The small bedroom in the farmhouse remained dark as morning slipped into afternoon. Shadows played on the wall, threatening to distract Lynda Renfroe even as her eyelids drooped and she began to nod.
Her head jerked and she was again awake. She gazed at the window and the pieces of wood Valentin had nailed into place last night to block the morning sun. Like sunlight would hurt Jody. That was just an old wives' tales. A Grimm's fairy tale, more than like. And these silly people actually believed that stuff - even the Prince.
Jody's not really a vampire. Lynda Renfroe told herself that as she sat on the bed beside the boy's body and pulled her legs up under her. He looks normal. He looks like my kid always has. Even if that wound in his tummy is all healed. Even if he is a little cooler than usual. He's normal. He can't be anything else. He's just a normal American boy.
She pulled the bedcovers up to his neck and sat back, taking up her vigil once again. Her thoughts were the same confused litany repeated in multiple ways since Prince Karl and his two companions left them as dawn began to streak the German sky.
Lynda went to bed because she knew everybody in the house was going to sleep. She had pretended to fall asleep beside Barbara, forcing herself to relax. She waited until she knew the other woman was asleep. She'd slipped out of bed then and, pulling on her thickest robe, crossed the hall to be with Jody.
She hadn't been thinking when she's sat down on Jody's bed and pulled her robe close around her in the chill of dawn. She still didn't know what she knew or, even, felt. The morning had been one of confused thoughts as she tried to sort this mess with her kid out. Thoughts and emotions and all sorts of crazy fears had romped through her head throughout the morning.
By rights, Jody ought to be dead. She understood that much. She and Barbara ought to have been doing whatever one did to move dead bodies across international borders. They ought to be burying the boy back in Alexandria tomorrow. She ought to be going crazy with grief like those women on television who had their kids blown away. She knew that.
Only, Jody Renfroe wasn't dead.
She wasn't sure what he was. Everybody was telling her he was a vampire now. But those weren't real and Jody was. Nobody was going to believe that kind of bullshit, not unless they were ready for a psycho ward somewhere.
She had pretended to go along, of course. The Prince and his lovers seemed to think they were dead men living. That Jody had become one of them. Barbara seemed to have bought into that bullshit too. She'd gone along for the ride. But, now, sitting here and looking at the kid closely, Lynda didn't see anything that made her son any different than any other 18 year old boy, except that he breathed awfully shallowly..
She smiled to herself as she lay down beside Jody and took his hand in both of hers. He had just been lucky as hell to survive the bullet that should have killed him. He had some damned good genes to heal as fast as he had. That made a lot more sense than believing he was something that couldn't be real.
She smiled again and closed her eyes. She slipped into the numbness of sleep as the autumn sun began to descend from its zenith.
Lynda Renfroe's eyes flew open to stare into a blue expanse that went on forever. She blinked. Jody's face came into focus. He was raised up on his elbow and watching at her, his face an inch from hers.
His eyes were wilder than she'd ever seen them.
She blinked again. She pulled her head back slightly to look at him. Her eyes travelled along each angle in that face she had known the past eighteen years and suddenly wasn't sure she knew.
The reporter in her noted his mouth was slightly open, his lips pulled back, even as his eyes held most of her attention. Her gaze zeroed in on his fangs.
Her heart began to beat a mile a minute as fear crashed over her. He really was a fucking vampire and she was going to die. She was going to be killed by her own son. Jody was going to feed on her.
She pulled further away, shivering, and shut her eyes to count to ten..
"Hi, Mom," he said and smiled at her as she opened her eyes again. His mouth was full of the teeth she had paid good money to have straightened and cleaned. Normal teeth.
She stared at him in the deepening gloom, searching quickly for abnormalities she'd hidden from earlier. I was imagining those fangs, she told herself resolutely. They aren't there now - and that means they never were.
"I feel sort of funny all over, Mom."
"How?" she forced herself to ask, retreating into the mundane world of being this boy's mother.
"I don't think I really can put a finger on it." He looked puzzled. "I don't hurt or anything. I guess I feel tingly all over." He chuckled. "And I'm pretty hungry too."
Jody threw the cover from himself. Realising he was naked even as the sheets rose, his eyes blazed with sudden anger even before the comforter was past his navel. His hand shot out to bring them back to him before he could be exposed.
"Mom!" He stared at her. "Where are my clothes?"
Lynda blinked. She had seen the blur of his hand grabbing bed clothes and pulling them back down over him, faster than any human could move. She struggled back from confronting the impossible of that and its only explanation. "I think the Prince's servant probably took them off you after you were brought here."
"Jesus! Why couldn't he leave me alone?"
"You were a mess. They cleaned you up."
"A mess?" He studied her for a moment. "You haven't sneaked a look, have you?"
"Jody Renfroe! I've seen everything you've got. I used to bathe you."
"Yeah. But I was little then, Mom," he agreed and pursued her suspiciously: "You didn't, did you?"
Lynda shook her head slowly, both feet firmly planted in the mundane world of being a superfluous parent to a teen-aged boy.
"Think you could find me some underwear so I can get up?"
