By Laurell K. Hamilton
Book 1 of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Series
Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died. His being dead didn't change that. He sat acrossfrom me, wearing a loud plaid sport jacket. The polyester pants were primary Crayola green. Hisshort, black hair was slicked back from a thin, triangular face. He had always reminded me of abit player in a gangster movie. The kind that sells information, runs errands, and isexpendable.
Of course now that Willie was a vampire, the expendable part didn't count anymore. But he wasstill selling information and running errands. No, death hadn't changed him much. But just incase, I avoided looking directly into his eyes. It was standard policy for dealing withvampires. He was a slime bucket, but now he was an undead slime bucket. It was a new category
We sat in the quiet air-conditioned hush of my office. The powder blue walls, which Bert, myboss, thought would be soothing, made the room feel cold.
"Mind if I smoke?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "I do."
"Damn, you aren't gonna make this easy, are you?"
I looked directly at him for a moment. His eyes were still brown. He caught me looking, and Ilooked down at my desk.
Willie laughed, a wheezing snicker of a sound. The laugh hadn't changed. "Geez, I love it.You're afraid of me."
"Not afraid, just cautious."
"You don't have to admit it. I can smell the fear on you, almost like somethin' touching myface, my brain. You're afraid of me, 'cause I'm a vampire."
I shrugged; what could I say? How do you lie to someone who can smell your fear? "Why are youhere, Willie?"
"Geez, I wish I had a smoke." The skin began to jump at the corner of his mouth.
"I didn't think vampires had nervous twitches."
His hand went up, almost touched it. He smiled, flashing fangs. "Some things don't change."
I wanted to ask him, what does change? How does it feel to be dead? I knew other vampires, butWillie was the first I had known before and after death. It was a peculiar feeling. "What doyou want?"
"Hey, I'm here to give you money. To become a client."
I glanced up at him, avoiding his eyes. His tie tack caught the overhead lights. Real gold.Willie had never had anything like that before. He was doing all right for a dead man. "I raisethe dead for a living, no pun intended. Why would a vampire need a zombie raised?"
He shook his head, two quick jerks to either side. "No, no voodoo stuff. I wanna hire you toinvestigate some murderers."
"I am not a private investigator."
"But you got one of 'em on retainer to your outfit."
I nodded. "You could just hire Ms. Sims directly. You don't have to go through me for that."
Again that jerky head shake. "But she don't know about vampires the way you do."
I sighed. "Can we cut to the chase here, Willie? I have to leave" - I glanced at the wall clock- "in fifteen minutes. I don't like to leave a client waiting alone in a cemetery. They tend toget jumpy."
He laughed. I found the snickery laugh comforting, even with the fangs. Surely vampires shouldhave rich, melodious laughs. "I'll bet they do. I'll just bet they do." His face soberedsuddenly, as if a hand had wiped his laughter away.
I felt fear like a jerk in the pit of my stomach. Vampires could change movements like clickinga switch. If he could do that, what else could he do?
"You know about the vampires that are getting wasted over in the District?"
He made it a question, so I answered. "I'm familiar with them." Four vampires had beenslaughtered in the new vampire club district. Their hearts had been torn out, their heads cutoff.
"You still working with the cops?"
"I am still on retainer with the new task force."
He laughed again. "Yeah, the spook squad. Underbudgeted and undermanned, right."
"You've described most of the police work in this town."
"Maybe, but the cops feel like you do, Anita. What's one more dead vampire? New laws don'tchange that."
It had only been two years since Addison v. Clark. The court case gave us a revised version ofwhat life was, and what death wasn't. Vampirism was legal in the good of U. S. of A. We wereone of the few countries to acknowledge them. The immigration people were having fits trying tokeep foreign vampires from immigrating in, well, flocks.
All sorts of questions were being fought out in court. Did heirs have to give back theirinheritance? Were you widowed if your spouse became undead? Was it murder to slay a vampire?There was even a movement to give them the vote. Times were a-changing.
