The dopamine was flowing and Markus felt electrified. He was SOARING. He jumped into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut. Behind his oversize dark glasses, he squinted from the glare of the sunlight and creases spread from the corners of his eyes. He held up the plastic take-out bag in one hand and looked underneath to see if it was leaking. The bottom was clean and he placed it on the floor mat between his feet. He opened the glove box of his PT Cruiser, took out a bottle and squeezed disinfectant gel on his hands.
“Unfuckingbelievable,” he exclaimed, and rubbed the gel over his fingers.
“Oh my God, you’re freaking me out,” Audra said, as she drove out of the Surfrider parking lot. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“It was nothing.”
Did you get blood on your hands? “Aren’t you afraid of—?”
“Pathogens? No.” Sure, Markus was afraid of blood-borne pathogens, but he wasn’t about to admit it to Audra. Besides, when the gods offered up a severed foot to him, he was bound to accept it.
“Glad I made you come?” Audra asked.
Markus didn’t answer. He looked at her over the top of his sunglasses, revealing his red irises. “It’s so bright at the beach, it hurts my eyes. Vampires burn up in sunlight like this.”
Audra returned his gaze. “Except you’re an albino, not a vampire.”
“Albinos burn up in this light too.” Markus took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. He looked inside the plastic bag at the girl’s delicate foot. The fibula and tibia, severed just above the ankle, shone white through torn flesh. “I don’t think we’re gonna want the rest of the halibut,” he said. Most of the blood had run out onto the parking lot blacktop, but a small amount still dripped from the torn flesh onto the white Styrofoam container with the remainder of their lunch. Markus rolled down the side window and squinted again. He reached into the plastic bag, eased the bloody sandal off the foot with his thumb and forefinger and tossed it out onto the dirt on the side of Pacific Coast Highway. He closed the window again and leaned back. “This is epic!” he exclaimed.
Someday he would have a hearse, but for the time being, the funky old PT Cruiser would do. When Audra was with him, she insisted on driving. She claimed his weak eyes and heavy foot on the gas pedal made her nervous. He humored her.
During the 20-minute drive from the beach to his apartment near the California University campus, Markus leaned against the passenger side door and admired Audra’s body. He wondered what she looked like six years ago, without her tats. She must have been hot even then. Some day17s he hated the bitch, but today she looked particularly delicious. She was wearing her cut-off jeans, short enough to show the beginning of the curve of her awesome ass, and a tank top that revealed the colors and mosaic of her upper body tattoos. Her long black hair cascaded down over her bare shoulders. While everyone in the parking lot was staring at the accident or looking at Audra, it was easy to pick up the foot.
He touched his prize through the thin plastic bag. He felt the toes, the arch and cupped the palm of his hand against the ankle. The look of Audra’s body, the image of the blood spilling out onto the blacktop and the foot in the take-out bag sent a wave of sexual excitement through Markus’ body. He forgot about the discomfort of the bright sunlight and felt the familiar tension build in his groin. By the time Audra turned onto Albion, a short street filled with APARTMENT FOR RENT signs that ran between the Los Angeles National Cemetery and the edge of the California University campus, Markus had an insane erection.
“I’ll be up in a second,” he said when Audra drove into the carport. Markus jumped out with the plastic bag and walked into the alley. He lifted the lid of one of the metal dumpsters, pulled out the Styrofoam container with the halibut and tossed it away. Markus shivered with excitement. He was certain he would remember this as one of the great days of his life—the afternoon he walked out of the Surfrider Restaurant in Malibu and picked up a severed human foot. He ran up the stairs to Unit 2.