She sighed and pushed herself to the edge of the bed. She knew her son well enough to know he wasn't about to budge from under the covers until he had his ass covered. He wasn't about to do anything else either - except pout - until he had clothes on.
* * *
"See that rock up there on the side of the road?" Jody pointed up the lane. Johan squinted in the gathering darkness and shook his head slowly.
"You're blind, Hans!" he barked with laughter. "Anyway, I'll race you there. Come on!" He took a step, concentrating his attention on the rock. It grew before his eyes, seeming to rush toward him, and he was suddenly standing beside it.
"That's weird," he mumbled and turned back to where he expected to find Johan. His eyes narrowed as he saw the other boy in the distance jogging toward him.
"That boy's slow!" he grumbled and squatted beside the lane to wait. He picked up a stone a moment later and, rising to his feet, tossed it toward the top of a pine tree he figured to be a good 50 feet away.
His eyes widened with surprise when he heard it hit wood. "Some really strange shit's coming down around here," he mumbled and turned back to gage the Czech's progress in catching up to him. He took a strange comfort in the sound of his own voice.
"You're slow," he greeted Johan as the Czech came abreast of him.
"No, not slow, Jody," the other boy gasped for breath. "You disappeared there and were here." He shook his head slowly and gazed at Jody. "So, this is the way of the Vampir."
Jody's eyes narrowed as he studied the other boy closely. He was surprised he could see the small droplets of sweat oozing out of the skin of the boy's face and forming tiny pools in each of his pores. He could also hear Johan's heart pounding and wasn't sure why he found that exciting.
"Vampir?" he asked, feeling the word with his tongue and lips. It sounded a lot like `vampire', but it didn't make any sense his Czech buddy would use that word for anything - much less to describe him. "Why'd you use that word?"
Hans looked at him curiously. "You do not remember?"
"Remember what?" Jody didn't like the way his friend was studying him. He didn't like the blank he found in his memory from yesterday.
"You were shot."
"Me?" He stared at Johan and felt cold. "No way, buddy!"
"We strolled on the grounds of the Prince's property in the Grünewald-"
"The house in Berlin - don't you remember? There was a shot from the woods and you stumbled. You began to collapse against me - your shirt and pants were covered with blood. As were mine."
Jody remembered the sudden weakness that had spread out over him from his gut. He had reached out to Hans for support. And Hans was supporting him, helping him to the ground. Then, this tall, good-looking blond guy just showed up from out of nowhere and started talking to him inside his head. About choosing to die or live.
Jody shivered. That was a pretty weird dream. A real nightmare. Only, he was having it right now in daylight and he wasn't even asleep. He waited for Johan Kys to continue.
"The Prince came and took you. He opened his wrist and put it against your lips before you both disappeared from the grounds. I found you in your room, you and the Prince - and some knight sitting a white horse. You were hungrily sucking at the Prince's arm."
"Whoa!" Jody yelped and stared at him. "There's no way you can get a horse in that house - not upstairs."
Johan gazed at him, his face void of emotion. "The man on the white horse was Death, Jody. The Prince was barely able to save you. I saw the hole in your abdomen - you could not live."
Instinctively, the American felt himself across the front of his jeans. There sure hadn't been any holes in his body he'd seen while he was showering. He was as whole as he'd ever been.
What was Hans talking about? It sounded crazy as all hell - vampires, death, disappearing from one place and being somewhere else. Only, he could remember just enough of what the boy was saying he couldn't discount it entirely.
The blond stranger had been holding him and looking down at him. He remembered that. Just like he remembered him asking him in his head if he wanted to live when he'd felt so faint.
He'd also seen a bright light and remembered it'd felt like he was in a tunnel - a really dark one. Only the blond man kept commanding him to drink, pulling him back. Keeping him from going through that tunnel.
"What does this Prince look like?" Jody asked cautiously, unsure he really wanted to pursue the idea but knowing he had to or this shit would start to really plague him.
Johan smiled slightly and glanced away. "He is blond and young - like Emil and Tom. He is also very good-looking-"
The American blinked. This Prince sounded like the man who'd just showed up in his dream and started telling him what to do. Only, that wasn't very likely because he'd never even seen the man. Jody Renfroe was sure of one thing: a guy didn't start having near-nightmares with people in them he's never seen. Not real people, anyway. Maybe there was something to what Hans was talking about after all.
"What're these vampires supposed to do?" he asked hesitantly, not liking the idea of him being one. He didn't want to go around wearing a cape and looking like Bela Lagosi. He was pretty sure he wouldn't like it any better even if he had to get used to it.
"They live forever," the Czech told him. "They stay young forever." Johan turned to face him and Jody saw the naked longing in his face. "They are stronger than normal men." He licked his lips and a smile threatened curl them. "There are old women in Prague who say they can make love all night and never grow tired."
Jody grinned at the direction he sensed the other boy's thoughts were taking. "That kind of life doesn't sound half bad," he offered. "How do I sign up to be one of these guys?"
"You already are, mein Freund," Hans mumbled. "The Prince made you one to save you from Death's sickle."
"No way! In the movies, those guys drink blood-" He shuddered. "And, Lord knows, that Bela Lugosi looked old!"
"What is on the film is not always what is real."