I stared at the vampire in front of me and shrugged. Did I really believe what was one moredead vampire? Maybe. "If you believe I feel that way, why come to me at all?"
"Because you're the best at what you do. We need the best."
It was the first time he had said "we." "Who are you working for, Willie?"
He smiled then, a close secretive smile, like he knew something I should know. "Never you mindthat. Money's real good. We want somebody who knows the night life to be looking into thesemurders."
"I've seen the bodies, Willie. I gave my opinions to the police."
"What'd you think?" He leaned forward in the chair, small hands flat on my desk. Hisfingernails were pale, almost white, bloodless.
"I gave a full report to the police." I stared up at him, almost looking him in the eye.
"Won't even give me that, will ya?"
"I am not at liberty to discuss police business with you."
"I told 'em you wouldn't go for this."
"Go for what? You haven't told me a damn thing."
"We want you to investigate the vampire killings, find out who's, or what's, doing it. We'llpay you three times your normal fee."
I shook my head. That explained why Bert, the greedy son of a gun, had set up this meeting. Heknew how I felt about vampires, but my contract forced me to at least meet with any client thathad given Bert a retainer. My boss would do anything for money. Problem was he thought Ishould, too. Bert and I would be having a "talk" very soon.
I stood. "The police are looking into it. I am already giving them all the help I can. In a wayI am already working on the case. Save your money."
He sat staring up at me, very still. It was not that lifeless immobility of the long dead, butit was a shadow of it.
Fear ran up in my spine and into my throat. I fought an urge to draw my crucifix out of myshirt and drive him from my office. Somehow throwing a client out using a holy item seemed lessthan professional. So I just stood there, waiting for him to move.
"Why won't you help us?"
"I have clients to meet, Willie. I'm sorry that I can't help you."
"Won't help, you mean."
I nodded. "Have it your way." I walked around the desk to show him to the door.
He moved with a liquid quickness that Willie had never had, but I saw him move and was one stepback from his reaching hand. "I'm not just another pretty face to fall for mind tricks."
"You saw me move."
"I heard you move. You're the new dead, Willie. Vampire or not, you've got a lot to learn."
He was frowning at me, hand still half-extended towards me. "Maybe, but no human could astepped outta reach like that." He stepped up close to me, plaid jacket nearly brushing againstme. Pressed together like that, we were nearly the same height, short. His eyes were on aperfect level with mine. I stared as hard as I could at his shoulder.
It took everything I had not to step back from him. But dammit, undead or not, he was WillieMcCoy. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.
He said, "You ain't human, any more than I am."
I moved to open the door. I hadn't stepped away from him. I had stepped away to open the door.I tried convincing the sweat along my spine that there was a difference. The cold feeling in mystomach wasn't fooled either.
"I really have to be going now. Thank you for thinking of Animators, Inc." I gave him my bestprofessional smile, empty of meaning as a light bulb, but dazzling.
He paused in the open doorway. "Why won't you work for us? I gotta tell 'em something when I goback."
I wasn't sure, but there was something like fear in his voice. Would he get in trouble forfailing? I felt sorry for him and knew it was stupid. He was the undead, for heaven's sake, buthe stood looking at me, and he was still Willie, with his funny coats and small nervous hands.
"Tell them, whoever they are, that I don't work for vampires."
"A firm rule?" Again he made it sound like a question.
There was a flash of something on his face, the old Willie peeking through. It was almost pity."I wish you hadn't said that, Anita. These people don't like anybody telling 'em no."
"I think you've overstayed your welcome. I don't like to be threatened."
"It ain't a threat, Anita. It's the truth." He straightened his tie, fondling the new gold tietack, squared his thin shoulders and walked out.
I closed the door behind him and leaned against it. My knees felt weak. But there wasn't timefor me to sit here and shake. Mrs. Grundick was probably already at the cemetery. She would bestanding there with her little black purse and her grown sons, waiting for me to raise herhusband from the dead. There was a mystery of two very different wills. It was either years ofcourt costs and arguments, or raise Albert Grundick from the dead and ask.
