CODE BLOOD

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Chapter Twenty Two

On Wednesday evening, before he left his apartment, Markus downed three more Vicodin. While it was in his bloodstream, it left him feeling light headed, almost euphoric. When the drug wore off, the pain in his lower back and tailbone was acute.

He drove the short distance to Ocean Avenue, parked and walked under the neon sign down the ramp onto the thick rough wood planks of the Santa Monica Pier. A hot dry Santa Ana wind blew at his back, sucking the moisture out of the air. He was early for his meeting with Drakkar. The September days were getting shorter and at 7:20 p.m., the sun was setting into a pool of gold in the ocean. Seagulls circled the pier, crying out to one another. The warm weather had drawn a big weekday crowd to the shore and the last beach visitors stopped to wash sand off their feet before heading for the parking lot. Markus looked down and watched the breaking surf leave a sheet of white foam. It was high tide and the ocean rocked back and forth. Markus drifted along, moving with the water and the Vicodin toward the end of the pier.

The day people departed and the night crowd arrived. Salsa music blared out of RUSTY’S. Near the red plastic tables and umbrellas of the food court, the smell of the ocean mixed with the aroma of burgers, pizza and fried shrimp. When Markus walked beyond Rusty’s, he smelled the odor of chemical toilets. Sounds of bells, whistles, electronic music and shouts and screams spilled from the Playland arcade. Gang bangers with gold jewelry, wearing shorts that hung down to their ankles, stood around flirting with their girlfriends. Teenagers stood in groups, holding stuffed animal prizes and eating cotton candy.Tired, cranky children cried as their parents dragged them away from the games and the noise.

A Santa Monica police car rolled slowly through the throng and an officer in the passenger seat looked directly at Markus. A wave of panic washed through him and he thought of Audra. What if they arrested him for murder? Everything was going wrong. How had he gotten into this mess with Alexei? Was Grisha coming to hurt him? Would he be dismembered and sent to Africa in an ice chest? Would he ever get the China Doll’s blood? Did he need surgery on his tailbone? For a moment, his life seemed out of control. His lower back throbbed. His head buzzed. His mind lurched from thought to thought. Markus wanted to curl up and let his mother hold and protect him.

In the fading sunlight, Markus looked down the pier. A figure dressed in black approached him. Was it Drakkar? He focused his weak eyes until he saw that it was someone in Darth Vader attire, carrying a helmet under his arm. The street performers in costumes, the artists, vendors and the musicians with guitars and metal drums were all finished for the day and heading home. Only the woman who advertised, “YOUR NAME ON A GRAIN OF RICE,” remained at her stand.

Markus went in search of Drakkar. As he passed the small pier amusement park, the whole area erupted in illumination. Strobe lights everywhere began to flash. Neon beams—Purple Red Pink White Blue Purple Red Pink White Blue—pulsed along the spokes of the Ferris wheel. Bulbs sparked on and off on the rails of the small roller coaster. Two dolphin statues at the entrance to the fun house exploded with light. Blinded, Markus covered his eyes and moved as fast as he could manage toward the darkness at the end of the pier. He needed new sunglasses.

The farther he went, the quieter it became. Markus passed anglers carrying disassembled poles, tackle boxes and coolers. A few lovers sat on the benches kissing or leaning over the railing looking into the dark water below. At the terminus of the pier, the oversize windows of the Harbor Patrol station were black. A solitary red blinking light on a mast overhead shed a faint red hue. The sun disappeared on the horizon and a quarter moon began its journey across the sky. Markus listened to the waves crashing against the pilings below and waited for his friend. He had never been on the Santa Monica Pier, but this spot was so familiar. When he played Vampire: The Masquerade online, the game always ended in a confrontation at the end of the pier with Sebastain LaCroix, the leader of the Camarilla Clan in Los Angeles. Usually, Markus slashed LaCroix’s throat and then waited for the Anarchs to arrive and then—

“Arrrrrgh!”

Someone screamed, lunged out of the shadows, grabbed Markus around the waist from behind and shoved him toward the rail.

GRISHA!

Grisha was about to throw Markus into the water. The Russian’s tight grip caused a wave of pain to shoot up his back. Markus was too frightened to call for help. He could already feel the cold dark ocean swallowing him, dragging him under.

“Gotcha!”

Drakkar released Markus and laughed. “How you doing, white one?” He grabbed Markus in a bear hug.

“Oh shit, that’s not funny. I thought I was going in the water.” Markus waited for the pain in his back to ease and looked at his friend in the weak red light. Drakkar was tall and thin, almost skeletal. His face was drawn, cheeks hollow. Thick black hair hung down to his shoulders. “You losing weight?” Markus asked.

“I’m eating a lot and taking vitamins, but my chakras are out of balance. I need some new blood.”

“I wish that were my only problem.”

“What kind of trouble are you in?”

“I owe a fucking Russian some money.”

“Not good. What for?”

“A hand.”

“A hand? A hand? You’ve got to be kidding. You still messing around with body parts?”

Markus nodded. “Do you think it’s possible to ship iced body parts from here to Tanzania?”

“How should I know? Are you starting a business?”

“I just wondered,” Markus said.

“How’s Audrey?”

“Audra? She took off.” Markus wanted to tell Drakkar everything he had done. He wanted someone to share his burden, but he kept silent. “Listen, Drak, I have to come up with almost four thousand bucks as fast as possible, I need some help.”

Drakkar walked over to the railing and looked into the darkness below. “Can you get the Bombay Blood?”

“Yes.”

“How soon?”

“Right away, I think.”

“Good. D’you know what I can do with it?” He turned to look at Markus and his gaunt face became animated. “I’ve got 30 nightwalkers in my blood family in San Diego alone who would kill to get an ounce of Bombay.”