Jody chuckled. "Yeah, you ought to know about that. You make movies-" He spotted the carriage house over Hans' shoulder and grinned. "Why don't we see who makes it to that outhouse first? Only, this time, you've got to throw yourself into the race."
Johan sighed. "You will win. Even if you don't-" He paused to find an English word that said what he wanted. "Even if you don't imagine yourself there."
"Imagine?" He studied the building more closely and allowed himself to wonder if he could do something like that before he could reject the thought. "You're talking about teleportation - and that's about as crazy as reading tomorrow's comics page today."
Hans shrugged. "Prove it to yourself."
Jody stared at him. "How?" he asked finally.
"Just as you did when you saw the rock in the lane a few moments ago. What did you do then?"
"I just-" He shrugged, trying to remember the run up the road. "I don't know!"
"I concentrated on the rock. I wanted to be there and watching you still running to catch up-"
"You saw yourself here at the rock, yes?" The American nodded. "You saw yourself watching me run up the lane to you?"
"Do the same thing with the carriage house." The Czech pointed. "See the double doors?" He nodded again. "Imagine yourself standing there - everything must be the same, but with you standing there."
Jody stared at the large doors, concentrating on the spot of cleared ground just before them. He reached out to that spot, wanting to be there. He imagined himself standing before the doors.
He shut his eyes and lowered his head, feeling a fool at even believing something like that was possible. Hans was just making fun of him - and he'd fallen for it. "Shit!" he growled to himself and, his anger rising, turned to face down the Czech who had just put him together.
Johan Kys wasn't there. Jody turned more and stopped as he stared at the gaping open doors of the carriage house. Whipping back around, he looked back up the lane and saw the Czech out there where they'd been standing together a moment before. He blinked.
"Jesus H. Christ!" A grin enveloped his lips and moved to cover his face. "I fucking did it."
His face went immediately slack as he decided to do it again, in reverse. He concentrated on the rock beside the road. It was behind Johan and a little to the boy's left. He imagined himself standing there with the Czech almost in front of him. He reached out to the rock, putting himself just in front of it.
"Hi," he offered quietly as he reached out and touched Johan's shoulder. And he laughed when the boy jumped away from his touch.
* * *
Johan Kys walked with his hands in the pockets of his jeans. Beside him was the American, but he didn't think to look at him. Part of him was happy Jody Renfroe was alive - especially after all that blood and that big hole in his gut he'd seen. That he was even healthy enough to be here beside him.
He wasn't in love with him. Johan Kys was sure of that. It took more than one bout in bed to have him going head over heels for a man. But he was fond of him. Probably fonder than he should be.
Jody Renfroe was naive - more than Johan could imagine a boy his age being. But he was curious and intelligent - even if he could only speak one language. The evening they'd spent exploring the Ku-damm had been fun in the simplest possible way. He'd been able to see the wealth of Germany through fresh eyes and had enjoyed the experience. It wouldn't take many more times like that before he was more than just fond of Jody Renfroe.
This American was something more than the country bumpkin come to town he'd been just two days ago. He could disappear from one place and appear someplace else. Johan Kys was willing to give the old wives of Prague the immortality their tales gave vampires. And he hoped for the sexual prowess as well. Jody had powers as he walked beside him in the late November afternoon the Czech had only heard about before.
Johan wanted them too.
He'd never again be at the mercy of another man. Whether that man was the fat party apparachik who wanted his 13 year old German bum that first time in Prague or the Prince and his lovers with their film-making. With the powers the Prince had given this American, Johan would never again have to depend on another man for his life or its necessities.
The more he contemplated it, the more he wanted it. Because he would then have the power to be himself for the first time in his 20 years.
Only, how did he make it happen? Without staring the horseman in the face as this Jody Renfroe beside him had?
"Want to get into something?" Jody asked from beside him.
It took Johan a moment to pull himself back from where his thoughts had been taking him. He glanced at the American grinning beside him, then at the carriage house they had neared. Across the strand behind Jody was the farm house over the barn. He smiled as his gaze returned to the front of Jody's jeans and remained there.
"That would be fun."
The American nodded toward the carriage house. "Last one in the loft sucks dick," he growled and began to run toward the open doors.
"It's cold!" Hans grumbled as he let his sweater drop on the loose hay and shivered as his chest became covered in goosebumps. He glanced around at the stall they found at the stairs to the house above them. The unfinished boards, the tack from long ago horses. He turned back to Jody and smiled.
The American grinned at him. "Come over here and I'll warm you up."
Johan stepped to him, a smile playing across his face. He already imagined their coupling and was quickly becoming lost in desire. "Kiss me," he demanded as his arms went around the American's neck, pulling him to him.
Jody hesitated even after Johan's lips were pressed against his.
The Czech's hand moved between them and loosened his belt. A moment later, he slipped his fingers inside the American's jeans.
Jody relented and opened his lips, giving himself up to kissing another man. Their tongues were in an immediate duel for supremacy and the American relaxed.
Johan's tongue found his fangs. His heart sang at the veracity of at least one of the old wives' tales he'd heard. Jody had fangs. Fangs that would open wounds and cause blood. He was a vampire.
