down and out of trouble." I took a moment to gather my thoughts. "I could go on in greater detail, but I'm done surviving."
"So you wish to end your life by proxy rather than by your own hand?"
"What? No!" I shook my head. "I want to live! I want to experience everything that was denied and taken away from me. If I read a book, it will because I desire to and because someone else thinks himself above such a menial task. If I leave the city, it will be my choice as will the destination and not to further no one's agenda other than my own." I finished with. "I am through with following orders for others."
"Ah, the rebellion of youth." Sally nodded her understanding.
"It is a phase all newborns experience." Sally explained. "Eventually all vampire think they are too powerful for rules and order. It will pass."
"And if it doesn't?"
"Then I suggest you hone your gift as a warrior would his blade. It will go a long way in keeping you alive." Sally said respectfully. "Young you may be, but your intellect might just allow to stand with those that rule whom have had centuries of experience."
"I'll keep that mind." I said. "But I have no desire to rule."
"Still, you could not do worse then our current king." Sally frowned. "Would you believe he demands half of my pay in addition to the taxes deducted by the city, state, and federal government?"
"I thought it was strictly businesses owned by our kind."
"It was." Sally growled. "But it seems that his subjects are leaving and he wishes to make up for lost revenue."
I would have commented on that, but Christine came back in. She wasn't wearing any bloodstained scrubs or gloves, but the scent of it clung to her like the most alluring and tantalizing perfume ever made. I clenched my jaw and fought the urge to clamp on her neck.
"Hey, Dom." She paused then spoke to Sally. "You were right. We found a key, It ripped his spleen to shreds, but they managed to stop the bleeding."
"So what next?" I asked.
"Nothing until he recovers." Christine said. "Laurie is giving me the rest of the night to catch up on his paperwork."
"If this Laurie is the same short man I know then he always has his underlings deal with such tasks." Sally said. "His ego is surprisingly large for one like him, but then again I suppose he is somewhat entitled to it."
"I just need head up to his office." Christine asked. "Meet me at the lobby?"
"Sure." I said.
"Thanks." She looked to Sally. "Both of you."
I waited for a moment and asked Sally. "Can I ask you for a favor?"
"What is it?"
"I haven't had time to hunt these past two nights." I explained. "Any chance you have some blood to spare?"
"Luckily for you, the hospital just got a delivery of blood last night." Sally nodded. "It's not uncommon for a bag or two to become damaged upon arrival and disposed of by some unknown employee." Sally motioned. "Go on. I will send an intern."
I thanked Sally for the blood and made way to the lobby. I hardly waited two minutes before a young thin black man with glasses walked up to me and wordlessly handed me a brown paper bag. Once he left, I peered inside the bag and smiled. It seemed Sally had her own gift. Instead of leaving the blood in the transfusion bags, she had poured it into twenty ounce soda bottles. The bottles bore the label of generic fruit punch. I took one out and unscrewed the cap.
I was midway through the bottle when Christine returned.
"Alright, I'm ready to go." She asked."What are you drinking?"
I ignored her and kept drinking. I was too occupied in not starving.
Again, I ignored her. Unfortunately, she made a mistake and grabbed my shoulder. While I didn't shove her against a wall like Mai had when I interrupted her feed, I'm sure me hissing her with blood stained fangs was warning enough. Luckily the lobby was practically empty and the nurse tending to the desk had just disappeared behind the door to the lady's room.
"D-D-Dom?" She stuttered. "It's m-me, remember?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that." I swallowed and licked my lips. "It's a reflex."
"Oh." She asked."W-where did y-you get that blood?"
"Sally gave me some." I held up the bag. "One of the perks of working in a hospital."
"That's not for eating." Christine said. "What if someone needs that?"
"The hospital just got a delivery last night." I protested. "It's only two bottles." I noticed she looked like she wanted to say something. "It's either this to keep going for the night or drain someone dry tomorrow."
"So going home?" I asked as I sipped at the bottle.
"Actually, I was wondering if you knew any cheap hotels nearby." Christine explained. "I'd rather not go home right now. My dad'll just have Laurie come out to us since he's the only Supe doctor within a hundred miles."
"Something wrong with my place?"
"Are you sure?" She asked.
"As long you promise not to order pizza or garlic chicken." I smiled warmly. "Plus, it'll give us time to catch up."
"I still need to catch up on Laurie's paperwork." She warned.
"I know what you mean." I teased. "I have a hard time talking and writing at the same time too."
"Alright." She laughed. "It's not like I have any cash anyway."
Instead of a taxi, we rode the subway and emerged on the corner of Broadway and Canal Street. Traffic was still heavily congested as were the crowds on the streets, but I didn't care. I had enough blood so my hunger was no longer clawing away at my thoughts. Christine had calmed down from what had happened at the lobby and seemed to be more accepting of my condition.
It might take some time and effort, but I might just get my friend back. I decided not to tell her about my identity as the Ductor. At least, not right away. Vampire/Shifter relations were difficult enough without any extra obstacles. I knew eventually she'd deduce my gift, which I wouldn't hesitate to admit, but she couldn't guess I was the Were equivalent of the boogieman. After all, the rumor was the Ductor was supposedly turned during the ancient Roman empire. As far as Christine was concerned, the vampire at her side was nothing more than old friend who was making the best of an impossible situation.
We reached my building and rode the elevator up to the twelfth floor. We chatted about our old friends and what they had gone on to do as we casually walked to door 221B. I had barely reached for my keys when the door opened on its own accord. I froze when I saw who had opened the door.
Mai stood with a surprised look on her face. She wore the same clothes as last night, although she wore a bit more jewelry and a bit more make-up. At her feet was another camping pack presumably stuffed with large bundles of singles. She had told me the Weres were dragging thier feet with thier payment and I would receive other half in a few days' time. No doubt Matthew had grown impatient and demanded they get with the program.
"Well," Mai smiled like a fox. "Isn't this a surprise."
"Dominick?" Christine took a step back from this potentially dangerous vampire. "Who is this?"
"My words exactly." Mae looked to me. "Would care to tell me who is this, Ductor?
"Ductor?" Christine's eye went wide at my alias. "Why did she call you that?"
"I take it you have not told her yet." Mai smiled triumphantly.
"Ni ta ma de!" I cursed under my breath. "Tianxia suoyoude ren. Dou gaisi."
I was beginning to think that, if reincarnation held any truth, I had seriously angered each and every deity known to man. After all, so much bad luck on one person in the whole grand scheme of the universe couldn't be merely coincidental.