“That’s great.”

“Great? It’s mystical. When you’re feeling down, imagine what a spoonful could do for you. D’you know what I mean? It’s life energy. A little sip once a week for extra strength, sexual stamina, spiritual nourishment, whatever. Every Goth girl in Southern California would kill to have a vial of Bombay Blood around her neck.”

“Sounds good, but what I need to know is how much money I can get and I need it as soon as possible.”

Drakkar nodded. “We’ll go 50-50. I can probably get $100 an ounce. There’s 16 ounces in a pint, right? So, I might be able to sell three or four pints. That would bring in about five or six thousand.”

“So I would get three thousand? That’s not enough. I’m still short. Is that all you can do?”

“On short notice? That’s about it. Give me some time to get organized, and I can sell a lot more. Is this woman clean? She doesn’t have anything, does she? I don’t deal in blood that hasn’t been tested.”

“There’s nothing in her medical records. She’s from somewhere in China and she’s working on her PhD. That’s all I know. She’s not a skank. All you have to do is look at her.”

“Who knows what goes on in China? I can’t just sell anything. I’ve got someone at a lab in San Diego who checks all my blood. “

“How long does that take?”

“A while. There’s different tests.”

“Drak, I can’t wait a month for some retard in a lab to fiddle with a bunch of test tubes. I need the money by Monday.”

“If you bring it down Friday, there’s one test he can do right away. If it’s clean, I’ll take it to my feeding circle Saturday night. We’re having a dusk to dawn event.”

“It’ll be there before lunch. I’ll bring it down myself.” Markus realized he couldn’t wait to catch the China Doll in the tunnel next Monday. He would have to corner her tomorrow night in her lab.

“Have you thought about how you’re gonna get three or four pints out of this woman?” Drakkar asked. “That’s half her blood.”

“I’ve got ether. I’ll put her out.”

“You’ll kill her.”

“Let me worry about that.” Markus didn’t care what happened to the China Doll. The important thing was to get her blood, and the money.

“You’re right,” Drakkar said, walking away from the railing, “I don’t want to know any details. Leave me out of that part. Just deliver the blood.”

“Don’t worry, I will.” Markus rubbed his tailbone with his hand and grimaced.

“What’s the matter?”

“I hurt my back. Actually one of the Russians hurt my back.”

“Man, what have you gotten yourself into?”

“Never mind. What’re you doing here in LA?”

“I came up to see a guy who works at a blood bank, but now I think I’m gonna blow him off. If you can deliver the Bombay, I’m not really interested in donor blood. It’s ordinary and it’s expensive.”

“I’ll get the Bombay tomorrow night and leave you a message.”

“OK. Good to see you.” Drakkar gave Markus another hug.

“Careful,” Markus said, and pulled away.

“Try to stay out of trouble.” Drakkar started back along the pier.

“Too late,” Markus muttered to himself. “Way too late.”

Markus returned to an eerie apartment. When he entered, he thought he heard Audra moving around. He went to his desk, turned on the small lamp and eased himself into his chair. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw her standing in the shadows. While Markus checked his e-mail, he heard a noise that sounded like Audra opening a drawer of the Victorian dresser. He struggled up from his desk chair and went into the bedroom. “Hello?” he said. He turned on the light on the night table and expected to see her sitting on the bed, pulling on her mesh stockings. The bed was empty. He thought he heard water running in the kitchen and went in to look.

A sense of dread settled over Markus as he stood by the sink. He was certain Audra’s spirit had returned to punish him. Nothing in his knowledge of Goth lore told him how to combat a demon spirit from hell bent on revenge.

What was she planning?

A pillow over his face?

Rat poison in his yogurt?

A blow to the head?

No, Markus decided. Audra would sneak into the bedroom while he was asleep and sever his artery. She would stand over the bed while his blood drained out onto the sheet. She would awaken him when he was too weak to move.He would lay face up looking at her while his heart pumped the last drops from his body. Audra would laugh at him and say, “Fuck you.” Darkness would rule.

Markus bent down to the kitchen sink and splashed cold water on his face. After a moment, he regained some clarity and realized he was hallucinating and decided he had to cut back on the meds. A moment later, a jab of pain in his lower back demanded more painkillers, not less.

Markus lurched through the shadowy apartment. He listened to Goth music, logged on to Ghost in the Shell, surfed Internet porn sites and opened the freezer twice to admire the foot. Nothing worked. He became more stressed and anxious with each hour that passed. His nerves were as taut as piano wire. When he sat down, his lower back screamed in pain. When he stood up, his leg muscles began to twitch. Images of the China Doll, Audra, and Grisha shape-shifted through his mind.

Markus couldn’t bear it any more and fled to the National Cemetery where he wandered aimlessly. Even his favorite gravestones and fantasies of Vlad the Impaler failed to soothe him. The air was hot and dry but sweat dripped from every pore on his body. He was drowning in his own perspiration. Markus tried to concentrate on how to harvest the China Doll’s blood. He couldn’t even consider the possibility he would be unable to find her. He would find her and drain her blood. He imagined her bent over a microscope in the lab, so absorbed in her work that she was unaware of him coming up behind her.

The hours of the night melted away while Markus wandered through the cemetery. It was early Thursday morning. Markus returned to his apartment as the sun came up in the east. The hot wind blew toward the ocean, bending eucalyptus branches and sending palm fronds sailing into the sky.

Markus unlocked his front door and listened for Audra. He went into the bedroom, pulled the heavy velvet curtains tight and stood motionless, wondering where she was lurking—perhaps under the bed or hiding in the bathtub. When he was confident he was alone, he swallowed the last three Vicodin without water and collapsed on the bed.

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