Everything I needed was in my car, even the chickens. I drew the silver crucifix free of myblouse and let it hang in full view. I have several guns, and I know how to use them. I keep a9 mm Browning Hi-Power in my desk. The gun weighed a little over two pounds, silver-platedbullets and all. Silver won't kill a vampire, but it can discourage them. It forces them tohave to heal the wounds, almost human slow. I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt and went out.
Craig our night secretary, was typing furiously at the computer keyboard. His eyes widened as Iwalked over the thick carpeting. Maybe it was the cross swinging on its long chain. Maybe itwas the shoulder rig tight across my back, and the gun out in plain sight. He didn't mentioneither. Smart man.
I put my nice little corduroy jacket over it all. The jacket didn't lie flat over the gun, butthat was okay. I doubted the Grundicks and their lawyers would notice.
I had gotten to see the sun rise as I drove home that morning. I hate sunrises. They mean I'veoverscheduled myself and worked all bloody night. St. Louis has more trees edging its highwaysthan any other city I have driven through. I could almost admit the trees looked nice in thefirst light of dawn, almost. My apartment always looks depressingly white and cheerful inmorning sunlight. The walls are the same vanilla ice cream white as every apartment I've ever
seen. The carpeting is a nice shade of grey, preferable to that dog poop brown that is morecommon.
The apartment is a roomy one-bedroom. I am told it has a nice view of the park next door. Youcouldn't prove it by me. If I had my choice, there would be no windows. I get by with heavydrapes that turn the brightest day to cool twilight.
I switched the radio on low to drown the small noises of my day-living neighbors. Sleep suckedme under to the soft music of Chopin. A minute later the phone rang.
I lay there for a minute, cursing myself for forgetting to turn on the answering machine. Maybeif I ignored it? Five rings later I gave in. "Hello."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"
It was a woman I didn't know. If it was a salesperson I was going to become violent. "Who isthis?" I blinked at the bedside clock. It was eight. I'd had nearly two hours of sleep. Yippee.
"I'm Monica Vespucci." She said it like it should explain everything. It didn't.
"Yes." I tried to sound helpful, encouraging. I think it came out as a growl.
"Oh, my, uh. I'm the Monica that works with Catherine Maison."
I huddled around the receiver and tried to think. I don't think really well on two hours ofsleep. Catherine was a good friend, a name I knew. She had probably mentioned this woman to me,but for the life of me, I couldn't place her. "Sure, Monica, yes. What do you want?" It soundedrude, even to me. "I'm sorry if I don't sound too good. I got off work at six."
"My god, you mean you've only had two hours of sleep. Do you want to shoot me, or what?"
I didn't answer the question. I'm not that rude. "Did you want something, Monica?"
"Sure, yes. I'm throwing a surprise bachelorette party for Catherine. You know she gets marriednext month."
I nodded, remembered she couldn't see me, and mumbled, "I'm in the wedding."
"Oh, sure, I knew that. Pretty dresses for the bridesmaids, don't you think?"
Actually, the last thing I wanted to spend a hundred and twenty dollars on was a long pinkformal with puffy sleeves, but it was Catherine's wedding. "What about the bachelorette party?"
"Oh. I'm rambling, aren't I? And you just desperate for sleep."
I wondered if screaming at her would make her go away any her. Naw, she'd probably cry. "Whatdo you want, please, Monica?"
"Well, I know it's short notice, but everything just sort of slipped up on me. I meant to callyou a week ago, but I just never got around to it."
This I believed. "Go on."
"The bachelorette party is tonight. Catherine says you don't drink, so I was wondering if youcould be designated driver."
I just lay there for a minute, wondering how mad to get, and if it would do me any good. Maybeif I'd been more awake, I wouldn't have said what I was thinking. "Don't you think this isawfully short notice, since you want me to drive?"