They had to mean he drank blood as the stories had vampires doing before the commissars came and ended so very much that had been good. Perhaps, while they were making love, if he bit him? Johan couldn't let him have too much or he'd be dead. But a little? Would that be enough to make him a vampire too?
It was hard to think with the American's hands roaming freely over his arsecheeks. His desire was becoming everything as he ground against Jody and traced his fangs with his tongue. It was difficult to concentrate on opening the other boy's fly to release him.
"Bite me," he whispered as Jody's lips trailed his jaw back to his neck. He smiled to himself as the American slipped his jeans over his hips.
Jody's lips moved down to Johan's clavicle and back along his neck as he pushed the Czech's jeans as close to his knees as he could get them without breaking contact with the other boy. He began to kneel and brought the other boy down to the hay with him.
Johan didn't mind the cold now; he was past thinking about the American making him a vampire. He pulled Jody down to the hay-covered stone floor of the stall.
Jody lifted his legs and moved between them.
Johan felt the American pressing against his entrance as he leaned into him, his lips finding his again. He shut his eyes and smiled as the other boy's lips brushed his and angled toward his jaw again and traced their way back to his neck. He sighed as Jody entered him.
He felt the American's pubic hair press against the insides of his thighs. Jody's lips opened just above his clavicle. He tightened his muscles to milk the American as his groin began to retreat. He groaned and his eyes flew open as Jody's fangs began to push into his neck muscle.
Johan felt Jody's tongue move across his throat as the American lapped at his blood. He humped up to meet the other boy's thrusts inside him. He was light-headed with the sensations washing over his body when the American's fangs returned to open the wound on his neck further. His heart pounded in his ears. The stall seemed to become darker about him.
Sex had never been this total for him and Johan struggled against his body's climb toward orgasm to understand what was happening to him.
Jody's pubis crashing into him, his own heart pounding so loudly, and Jody's tongue curling sensuously over his neck lapping his blood - they had become constants to his life.
Johan realised what was happening to him. "Du tötst mir!" he groaned.
"Haltst!" he cried as his realisation became complete. His hands moved up to Jody's chest and began to push at his shoulders.
He was weak! He was dying! And Jody wasn't stopping. He stared up at the ceiling of the barn past the American's shoulder.
I would die like this? In a barn with a cock in my ass? The questions burned in his mind.
"No!" he gasped and pushed harder at the American's shoulders.
It was feeling so good. Johan's ass was the tightest thing Jody Renfroe could imagine and he was buried in it. If anything, it was even better than their first night. Jody was sure this was what love-making was supposed to be all about. It was like satisfying the deepest hunger - bed and table all rolled into one.
The boy under Jody was making different kinds of noises than those he made the other times they had sex. It took Jody long moments to understand that. He smiled to himself when he realised Johan was crying and groaning while he was fucking him. Jody wondered what the boy was saying to himself.
He heard him say "no" at the same time he realised there was something coppery tasting in his mouth. Jody comprehended then that Johan was pushing him away too.
He pushed himself up on his arms and smiled down at Hans. "Feels good, doesn't it, babe?" he asked and ground himself against the boy's arsecheeks.
Johan stared up at Jody and tried to breathe. Only, he couldn't seem to get enough air. "Ich sterbe," he gasped.
"I don't speak German, babe. Speak English." Jody couldn't understand why the boy was staring at him like that. His eyes were so round and blue. It wasn't like he had a virgin ass. And he'd sure as hell liked having it ploughed good and long the last time. It was almost as if he was afraid of him.
"I die," Johan gasped. "You drink too much."
"Too much what?"
"Blut. Blood" Tears welled in Johan's eyes, washing over the corners. "You drink too much of my blood, Jody."
"Now wait a goddamned-" He wasn't going to play this vampire bit any more. Hans had had his fun.
He saw Johan's neck then. The puncture wounds still oozed blood, even as angry blue and black bruises were beginning to form around them. "I did that?" he asked hesitantly. His hips were finally stationary.
Johan nodded up at him and Jody looked down into the boy's wide blue eyes, feeling himself falling into them. "Are you going to be all right?"
"I can't breathe and it grows dark around me."
"I can go find this Prince Karl or one of his lovers. Maybe they-?"
"No!" Johan shivered and glanced quickly about the stall. "Lie with me, Jody. Hold me as I die."
He stared down at the man in disbelief. "You can't be dying . . . Jesus!" He watched the Czech's chest heave as the boy tried to pull air into his lungs. He knew he loved him then.
"I didn't mean to - come on, babe," Jody mumbled, his fingers moving to touch the other boy's cheek. "You're going to be all right."
Johan smiled weakly. "There is only one way for that, Liebchen."
"You must feed me as the Prince did you."
"Huh?" He stared down at Johan in disbelief.
"Your blood, Jody. It will make me strong again - as you are. It will give me life."
"Shit!" The American sat back on his haunches, unaware he pulled from the other boy's ass. "My blood?" He cringed. Johan looked so pale lying on the straw. Like he'd been drained.
Yeah, Jody growled to himself. By me. He watched the Czech's chest heaved and listened to his ragged breathing. I've killed him. It wasn't enough to just fuck him. To fucking fall for the bastard. I had to slurp on his neck too. Jesus!
