Chapter Twenty Six
The laws of physics had been repealed. Markus floated in space, looking up at angry red clouds above him. Sheets of bloody rain soaked him. He couldn’t close his mouth. He choked, drowning in blood. He knew he was dreaming and kept trying to wake up, but could not. His terror exceeded the bounds of the dream.
It was 4:00 p.m. The Thursday afternoon sunlight crept in around the edges of the thick bedroom curtains. As soon as Markus moved, his back hurt. He felt dizzy when he stood up and staggered into the bathroom. His head spun. His mind was a windmill. His thoughts were a jigsaw puzzle. Markus had no idea how many painkillers he had taken in the last two days. He opened his medicine chest and discovered he had used all the Vicodin. He searched through the cabinet until he found a bottle of Percocet. The prescription had expired years ago, but he emptied three of the blue pills into his palm, tossed them into his mouth and washed them down with tap water. The water had a metallic taste he had never noticed. He looked at himself in the mirror. The haggard face looking back belonged to an old man. His red eyes were sunk deep into his skull. His face looked terrible—it was puffy and lined and his pure white skin had red blotches. His white hair lay limp and damp on his head.
Markus returned to the bedroom and opened the closet. He dressed and slipped on running shoes without socks. When he pulled out his duffel bag, a pair of Audra’s jeans, torn at the knees, came with it. Markus thought of her beautiful long legs for a moment and tossed the denims aside. Looking through the bag, he checked the bottle of ether, the washcloth and the sterile syringes with needles capped in blue plastic. In the back of the closet, he kept a box of four dozen blood collection tubes. He wrapped his favorite Alien Sex Fiend sweatshirt around the box to protect the glass inside and placed it in his duffel.
Markus’ mind drifted. He stood staring into the closet when he heard a knock on the front door. His body began to shake. No one ever knocked on his door.
This time it had to be Grisha. Markus imagined Grisha swinging a machete, cutting off his arms while he was still alive, and then pulling out a pocketknife to cut off his most important parts. Before he could move, Markus heard another knock, more insistent this time, followed by pounding on the thin wood door. Markus saw parts of his body, locked in an ice chest in the back of a truck, headed for the LAX cargo terminal. On his hands and knees, he crept into the living room, edged up to a window and pulled the curtain aside just far enough to see who was on the porch. He was shocked to see Jack Wyatt, the manager of the Alley Kat.
Markus opened the front door partway. The late afternoon sun shined directly into his eyes. “Hey Jack. What’re you doing here?”
“Dude, I haven’t seen you at the club for quite a while.”
“I’ve been busy at night. I work at CU.”
“CU? You’re the man.”
“I’m looking for Audra.”
“Haven’t seen her in weeks.”
“I thought she lived here with you.”
“Nope. She moved out a couple weeks after we got together. She missing?”
“We haven’t seen her at the club for two nights. A lot of customers are asking about her.”
I’ll bet they are, Markus thought. “Sorry, I can’t help you. Haven’t seen her.”
“You’re sure she’s not here?”
“I said no.”
“Can I come in?”
“Look Jack, I’m in the middle of something. Tell Audra I said hello. I’ll come by the club sometime.” Markus tried to close the door.
Jack put his shoe on the threshold, blocking the door. “I don’t believe you, douche bag. Where’s Audra? She said she was living here.”
“I don’t know.” Markus leaned against the door and managed to push Jack’s shoe back. As he did, he saw a pickup truck parked on the street. From the second floor, with his weak eyes and the glare from the afternoon sun, it was hard to see clearly, but it looked like there were two men inside. Markus closed the door and waited for Jack Wyatt to knock again.
After a moment of silence, he peeked out the window. Jack was gone, but the truck remained. Someone opened the passenger side and got out. The guy was huge, bigger than Grisha. He looked like King Kong. He bent to speak to the driver through the side window of the pickup and then looked up toward Markus’ apartment. Markus couldn’t see who was inside the truck, but it had to be Grisha. Two of the biggest Russians on the face of the earth were outside waiting to cut him up.
Markus went into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. He winced at the pain in his back. He wanted to curl up in the dark under the bed. He wanted to put his head in his mother’s lap and let her protect him. He wanted a lightning bolt to strike the pickup, fry the Russians and send them to a dirt nap. He tried to concentrate and think clearly through the effects of the Percocet. Vicodin created a buzz. Percocet created a haze. Why were the fucking Russians outside now? Today was Thursday, the day he planned to collect the China Doll’s blood. Or was it?
Markus held his head in his hands. He had to bail, somehow ditch the Russians and hang out at the Nano Research Center until he could find the China Doll. Once he had her precious liquid, all of it, every drop, he could head directly to San Diego. He would get $4,000 from Drakkar—even if it was more than his share. They were bound by ancient blood ties and his friend would give it to him. Once Markus had the money, no one could hurt him. Grisha wouldn’t touch him. Markus would hold up the cash like a silver cross in front of a vampire.
It seemed like a plan.
Markus opened his closet. The least he could do was leave a surprise for the Russians. He didn’t like guns—the idea of a shotgun booby trap in his closet had always seemed too dangerous. A true Goth might have rigged a swinging halberd, a large axe-like blade that could take off an intruder’s head, but there was no room in the shallow space for anything like that. Markus had devised his own protective device. He reached into the closet, armed it and carefully closed the door.
Markus dragged his duffel from the bedroom into the bathroom and opened the medicine chest. He swallowed two more Percocet and placed the remainder, along with aspirin, drops for his eyes and sunscreen in the pack. He went into the kitchen, stuffed his car keys and cell phone into his pocket and put on his hat and extra pair of dark glasses.
He opened the freezer, took the foot out and looked at it for a moment. There was no way, no possible way, that he would leave it behind. He used three additional plastic bags, one inside another, to create layers of insulated air space. He then filled a larger plastic bag with packages of frozen peas and what little ice he had and placed the foot, in its multiple containers, inside. He shoved the entire package down to one end of his duffel.
He went back to the front door and cracked it open. King Kong was back in the pickup talking to the driver. Time to go!
Markus shut down his computer and went into the bedroom. He pulled aside the heavy curtains and noticed a spider web with several dead flies in a fold. Daylight streamed into the room for the first time in months. Markus clenched his teeth against the pain in his lower back as he struggled to lift the window. Wood scraped against wood as he worked it up partway, wide enough to escape. Marcus dropped his pack out onto the roof of the carport and squeezed through. At the edge of the carport roof, he looked down at the alley. It was a ten- or twelve-foot drop to the cement and he knew what it would do to him. He lay down on the roof, dangled the duffel over the side and let it fall, praying the glass tubes wouldn’t shatter. Markus slid over the edge, feet first, and did his best to hang on and lower himself as far as possible before letting go.
Although he had expected the surge of pain when he hit the ground, it was so excruciating that he lay gasping, unable to move. It was the fear of King Kong coming around the corner that finally caused him to stand up and drag himself and the bag to his car. When he lifted his arm to the door handle, a jolt of pain shot from his back up to his shoulder and down through his leg. Markus shoved the duffel onto the passenger seat and crawled behind the wheel. The ache in his lower back was a white light before his eyes. He clenched the steering wheel, backed out into the alley, turned right on Albion and accelerated away from the two Russians parked in the pickup in front of his apartment.