Inside, Markus went into the kitchen, took off his dark glasses and hat, rolled up his long sleeves and scrubbed his hands in the sink. He took latex gloves out of a drawer, pulled them on and spread some old newspaper on the counter top. He drew his treasure out of the bag. It was a right foot. Rigor mortis hadn’t set in yet and he could still bend each toe. He marveled at how delicate and perfect they were. The nails were dark pink and the second toe was longer than the first, something Markus found kickass. He thought it would be wicked to see what it looked like with Audra’s runic toe ring. He held the foot at eye level and saw a nicely shaped ankle below the broken stumps of bone. The girl lying on the blacktop had looked delicious. It would have added so much to his enjoyment of the foot if he knew what she looked like naked.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” he called to Audra in the bedroom. He turned on the kitchen faucet, held the foot underneath the spray and rubbed off the sand and congealed blood. He dried the foot, put it in a plastic bag and placed it in the freezer next to the bag containing the hand, nestled among the frozen peas. It was a left hand, and he had not yet paid for it, which was a problem. Now that he had a beautiful foot, the hand meant nothing. The squirrel head in the third bag meant less than nothing.
Markus went into the gloomy living-dining room where he did his Internet hacking. Software disks in plastic containers littered the floor. On the table, covered with black velvet and a dozen dark red candles of different sizes, he kept his computer, monitor, extra hard-drives, two printers, an unused router still in its box and an assortment of motherboards and other components. A tangle of wires and cables plugged into surge protectors, hung off the edge of the table. This equipment allowed him to pry into people’s private information. Markus considered himself a great hacker, but he desperately needed some new malware. Firewalls were becoming more sophisticated, well beyond his own ability to surmount them. The Russians and Indians sold the best stuff, but it cost money, thousands of dollars, and Markus was low on funds.
When he worked his way through firewalls to ransack personal files and information, he sat on his throne, a wooden chair adorned with carved gargoyles. He rested his feet on a black Los Angeles County Coroner body bag purchased on Craig’s List for $34. The website had advertised the body bag as “used.” A trio of unmatched black wrought iron chairs surrounded the table. Heavy black drapes covered two windows that looked out onto Albion Street. The walls and ceiling were pale blue because the property owner wouldn’t let him change the color, but in the semi darkness, it wasn’t a problem. There was one floor lamp in the room and the shade was covered by one of Audra’s black shawls. He rarely turned it on; the light from the computer screens was enough.
Markus did a quick check of his e-mails. He had accounts under different names with several carriers and ran his own SMTP server. His most confidential e-mail address, reserved only for close and important friends, was [email protected] He hit SEND/RECEIVE, but on a Sunday afternoon, nothing but spam showed in his inbox and he deleted everything. The important communications came at night when his vampire friends were stirring.
He turned on the MP-3 player anchored in a speaker base and the death-rock sound of Fear Cult filled the apartment. Markus loved his Goth dungeon. It would satisfy any vampire. During the six weeks since Audra moved in, she had improved the décor and the dark mood. She added the black and dark red velvet, the black lace, the candles and the roses. Audra loved roses. Bouquets the color of blood, dried and preserved with hairspray, hung on the walls. Best of all were the roses on her body.
Audra had lit the candles and he could smell the aromatherapy scent drifting out of the bedroom. He didn’t like it nearly as much now that he realized she had the same scent on her hands from the massage oil when she came home from work. He paused at the door of the bedroom and saw her lying face-up on top of the bed wearing only a bra and panties. He watched her stretch, keeping one leg flat and bringing the other up at a right angle. She held on to the piece of old wrought iron cemetery fence they used as a headboard. A small patio table on one side of the bed functioned as a nightstand. A weathered church pew and a massive Victorian dresser with spiral-turned legs were the only other pieces of furniture. Before Audra dragged him to the Salvation Army to buy furniture, Markus slept on a mattress on the floor.
Markus was eager to get it on with her—his body needed some nasty sex. He stripped off his pants and sat down on the bed. Sexual electricity swept through him and he forgot the things about Audra that annoyed him. He ran his finger up her thigh and across the tattoos on her stomach. Tattoos were almost as wicked as blood, and Audra had the tattoos. Audra looked way sexy lying there. Markus thought about the girl lying in the parking lot, blood spurting from her leg. A girl with blood on her skin was sweet. The sight of blood aroused him. The taste of blood excited him. Blood play—cuts, punctures and bites—drove him wild. Sharing blood with someone you were really into was a fantabulous experience.
