CODE BLOOD

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Chapter Twenty

While A Li thought about three-eyed vampires, Markus drove up the 405 and glanced in his rearview mirror. He wasn’t checking the midday traffic or searching for the highway patrol. He was looking at the black bag that held Audra’s body. It still rested against the back of the seat, held in place by the seat belt. Markus was certain he saw movement inside the bag. Was Audra about to unzip it from the inside? Would he look back and suddenly see her sitting there, as though nothing had happened? Would she smile, climb into the front seat next to him?

He pulled off the freeway, parked on the shoulder and reached back to unzip Audra’s cocoon. When he opened it, he saw that her skin had turned a faint purple color and looked waxy. Her sensual lips, as well as her finger and toenails, had faded to white as her blood had drained away. Her dark eyes were receding into her skull. The stiffness of death had progressed from her eyelids, neck and jaw to all of her other muscles. Whatever Markus thought he had seen, Audra had not moved. Her days of supple erotic dancing were over.

He zipped up the bag and drove back onto the 405. The K and the X had worn off, leaving only the overload of Vicodin in Markus’ body. The drug was upsetting his stomach. His skin felt clammy and his heartbeat was so slow, it seemed to pulse only once a minute.

The night before seemed like a dream.

He had actually killed someone—it had been so easy, just like an online game.

Maybe it was an online game.

Was it a mistake?

Audra was just a hooker.

Would he be caught?

No one cared about her.

Was she worth more dead than alive?

YES. In the early hours of the morning, Markus had come up with a brilliant idea.

When Markus drove into the parking lot at Gates of Heaven, he saw Grisha the thug, in his blue suit, watering the alyssum. As Markus opened his door, Grisha turned the hose toward him, but was too far away.

“Hey, you little creep,” Grisha shouted. “I’m still washing your vomit off my flowers.”

“Screw you, retard,” Markus said, but not loud enough for Grisha to hear him.

Grisha turned off the water and approached the car. “Got our money?”

Markus tried to stand up straight and present a strong front to Grisha. “I’ve got something better,” he said. He pushed his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose, closer to his eyes. The sunlight was deadly.

“Oh yeah, what?” Grisha said.

“I’ll discuss it with Alexei.” Markus said, and walked around to the other side of the car. He opened the door and pushed the front seat forward. He struggled to pull the body bag out of the back, choosing to bear the pain in his back rather than ask Grisha for help. Audra’s body seemed even heavier than the previous night. After much effort, Markus laid the bag on the parking lot cement.

Alexei came out of the funeral parlor and down the stairs. Today, he wore jeans and a white T-shirt. Even though he was big and fleshy, Markus could see that Alexei had a lot of muscle. He had tattoos on his bare arms and under the thin material of the T-shirt, Markus made out stars on Alexei’s shoulders and an elaborate design that looked like religious figures on his chest. He recognized them as the Russian prison tattoos that Audra had once described. “Every prisoner’s life history is tattooed on his body,” she had told him. “If he has barbed wire on his arms, the number of barbs will tell you how many years he spent in prison.”

“Da nu,” Alexei said. “What is this?” He touched the body bag with the toe of his shoe.

“It’s the money I owe you. In fact, now you owe me money.” Markus bent down slowly, unzipped the top of the bag and opened it far enough so that Alexei and Grisha could see Audra’s head and neck.

Grisha unzipped the bag further and took a closer look.

“It’s a body,” Markus said, “a beautiful body with a lot of valuable parts.”

Alexei ignored the bag and glared at Markus. “You brought us a body?”

“That’s right. And the parts are worth more than the whole.” Markus smiled at his clever joke.

Now Alexei bent down to look inside. “Prid`urok, you idiot,” Alexei hissed. “How long she has been dead?”

Markus counted. “About eight hours, give or take.”

“She will start to rot soon. Her face will be gone by tonight. She will turn green, and she will stink. What are we supposed to do with her?” Alexei slapped the side of Markus’ head, knocking his dark glasses onto the cement. “Do you think you can just bring us dead body? You think we are criminals?”

“Alexei, I—” Markus’ face stung.

Alexei grabbed him by the shirt and shoved him with such force that Markus stumbled backwards and fell. When he hit the cement walk, his back erupted in pain. “Oww!” he cried out.

Alexei ignored his exclamation. “What do you think happens to organs? You think we can take heart that has stopped for eight hours, put in freezer and use later? Idiot.”

Grisha unzipped the bag further and looked at Audra’s upper body. “Nice tattoos,” he said.

“You are an idiot too,” Alexei said to Grisha. “Close bag. Who can use graft of green skin with tattoo on it?” Alexei glanced at the tattoos on his own arms, and gave Grisha an angry stare.

Grisha zipped up the bag.

“Who is woman?” Alexei asked.

“My bitch.” Markus stood up, grimaced from the pain in his back and rubbed his shoulder. He picked up his sunglasses. One of the lenses was cracked and the frame was bent. He put them on anyway. The light was killing him.

“Who’s gonna be looking for her?” Grisha asked.

“No one,” Markus said. “She ran away from home. In Ohio. Six years ago.”

“Get her out of here,” Alexei said to Markus.

“What am I supposed to do with her?” Markus whined. “I brought the body for you. Take it. We’ll call it even. You don’t have to pay me anything. You keep all the profits.”

Alexei turned and whispered something in Grisha’s ear. Grisha nodded and smiled. “So,” Alexei said. “You are good friend and we are going to help. We will give her AAS.” Alexei smiled.