"I know. I'm so sorry. I'm just so scattered lately. Catherine gold me you usually have eitherFriday or Saturday night off. Is Friday not your night off this week?"
As a matter of fact it was, but I didn't really want to give up my only night off to thisairhead on the other end of the phone. "I do have the night off."
"Great! I'll give you directions, and you can pick us up after work. Is that okay?"
It wasn't, but what else could I say. "That's fine."
"Pencil and paper?"
"You said you worked with Catherine, right?" I was actually beginning to remember Monica.
"I know where Catherine works. I don't need directions."
"Oh, how silly of me, of course. Then we'll see you about five. Dress up, but no heels. We maybe dancing tonight."
I hate to dance. "Sure, see you then."
"See you tonight."
The phone went dead in my ear. I turned on the answering machine and cuddled back under thesheets. Monica worked with Catherine, that made her a lawyer. That was a frightening thought.Maybe she was one of those people who was only organized at work. Naw.
It occurred to me then, when it was too late, that I could just have refused the invitation.Damn. I was quick today. Oh, well, how bad could it be? Watching strangers get blitzed out oftheir minds. If I was lucky, maybe someone would throw up in my car.
I had the strangest dreams once I got back to sleep. All about this woman I didn't know, acoconut cream pie, and Willie McCoy's funeral.
Monica Vespucci was wearing a button that said, "Vampires are People, too." It was not apromising beginning to the evening. Her white blouse was silk with a high, flared collarframing a dark, health-club tan. Her hair was short and expertly cut; her makeup perfect.
The button should have tipped me off to what kind of bachelorette party she'd planned. Somedays I'm just slow to catch on.
I was wearing black jeans, knee-high boots, and a crimson blouse. My hair was made to order forthe outfit, black curling just over the shoulders of the red blouse. The solid, nearly black-brown of my eyes matches the hair. Only the skin stands out, too pale, Germanic against theLatin darkness. A very ex-boyfriend once described me as a little china doll. He meant it as acompliment. I didn't take it that way. There are reasons why I don't date much.
The blouse was long-sleeved to hide the knife sheath on my right wrist and the scars on my leftarm. I had left my gun locked in the trunk of my car. I didn't think the bachelorette partywould get that out of hand.
"I'm so sorry that I put off planning this to the last minute, Catherine. That's why there'sonly three of us. Everybody else had plans," Monica said.
"Imagine that, people having plans for Friday night," I said.
Monica stared at me as if trying to decide whether I was joking or not.
Catherine gave me a warning glare. I gave them both my best angelic smile. Monica smiled back.Catherine wasn't fooled.
Monica began dancing down the sidewalk, happy as a drunken clam. She had had only two drinkswith dinner. It was a bad sign.
"Be nice," Catherine whispered.
"What did I say?"
"Anita." Her voice sounded like my father's used to sound when I'd stayed out too late.
I sighed. "You're just no fun tonight."
"I plan to be a lot of fun tonight." She stretched her arms skyward. She still wore thecrumpled remains of her business suit. The wind blew her long, copper-colored hair. I've neverbeen able to decide if Catherine would be prettier if she cut her hair, so you'd notice theface first, or if the hair was what made her pretty.
"If I have to give up one of my few free nights, then I am going to enjoy myself - immensely,"she said.
There was a kind of fierceness to the last word. I stared up at her. "You are not planning toget falling-down drunk, are you?"
"Maybe." She looked smug.
Catherine knew I didn't approve of, or rather, didn't understand drinking. I didn't like havingmy inhibitions lowered. If I was going to cut loose, I wanted to be in control of just howloose I got.
We had left my car in a parking lot two blocks back. The one with the wrought-iron fence aroundit. There wasn't much parking down by the river. The narrow brick roads and ancient sidewalkshad been designed for horses, not automobiles. The streets had been fresh-washed by a summerthunderstorm that had come and gone while we ate dinner. The first stars glittered overhead,like diamonds trapped in velvet.