"How do I-?"
He stared at the boy's closed eyes and slack face. He looked peaceful enough - too peaceful. Like he was already dead.
He brought his hand to his face, turning his head so he was staring at his wrist. At the vein there just behind the thumb. With his tongue, he felt his upper line of teeth where Bela Lugosi's fangs were and cringed when he found his. He brought his wrist to his lips and looked back down at Johan.
"I want you to know I wouldn't do this for just anybody," he mumbled and bit into himself. He tasted copper again and gagged. Making sure he didn't look at his wrist, he moved it to Johan's lips. He forced the wound past the boy's teeth into his mouth.
"You'd better drink that shit, asshole," he breathed to the Czech. "You'd better not die on me."
The boy gagged as Jody's blood oozed into his throat. Then, he was sucking at the wound in the American's wrist. A moment later, his tongue began to probe it.
* * *
"Stop screaming!" I growled as I materialised into the stall. I sensed Emil arrive behind me.
Jody stared at me, his eyes red from his tears. "I killed him."
I glanced at the naked boy lying on the hay and touched his mind. Thoughts flitted there - dreams. I blinked as I realised the boy lying on the hay was our own Global Entertainment's pornography star, Johan Kys.
"How?" Emil quietly asked the American before I could turn my attention back to him. When I had done so, I realised he too was nude and smiled. It took no imagination to know what these two had been doing.
"I was-" the American's skin blotched. Horribly. Angry red circles popped out across his face and down onto his chest. His face became bloated from the rush of excess blood.
"You were being intimate with young Johan," I supplied quickly.
"Why did you scream like that?" Emil asked.
"I didn't scream-"
"You were broadcasting at full volume on every mental channel there is," my Swiss lover told him.
"Why do you think you kill Johan?" I demanded, wanting to ease the suspicions growing unwelcomed inside me.
"I - we . . ." Jody helplessly looked to Emil.
"You were intimate - so?" I demanded.
He closed his eyes and lowered his head before me. "I bit him. I didn't even know I was doing it. We were just rocking along in some really heavy sex and I was draining him dry at the same time."
|Uh oh!| Emil shot at me.
|You hadn't already realise that was where this was leading?| I shot back.
"He started to black out. And he was having a hard time breathing-"
"He said he was dying. I could even hear his heart pounding-"
|We've got another, Karl. He's transforming.|
"I opened up my wrist to give him some of my blood-"
"Why?" I snarled. There were suddenly far too many vampires in Berlin.
Jody looked up to meet my eyes on him then. "He said that's how the Prince saved me."
"And you put your wound to his lips?"
He nodded. "But he gagged. Then, he just sort of slumped and - and was gone."
"Put on your clothes."
"What about Hans?"
"What about him?"
"Help me bring him back to life." He sprang to his feet and was in my face immediately. "You've got to do something. You've got to help me!"
"Why?" Before this American child would know he had no cause to worry, he was going to admit to himself and to me his attachment to the young Czech.
I had already seen how Americans avoid admitting things unpleasant to them. I knew far too much about this boy's fear of his homosexuality from the past 24 hours. It was a fear that touched each dream and thought since his soul had demanded a chance with the Czech in the moment his life had hung in the balance.
"Why?" He glared at me as if I were an imbecile. "Because I killed him."
"So? Why is he so important to you yhat he needs be saved?"
"He's a human being!"
"And you are a vampire - you feed on blood. Besides, young Johan is just another mortal you fucked. A queer. Someone to get it on with while you're here with your mother. Isn't that how you've been seeing him since you went to bed with him the first time?"
"I-" His eyes narrowed and his body shivered as he restrained himself from attempting to hit me. "You're a fucking asshole, mister. Okay, I like him. I may even love him. I don't know; but I sure as hell want a chance to find out. Now, will you help me save him?"
"May I introduce you?" Emil offered gently. "Jody Renfroe, this is Karl, Prince von Muribor." My favourite Swiss managed to keep humour from his voice but I noticed a smile fighting to gain control of his lips. "Jody, it's proper to bow from the waist when presented to a Prince - and to use `Sir' to address him."
"You!" His eyes widened as he understood what was being said to him. "You're the one who saved me," he mumbled and bowed his head. "Please, Sir, help me save Hans."
I really could not imagine what life would have been like if I had never met Emil. Dull, yes. But how dull could dull be?
I smiled. "Put on your clothes, Jody. Johan's well."
"Well?" His eyes met mine again. "He's dying." He glanced back at the naked Czech and shuddered, his eyes widening. "He's dead."
"Jody, he's alive," Emil told him.
"But he's not breathing!"
"Vampires don't have to breathe," I told him. "He's beginning to transform - every cell in his body. As yours did throughout the night."
He pulled his eyes from the Czech to look, first, at me and, then, at Emil. "Really?" he asked in a small voice.
"Really," Emil answered. "You have taken responsibility for another man's life and made a vampire."
I sighed. "Emil, help this child dress himself and, if he's any help at all, let him help you dress young Johan."
|You're having fun with this, Liebchen.| Large, wet lips blew me a kiss.