He bent over and kissed the ring in her bellybutton. “I wanna suck a few drops of your blood and do you,” he whispered.
She pulled away from him. “Not now, I need some rest. Besides, I can’t keep going to work with bleeding fingers.” She looked at the clock on the nightstand. “It’s almost six; I have to be at work in two hours.”
“I’m all rammy. I want you. You have to—”
“Just chill. Wait until I get home.”
Markus clenched his teeth and lay down next to her. He tried to think of something that would extinguish his craving. He thought about Audra’s exotic dancing at the club—that was a real buzz-kill. He wanted her to quit, but there was no way she would give it up. The first time he saw her at the Alley Kat, with black and red tattoos, he couldn’t get over her intense body. He dreamed about her. He thought about her. He kept coming back to look at her like all the other men and even some women. Everyone liked to inhale Audra’s body and fantasize about what they wanted to do with her. He decided he had to have her. He wanted her to belong to him. Now she had moved in with him, but he still had to share her with everyone else at the club. Markus couldn’t bear to go back and watch her dance while everyone ogled her tats and reached out to touch her.
Markus moved toward her on the bed. “It’s time,” he said.
“I said wait until I come home from work.”
“No, I mean it’s time to stop dancing.”
Audra sat up, gave him a look and laughed. “Right. Like, you’re gonna take care of me? I need to earn a living.”
“They said the tattoos would cost twenty thousand,” Audra had told him the first time she stood naked in front of him. “Where could I get that kind of paper? I was 16 and had $10 when I got off the bus in L.A. Dancing’s the only way to make good money, especially with the extra stuff.”
He wondered what else Audra was doing at the club. He had a good idea what the “extra stuff” was, but she wouldn’t tell him. She didn’t have to; he knew her job was to bring strangers’ fantasies to life. He had picked up girls like her in the clubs for years. Audra was a good lay. Actually, she was a great lay, but what if she brought home an STD? Even though he knew she took care of herself and had regular check ups, Markus was becoming increasingly concerned. The thought of catching an STD frightened him. He had already seen enough doctors in his life. His excitement was gone. The electricity in his groin petered out. Markus rolled over and closed his eyes.
When he awoke, it was 8:00 p.m. and Audra was gone. He got up and walked naked into the kitchen. He opened the freezer and pulled out the plastic bag containing the foot. It was a blue-gray color now and hard as a rock. Markus admired it for a moment, whispered, “Dee-licious,” and put it back in the freezer. He opened the refrigerator and took a container of vanilla yogurt mixed with raspberry jam. It was his favorite— when he swirled the jam around it looked like coagulated blood on a girl’s immaculate white skin. On the way back into the bedroom, he opened the container and licked the jam with his tongue.
Markus rummaged through his closet and pulled out the olive duffel bag hidden under a pile of dirty clothes. He unzipped it and took out the rubber arm, syringes, needles and plastic tubing, all wrapped in a towel. The arm was excellent. It wasn’t real, but it worked and made it possible for him to learn how to insert a needle into a lifelike vein. After he became proficient inserting the needle into the plastic arm and drawing out the colored fluid, he began drawing blood from his own arm. The first time, he missed his vein and stabbed his flesh. The pain was terrible, but he clenched his teeth and poked around with the needle until blood began to flow into the syringe. On the second try, he hit his vein immediately. As the days passed, he kept practicing on the back of his hand and on his arm until he was certain he could do it. He had become a vampire paramedic. Audra would be very impressed, but this was not anything she needed to know about.