“What?” Markus said. “Ass?”

“AAS. Aerial ash scattering,” Alexei said. “A cremation and release of ashes into ocean, out near Catalina. She will share container with another lady.”

“You’ll take care of this?” Markus smiled. “Thanks Comrade.” He thought maybe Alexei wasn’t such a bad fuck after all. Markus started for his car, anxious to be done with the Russians.

Grisha stepped in front of him. “Cremains,” Grisha said. “Skin and hair go first. Soft tissue, guts and other organs burn next. The brain is the slowest to fry. Do you want us to save your girlfriend’s brain? Does she have one?”

“We will take care of problem,” Alexei said. “Tseluyu.” Alexei walked over to Markus, grabbed his head with both hands and kissed his forehead. “I am sorry for your loss. I am sure you want to pay for ash scattering. Yes?” He turned to Grisha. “What does premium AAS cost? Special prayers, fancy container, flower drop?”

“What kind of flowers?” Grisha asked.

“I think $1,500 cost,” Alexei said, answering his own question. He turned to Markus. “You want best for your girlfriend, no?”

“I—”

“So, now you owe $3,900.”

“I—”

“No. Mistake. You paid already $175. We are honest, we don’t cheat. You owe $3,725.”

Markus saw Alexei’s smile that was not a smile.

“We are like bank,” Alexei continued. “You owe money. We charge interest. Today is September 15. If you don’t pay us end of week, is $3,925. At end of two weeks, amount is $4,125. Ponimaju? Understand?”

Grisha approached Markus, but not to kiss him. He put his arm around Markus’ throat and tightened his grip. Markus saw the blue sleeve of Grisha’s suit jacket under his chin. He couldn’t breathe and he knew what was about to happen.

It happened.

Grisha jerked him backwards and pain shot up his back.

Markus cried out.

Grisha still held him.

“Stick out tongue,” Alexei said.

“What?” Markus sputtered. He could barely speak with Grisha’s arm around his throat.

“Stick out tongue,” Alexei repeated.

Markus showed the tip of his tongue.

“You are precious person,” Alexei said. “In Africa, albinos body parts very valuable. Full set bring $75,000.”

Grisha released Markus. Pain shot up his back. “Full set?” Markus said.

“Arms, legs, ears, nose, tongue and genitals,” Alexei said. “You have nice genitals?”

Markus was silent.

“Fisher men tie arm to fishnet, get bigger fish. Miner put ear and tongue outside hole. Find big jewels. Shepherds take genitals and—”

“No!” Markus shouted.

“Yes,” Grisha said.

“You don’t pay us, we ship you in ice chest to Tanzania. Albinos big prize and big money, even after cost of air freight.”

Markus stood, stunned, imagining his body parts, his cock, in an ice chest on the way to Tanzania. Where was Tanzania?

“See you soon,” Grisha said. He picked up the body bag with Audra still in the sitting position, slung it over his shoulder as if it were a small sack of potatoes and carried it up the steps into the funeral parlor.

“So,” Alexei said. “Ischezni! Get lost.”

Markus’ eyes hurt as he drove home. He was having difficulty seeing through the broken right lens of his sunglasses. He twisted and shifted in his seat, trying to ease the pressure on his lower back. It didn’t work. He thumbed open the plastic medicine bottle and emptied two Vicodin into his mouth. He had no water and swallowed them dry. The pills left a strong, bitter taste and lodged in his throat.

Life seriously sucked. How could this be happening? The fucking Russians were threatening to chop him up! He pulled out his cell phone and tried to find Drakkar’s number in San Diego and drive at the same time. It was the middle of the afternoon and the Big D was probably still sleeping in his coffin. Markus knew he couldn’t reach him until the sun went down, but wanted to leave a message. Now.

He pulled to the side of the freeway, found Drakkar’s number in his cell phone memory and called. “Hey, how are ya?” Markus said, trying to sound jovial on the voice mail. “It’s Markus. I’m sure you’re asleep, but call me tonight. As soon as possible. It’s important.” Markus sent a text message as well, put his phone away and looked at the digital clock in his car. It was just after 2:00 p.m. He felt terrible and needed some sleep. First, he had to go home, gather all of Audra’s stuff and find a place to dump it.

Before he could get back on the 405, Markus’ cell phone rang. He looked at the ID and saw that Drakkar was already returning his call. “Hey Drak,” Markus said, pressing the phone to his ear. “What’re you doing up and around at this hour?”

“I might ask you the same. What’s up?”

“I have a dinero problem.”

“What’s new?”

“I owe somebody big time. There’s gonna be epic trouble if I don’t pay him. I could be dead.”

“That’s about as serious as it gets. What about the Bombay Blood?”

“What about it?”

“Can you get it?”

“I think so. Uh, yeah, sure, definitely.”

“How much?”

“What?”

“How much can you get?”

“How much do you want?”

“I’m coming up to L.A. tonight. Let’s talk about it. Can you meet me at the Santa Monica Pier, at the very end past the harbor office? Seven-thirty?”

“The Pier? Ha. Last time I was there I was online in a scene from the Masquerade, after I found the mummy in the sarcophagus.”

“Get serious.”

“I’ll be there. Thanks man.” Markus felt better. Drak was a true friend, always ready to help. He pulled out onto the 405, narrowly missing another car.

Markus thought about it. How much blood could he get from the China Doll?

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