Monica yelled, "Hurry up, slowpokes."
Catherine looked at me and grinned. The next thing I knew, she was running towards Monica.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," I muttered. Maybe if I'd had drinks with dinner, I'd have run, too,but I doubted it.
"Don't be an old stick in the mud," Catherine called back.
Stick in the mud? I caught up to them walking. Monica was giggling. Somehow I had known shewould be. Catherine and she were leaning against each other laughing. I suspected they might belaughing at me.
Monica calmed enough to fake an ominous stage whisper. "Do you know what lies around thiscorner?"
As a matter of fact, I did. The last vampire killing had been only four blocks from here. Wewere in what the vampires called "the District." Humans called it the Riverfront, or BloodSquare, depending on if they were being rude or not.
"Guilty Pleasures," I said.
"Oh, pooh, you spoiled the surprise."
"What's Guilty Pleasures?" Catherine asked.
Monica giggled. "Oh, goodie, the surprise isn't spoiled after all." She put her arm throughCatherine's. "You are going to love this, I promise you."
Maybe Catherine would; I knew I wouldn't, but I followed them around the corner anyway. Thesign was a wonderful swirling neon the color of heart blood. The symbolism was not lost on me.
We went up three broad steps, and there was a vampire standing in front of the propped-opendoor. He had a black crew cut and small, pale eyes. His massive shoulders threatened to rip thetight black t-shirt he wore. Wasn't pumping iron redundant after you died?
Even standing on the threshold I could hear the busy hum of voices, laughter, music. That rich,murmurous sound of many people in a small space, determined to have a good time.
The vampire stood beside the door, very still. There was still a movement to him, an aliveness,for lack of a better term. He couldn't have been dead more than twenty years, if that. In thedark he looked almost human, even to me. He had fed already tonight. His skin was flushed andhealthy. He looked damn near rosy-cheeked. A meal of fresh blood will do that to you.
Monica squeezed his arm. "Ooo, feel that muscle."
He grinned, flashing fangs. Catherine gasped. He grinned wider.
"Buzz here is an old friend, aren't you, Buzz?"
Buzz the vampire? Surely not.
But he nodded. "Go on in, Monica. Your table is waiting."
Table? What kind of clout did Monica have? Guilty Pleasures was one of the hottest clubs in theDistrict, and they did not take reservations.
There was a large sign on the door. "No crosses, crucifixes, or other holy items allowedinside." I read the sign and walked past it. I had no intention of getting rid of my cross.
A rich, melodious voice floated around us. "Anita, how good of of you to come."
The voice belonged to Jean-Claude, club owner and master vampire. He looked like a vampire wassupposed to look. Softly curling hair tangled with the high white lace of an antique shirt.Lace spilled over pale, long-fingered hands. The shirt hung open, giving a glimpse of lean barechest framed by more frothy lace. Most men couldn't have worn a shirt like that. The vampiremade it seem utterly masculine.
"You two know each other?" Monica sounded surprised.
"Oh, yes," Jean-Claude said. "Ms. Blake and I have met before."
"I've been helping the police work cases on the Riverfront."
"She is their vampire expert." He made the last word soft and warm and vaguely obscene.
Monica giggled. Catherine was staring at Jean-Claude, eyes wide and innocent. I touched herarm, and she jerked as if waking from a dream. I didn't bother to whisper because I knew hewould have heard me anyway. "Important safety tip - never look a vampire in the eye."
She nodded. The first hint of fear showed in her face.
"I would never harm such a lovely young woman." He took Catherine's hand and raised it to hismouth. A mere brush of lips. Catherine blushed.
He kissed Monica's hand as well. He looked at me and laughed. "Do not worry, my littleanimator. I will not touch you. That would be cheating."
He moved to stand next to me. I stared fixedly at his chest. There was a burn scar almosthidden in the lace. The burn was in the shape of a cross. How many decades ago had someoneshoved a cross into his flesh?