"Help him get our poor Johan back to bed too." I managed to appear severe in the eyes of the American puppy. "I suspect also the three of us need teach this one the facts of being homo vampiricus before he goes about biting other mortals and feeling sorry for them afterwards."
Barbara chuckled and Tom turned to glance at her as they walked along the lane back to the house. "What's funny?" he asked.
She smiled at him. "Other than this whole trip?" He nodded. "I was just thinking - I've always imagined Germany being full of mountains." She chuckled. "All those people yodelling at each other from one mountain top to the other - only this is as flat as I imagine Kansas being."
"The mountains start in south Germany - rising in Bavaria and going down into Austria and Switzerland." He glanced at the woods they were skirting to the left. "Lynda isn't handling this thing with her son well, is she?"
She laughed. "She'll come around. As soon as she works her way through her denial, she's going to have her nose up that kid's ass all the time wanting to know every little thing there is to know about vampires. Jody's going to get damned tired of her quick."
"She won't try to write about us, will she?"
"She'd better not! That's one thing I agree with your Prince about - you people would have them hounding you with crosses and microscopes. I'm not going to let that happen to the kid."
"Is she going to come around on his interest in Johan Kys too?"
"That boy? Jody's had his scrapes growing up because of Lynda and me." She grinned. "I guess he hid any interest he had deep as hell because of us. But all it took was a cute boy in heat and surroundings where our kid wasn't having to defend his turf - and he was sniffing the air like any other cockhound." She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. "It's getting chilly out here.
"Anyway, Lynda's weird about that kid of ours. She wants him to be the all American boy. Totally normal. That's why she's in denial about Jody being a vampire. It's also why she's been cold about that other boy. But she'll come around. She always does."
Pain spread out over Tom MacPherson from his left side. His heart fluttered as he felt his legs give out under him. He stared at the front of his shirt and was shocked to see the large, shredded hole over his right nipple and how quickly that whole side of the shirt was soaking with blood. The gravel of the lane began to rise up to meet him. Barbara screamed beside him but her voice seemed far away as he started to collapse.
* * *
Lynda stepped out the front door and held herself close at the chill in the air. She wondered where everybody was. Barbara had already been gone for several hours and it didn't take a rocket scientist to guess her lover was getting in some miles with that sandy-haired beauty of the Prince's. But everybody else had just disappeared on her without so much as a word - even Jody.
The only person left around was Valentin and the servant couldn't even speak English.
She saw Barbara and Tom then. They'd just passed a wooded area that jutted almost out onto the gravel road and were beginning to head toward her. She smiled to herself. Those two helped her keep all this foreign-ness around her at arm's length. It wouldn't be long now before she was well past feeling so completely alone. She'd even be able to put this bullshit about Jody being a vampire out of her mind for awhile once she had them to talk to.
"Good old Babs," she mumbled, "you're always there for me, baby."
Tom MacPherson crumpled before her eyes. One second he was standing; the next he was sinking to the ground. And Barbara - she was holding her head and beginning to collapse too. Lynda stared out at them, her mind unable to make sense of what she was seeing. The report of a gun firing reached her then and her feet began to move beneath her.
Valentin must have been right behind her because he was past her and running up the road toward where they'd gone down. The German muscleman kept yelling something that sounded like "first call" over and over as his long legs put more distance between them with each step he took.
Fear began to gnaw at her as she ran faster after the disappearing servant. The damned fascists had followed them out here into the country. Barbara had gone down and that could mean they'd killed her like they'd almost done with Jody. She wasn't safe. Nobody was safe. They always found you if they wanted to.
She can't be dead! Tears misted over her eyes, blurring her vision. Not Babs.
Valentin was bent over Barbara when Lynda finally arrived at where the two of them had fallen. She approached him hesitantly, fear making it increasingly difficult for her to take each step that brought her to where her lover lay.
She circled around the German and was kneeling beside him when she saw the blood.
Barbara's flannel shirt was soaked in it. Her face was smeared with it. Her hair was matted with it.
"No!" she gasped. And felt the world lurch around her.
Valentin's fingers were exploring Babs' skull. Their quick, sure movement caught at Lynda's thoughts before they could tumble out of control. "Ach!" he grunted and his fingers pulled matted hair down into her face, opening up a view of her scalp several centimetres into her hairline.
"Sehen!" he commanded and pointed at the exposed scalp at his fingertips. Expecting to see her lover's brains oozing out of the wound, Lynda forced herself to look where the man was pointing.
She saw blood welling in a shallow crease across the top of the other woman's head. She made herself look closer and saw no jagged pieces of bone sticking out. "She's not dead," she mumbled and sniffed, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.
Valentin stood and moved to Tom. He saw the blood-soaked shirt immediately. Squatting beside the unconscious American, he made out the shredded hole in the shirt above the right nipple in the dying light and knew he was dead.
He unbuttoned the man's shirt slowly and pulled the sticky right panel back to look at the wound. His eyes rounded.
He blinked and moved closer to have a better view.
There was no wound in Tom MacPherson's chest. "Unmöglich!" he hissed.
Valentin grabbed the boy's wrist and found his pulse. Staring down at Tom's face, he placed his palm down in the centre of his chest. And felt his heart pumping rhythmically.