He took a sterile syringe out of its package. There were two left, both of which he would take with him tomorrow night. Markus tied the rubber tube around his bicep, trapped the blood, patted his vein to make it stand up and stuck the needle in near his elbow joint. He pulled the plunger up just far enough to see blood start to fill the syringe and then yanked the needle out. The entire process took about 15 seconds and Markus was satisfied he could do it in his sleep. He didn’t expect any problems. His prey, the China Doll, was young and would have healthy veins that were easy to penetrate. Sometimes veins rolled sideways under the skin. If that happened, he would just have to keep trying—that’s what the medical technicians did. The China Doll wouldn’t know the difference anyway.
He finished his yogurt, wrapped everything in the towel, stuffed it into the duffel bag and buried it again under the debris on his closet floor. It was 8:45 p.m. and the night stretched out before him. Markus felt restless and edgy, fueled by his unsatisfied sexual arousal. He got dressed and went out.
On nights when Audra was dancing and he wasn’t working at CU, Markus often walked the short block down Albion to the Los Angeles National Cemetery. The entrance was secured after dark by enormous iron gates almost a mile away, but he knew a spot where two of the 8-foot high metal bars on the fence were missing. He had his own private entrance.
During the day, the cemetery belonged to the mourners and visitors who strolled among the thousands of tombstones that ran off in straight and diagonal lines. At night, the cemetery was dark and grim—it belonged to the dead, the undead and to Markus. His weak eyes were no handicap in the gloom and he wandered the narrow streets—across Constitution Avenue, up Chateau Thiery, across San Juan Hill—stopping with a small flashlight to examine the names and ranks on the gravestones.
Arthur Rodriguez, SSgt. U.S. Air Force, 1957
Robert Bensinger, Cpl. U.S. Army, 1917
Alex Nicholas, Capt. U.S. Navy, 1912
Markus tried to imagine the unique death of each person and the way the blood might have drained out onto a battleground or dissipated into a cold sea. Six months ago, he discovered a tombstone for Audra Barnes, Lt. U.S. Navy, 1988. When he met Audra, he thought it was an omen.
He drifted between the rows of tombstones and listened to the wind blowing through the branches of the tall eucalyptus trees. In the distance, the whine of the cars on the 405 Freeway became the wail of lost souls. Markus became Vlad Drackula the Impaler, living on his estate in 15th Century Transylvania. He stepped up onto a gravestone and addressed his followers: “Come, follow me fellow vampires, through this lonely gothic forest. I will find victims for you and we will gorge on their blood. When we have sucked them dry, we will dismember them and place their heads on the spikes of the fence surrounding my property.” Markus surveyed their glowing eyes and sharp teeth. They were impatient to begin the hunt. “As protector of this pack, you will bring me the most beautiful woman. I will ravish her, then rip open her white neck and feast on her crimson elixir.” The vampires standing around him stamped their feet and nodded in agreement. He was their undisputed leader. It was time to begin the blood hunt. Markus looked up into the clear California night and heard the sound of the wings of thousands of bats that would accompany them on the hunt.
On his way home, Markus climbed over the fence on the far side of the cemetery and walked around the perimeter toward Albion Street. At the corner of Sepulveda and Wilshire, he passed the homeless man who lived under two grocery carts with filthy blankets wrapped around the sides and covered with strips of building insulation. Markus knew how easy it would be to surprise the vagrant, rip the blankets away, jump on him and kill him before the old man could even cry out. The guy was filthy, smelled and might be HIV positive. Markus reconsidered. Not even the hungriest vampire would touch the vagrant’s blood.
He walked along the sidewalk and thought about Audra’s body. He thought about the foot in the freezer and about the rare Bombay Blood running through the body of the China Doll. Audra wouldn’t be home for several hours and Markus was totally jacked. Instead of heading home, he continued down Sepulveda to the titty-bar that advertised: FULLY XPOSED WOMEN – BUSIEST CLUB IN LA – FREE ADMISSION SUNDAY NIGHTS.