"Just as you having a cross would be an unfair advantage."
What could I say? In a way he was right.
It was a shame that it wasn't merely the shape of a cross that hurt a vampire. Jean-Claudewould have been in deep shit. Unfortunately, the cross had to be blessed, and backed up byfaith. An atheist waving a cross at a vampire was a truly pitiful sight.
He breathed my name like a whisper against my skin. "Anita, what are you thinking?"
The voice was so damn soothing. I wanted to look up and see what face went with such words.Jean-Claude had been intrigued by my partial immunity to him. That and the cross-shaped burnscar on my arm. He found the scar amusing. Every time we met, he did his best to bespell me,and I did my best to ignore him. I had won up until now.
"You never objected to me carrying a cross before."
"You were on police business then; now you are not."
I stared at his chest and wondered if the lace was as soft as it looked; probably not.
"Are you so insecure in your own powers, little animator? Do you believe that all yourresistance to me resides in that piece of silver around your neck?"
I didn't believe that, but I knew it helped. Jean-Claude was a self-admitted two hundred andfive years old. A vampire gains a lot of power in two centuries. He was suggesting I was acoward. I was not.
I reached up to unfasten the chain. He stepped away from me and turned his back. The crossspilled silver into my hands. A blonde human woman appeared beside me. She handed me a checkstub and took the cross. Nice, a holy item check girl.
I felt suddenly underdressed without my cross. I slept and showered in it.
Jean-Claude stepped close again. "You will not resist the show tonight, Anita. Someone willenthrall you."
"No," I said. But it's hard to be tough when you're staring at someone's chest. You really needeye contact to play tough, but that was a no-no.
He laughed. The sound seemed to rub over my skin, like the brush of fur. Warm and feeling everso slightly of death.
Monica grabbed my arm. "You're going to love this, I promise you."
"Yes," Jean-Claude said. "It will be a night you will never forget."
"Is that a threat?"
He laughed again, that warm awful sound. "This is a place of pleasure, Anita, not violence."
Monica was pulling at my arm. "Hurry, the entertainment's about to begin."
"Entertainment?" Catherine asked
I had to smile. "Welcome to the world's only vampire strip club, Catherine."
"You are joking."
"Scout's honor." I glanced back at the door; I don't know why. Jean-Claude stood utterly still,no sense of anything, as if he were not there at all. Then he moved, one pale hand raised tohis lips. He blew me a kiss across the room. The night's entertainment had begun.
Our table was nearly bumping up against the stage. The room was full of liquor and laughter,and a few faked screams as the vampire waiters moved around the tables. There was anundercurrent of fear. That peculiar terror that you get on roller coasters and at horrormovies. Safe terror.
The lights went out. Screams echoed through the room, high and shrill. Real fear for aninstant. Jean-Claude's voice came out of the darkness. "Welcome to Guilty Pleasures. We arehere to serve you. To make your most evil thought come true."
His voice was silken whispers in the small hours of night. Damn, he was good.
"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to feel my breath upon your skin? My lips alongyour neck. The hard brush of teeth. The sweet, sharp pain of fangs. Your heart beatingfrantically against my chest. Your blood flowing into my veins. Sharing yourself. Giving melife. Knowing that I truly could not live without you, all of you."
Perhaps it was the intimacy of darkness; whatever, I felt as if his voice was speaking just forme, to me. I was his chosen, his special one. No, that wasn't right. Every woman in the clubfelt the same. We were all his chosen. And perhaps there was more truth in that than inanything else.
"Our first gentleman tonight shares your fantasy. He wanted to know how the sweetest of kisseswould feel. He has gone before you to tell you that it is wondrous." He let silence fill thedarkness, until my own heartbeat sounded loud. "Phillip is with us tonight."
Monica whispered, "Phillip!" A collective gasp ran through the audience, then a soft chantingbegan. "Phillip, Phillip . . ." The sound rose around us in the dark like a prayer.