I stood between Valentin and Lynda Renfroe for a moment to gain my bearings. "The American woman?" I asked Valentin.
He jumped and nearly fell on Tom before he could steady himself and stand. "Fürst Karl!" he cried.
"A flesh wound only, my Prince. The bullet grazed but the top of her skull."
"He should be dead, my Prince. But his heart beats-"
Tom groaned and I relaxed. "He's what I am, Valentin."
The man nodded slowly and glanced back at Tom.
I turned to Emil. "Stay with them and help get them back to the house."
He grinned. "Hunting alone tonight?"
I snorted. "There are two bodies and I doubt even Valentin's muscles will enable him to carry both Tom and Ms. Nightwing."
"Happy hunting, Liebchen, he told me and turned to Tom. Taking one hand, he pulled our American lover to his feet and wrapped his arm around his waist.
"Carry the woman and staunch her bleeding," I told Valentin and transformed into bat-form for the hunt.
"Don't kill him until I'm there," Emil called after me. I sensed him teleport himself and Tom to the house as I winged toward the woods.
* * *
I found the assassin's spoor immediately. If my bat body had permitted it, I would have gagged the moment I found the bushes in which he'd hidden. He was a man who sweated profusely even this late into November with temperatures hovering at zero Celsius. And one who had not bathed in days.
From the crashing sounds coming from the woods ahead of me, the man was making no attempt to steal away quietly. I braced my legs and glided fast to the ground. Immediately, I took wolf form and began to run toward the sounds. The man's spoor was even more pronounced to my canine nose than it was to the bat I had been moments earlier.
The man cursed as he pushed through the tangle of bush that was the interior of the copse of trees. He was making no effort to conceal his presence as I came upon him.
I wagged my surprise that he was as big as his odour was loud. His long hair had more grey than black in it. Somewhere during my 150 years of life, I had developed an image of slim, even muscular, young men of misguided intellect committing acts of political murder. Neither of the American assassins who had come after me met my image of them. This one, at least, was not dressed for simple hunting. He was in military camouflage.
I followed after him a few moments even after I'd caught up to him, touching his surface thoughts to learn if he had accomplices and how he intended to escape. And to decide how I would capture him.
This creature of American insanity would die painfully. That was a given. As painfully as his fellow assassin. But I would be the cat that played with his mouse before killing it.
I smiled. He would be surprised to find himself facing the back wall of my barn as soon as I'd put us there. I hid behind a tree and again took human form. And imagined him in the barn more than a kilometre behind where we were now.
The assassin's foot crushed a dead Goebbels as it supported his weight; his other foot moved out and took him into the barn. I projected myself to the loft above him.
The barn was silent as I stood in the loft and listened for the man who would kill me. I grinned broadly. He wasn't cursing now.
I found him in the gloom, squatting behind a bale of hay and gazing about fearfully. He held an automatic rifle to his shoulder, ready to blow holes in the walls of my barn if any of the shadows moved.
I projected myself to his side and grabbed his rifle before he could become aware of me. His eyes rounded as he turned to find me but his grip on his weapon tightened. "Hello," I offered, "I have heard you were looking for me?"
The man's eyes narrowed as he sought to regain control of his gun. "You fucking foreign bastard!" he hissed, rising and attempting to pull the rifle from my grip at the same time. "I'm going to kill your fucking ass!"
I smiled. And, faster than his muscles could react, snatched the weapon from him. "I don't think so," I told him and bent the barrel of the rifle before tossing it behind me.
He was afraid, but his fear did not immobilise him. He lunged at me and his thoughts told me he intended to strangle me the moment he had me on my back with his weight holding me down.
Fortunately for me - and unfortunately for him - I was a vampire and had speed his slow mind could not even dream of. I stepped aside just his fingers as his fingers neared my neck and watched with amusement as he rushed past me, unable to stop his headlong movement. I did insert my foot in his path with the same speed I'd escaped his hands; I was unwilling to have him at full speed when he finally realised he need to run for his life.
I chuckled as he sprawled out over the hay-covered ground that was the floor of the barn.
He looked over his shoulder up at me and growled: "Okay, Kraut, you got me. So, call your stinking cops."
"I don't think so," I told him, moving to stand at his side. "I suspect I'll soon be hunting in America, so I want to know everything you know before you cross the Styx this afternoon."
His brows furrowed together as he stared up at me. "The Styx? What the fuck you talking about, mister?"
I smiled and made no effort to pull him to his feet. "You have an appointment with death this afternoon - one I would make no effort to prevent."
"You're going to kill me?" he demanded and, watching me carefully, pushed himself up into a kneeling position. "Do it, then - and be done with it."
"Ah, but I would know what and who I hunt when I'm in America."
"I ain't telling you nothing."
I smiled gently. "You won't have a choice." Sleep, I told his mind. He stared at me in surprise and yawned. Sleep, I commanded.
He lowered himself back to the hay and relaxed. Sleep now, I demanded. The assassin attempted to focus on me as his eyelids closed but couldn't. He began to snore.
|Jody,| I called the American boy to me. |Come to the barn. Now.|
He appeared immediately at my side, his blond hair garnering all of the sun making its way into the barn. I marvelled at how quickly young people today learned even something as difficult as teleportation and how quickly they were assured of their use of it.