The lights began to come up like at the end of a movie. A figure stood in the center of thestage. A white t-shirt hugged his upper body; not a muscleman, but well built. Not too much ofa good thing. A black leather jacket, tight jeans and boots completed the outfit. He could havewalked off any street. His thick, brown hair was long enough to sweep his shoulders.
Music drifted into the twilit silence. The man swayed to the sounds, hips rotating ever soslightly. He began to slip out of leather jacket, moving almost in slow motion. The soft musicseemed to have a pulse. A pulse that his body moved with, swaying. The jacket slid to the
stage. He stared out at the audience for a minute letting us see what there was to see. Scarshugged the bend of each arm, until the skin had formed white mounds of tissue.
I swallowed hard. I wasn't sure what was about to happen, but was betting I wasn't going tolike it.
He swept back his long hair from his face with both hands. He swayed and strutted around theedge of the stage. He stood near table, looking down at us. His neck looked like a junkie's.
I had to look away. All those neat little bite marks, neat little scars. I glanced up and foundCatherine staring at her lap. Monica leaning forward in her chair, lips half-parted.
He grabbed the t-shirt with strong hands and pulled. It peeled away from his chest, ripping.Screams from the audience. A few of them called his name. He smiled. The smile was dazzling,brilliant melt-in-your-mouth sexy.
There was scar tissue on his smooth, bare chest: white scars, pinkish scars, new scars, oldscars. I just sat staring with my mouth open.
Catherine whispered, "Dear God!"
"He's wonderful, isn't he?" Monica asked.
I glanced at her. Her flared collar had slipped, exposing two neat puncture wounds, fairly old,almost scars. Sweet Jesus.
The music burst into a pulsing violence. He danced, swaying, gyrating, throwing the strength ofhis body into every move. There a white mass of scars over his left collarbone, ragged andvicious. My stomach tightened. A vampire had torn through his collarbone, ripped at him like adog with a piece of meat. I knew, because I had a similar scar. I had a lot of similar scars.
Dollar bills appeared in hands like mushrooms after a rain. Monica was waving her money like aflag. I didn't want Phillip at our table. I had to lean into Monica to be heard over the noise.
"Monica, please, don't bring him over here."
Even as she turned to look at me, I knew it was too late. Phillip of the many scars wasstanding on the stage, looking down at us. I stared up into his very human eyes.
I could see the pulse in Monica's throat. She licked her lips; her eyes were enormous. Shestuffed the money down the front of his pants.
Her hands traced his scars like nervous butterflies. She leaned her face close to his stomachand began kissing his scars, leaving red lipstick prints behind. He knelt as she kissed him,forcing her mouth higher and higher up his chest.
He knelt, and she pressed lips to his face. He brushed his hair back from his neck, as if heknew what she wanted. She licked the newest bite scar, tongue small and pink, like a cat. Iheard her breath go out in a trembling sigh. She bit him, mouth locking over the wound. Phillipjerked with pain, or just surprise. Her jaws tightened, her throat worked. She was sucking thewound.
I looked across the table at Catherine. She was staring at them, face blank with astonishment.
The crowd was going wild, screaming and waving money. Phillip pulled away from Monica and movedon to another table. Monica slumped forward, head collapsing into her lap, arms limp at herside.
Had she fainted? I reached out to touch her shoulder and realized I didn't want to touch her. Igripped her shoulder gently. She moved, turning her head to look at me. Her eyes held that lazyfullness that sex gives. Her mouth looked pale with most of the lipstick worn away. She hadn'tfainted; she was basking in the afterglow.
I drew back from her, rubbing my hand against my jeans. My palms were sweating.
Phillip was back on the stage. He had stopped dancing. He was just standing there. Monica hadleft a small round mark on his neck.
I felt the first stirrings of an old mind, flowing over the crowd. Catherine asked, "What'shappening?"