"I need you to watch this creature while I see to Tom and Barbara-"
"What's wrong with them?" he demanded, interrupting me and glancing inadvertently toward the closed barn doors. I sensed none of the respect the years had taught me to expect - even from young Johan whose society had spent half a century attempting to uproot the vestiges of nobility.
"This creature attempted to kill them while you feasted upon your friend." Faint red blotches spread across his face and disappeared into his hairline. "I would see to them, that they're recovered."
"Aw, come on, Karl!" he whined. "Barbara's pretty special to me and I'm not about to be a baby-sitter."
I smiled tightly at him, irritation washing over me. "Vampires can die, pup - easily. And I have no responsibility toward you beyond that of host."
He stared at me for several moments, gauging the seriousness of my threat. "I'm your guest," he offered finally, still watching my eyes.
"And generally an unpleasant one with no sense of gratitude, of respect, or duty." My smile became tighter. "Such have long been seen as justifiable reasons for absolving one's duties as a host - or even as liege-lord."
He took a deep breath and looked away. "I sort of suspect I must've stepped on your foot here-" he paused before adding, "Sir". He looked back at me, holding my eyes with his - and attempted a smile. "I guess I've got a lot to learn about this vampire business, Prince Karl. And how we're supposed to do things." He glanced down at the straw-strewn floor. "I'd really appreciate it, Sir, if you'd show me the ropes - when you have the time, that is."
I nodded my acquiescence to his request and disappeared.
The problem with young Americans, I told myself as I entered the bedroom I shared with Tom and Emil, was that they were so unpredictable. One moment they were a horror, legitimate gist for immediate - even extreme - removal. The next they were so damned likeable it was impossible to remain angry with them.
Tom lay on the bed, bare-chested. "How is he?" I asked Emil and forced young Jody Renfroe from my thoughts.
"He's only shaken, Karl. His body repaired itself fast enough." The Swiss youth moved around the bed to stand beside me. "And how is our assassin?"
"Sleeping in the barn."
Tom pushed himself up onto the pillows and stared at the two of us. "You just left him out there alone?"
"I put Jody to guard him."
"That child!" Emil groaned. "Karli - Liebchen - that American boy is spoiled beyond the point of redemption - and impossibly naïve."
"Now, wait a damned minute!" Tom growled and pushed himself off the bed.
I smiled at him as he moved toward us. "Before you become impossibly jingo-istic, Tomi, remember we have come to love you only after Sergei and Würther were awake inside you and advising you."
He frowned, understanding I wanted no arguments between the two of them at this point. "This shit is getting out of hand, guys," he offered a moment later to change the subject.
"Lynda Renfroe was told there were only three - and we now have the second of those," Emil commented, picking up on Tom's change of subject and carrying it on.
"Yes - but we now have another vampire because of them - two of them, I should say," I told them. "And this time - if we were mortal, we'd have two very dead people on our hands."
"And neither Barbara nor I was you," Tom observed. "The boy I could understand. He's blond like you and it was growing dark - the gunman made a mistake. This time though-"
I nodded. It was obvious the current assassin had made no mistake in his selection of victims. He had not been attempting to kill me. "But why? If they blame me and have ordered my death, why are they shooting at anyone they see?"
Tom glanced down at his smooth, unblemished chest and touched his right nipple curiously. "It's pretty damned scary to see a hole as big as your fist in your shirt - and all that blood."
"We're going to have to decide how we handle this," I told them and started for the door, "but, first, I need look in on Ms. Nightwing."
"She has both Valentin and her lover with her," Emil allowed.
"The bleeding is stopped?"
He nodded. "A scalp wound only." He grinned. "Fortunately, she is small and the bullet only creased the top of her head after it smashed through Tom's chest. I think she is enjoying all the attention she receives, however."
"An excellent reason for me not to appear at present," I observed.
"So, how do we stop these crazy fools from coming over here and shooting at anything that moves?" Tom demanded.
"There is but one left," Emil offered quietly.
"At the moment," I groused.
Tom sat on the bed and faced both of us. "We need clean out some of this garbage - and destroy whatever central communication they have."
My brow arched theatrically and I gazed at him curiously. "You were the one who counselled against killing Koughlin last year. You suggested leaving him and his organisation to the American police-"
"That was last year, Karl. And that was a well-organised structure with intelligent people in charge-"
"And this isn't?" Emil asked.
"No. The intelligence is gone. The sense of purpose as well. The Christian Center and the preacher had intelligent men pulling the levers of power - directing their bullies to disrupt things to bring down the collapse of America."
He nodded to himself. "These are but the bullies. Without the direction."
"Someone has directed them here," I told him. "Someone even promised to pay these individual assassins if they succeeded in killing me-"
"That's just the point, Karl! They're after you, but, last year, that kid nor I would have been shot at. The direction would have been flawless. Now, they put their bullies on the ground, give them rifles, but don't carry through. These guys just start pulling the trigger at anything that moves.
"Sure, somebody's trying to pull the strings. They got their boys to Berlin all right. But whoever it is at the top isn't a puppet master by any stretch. They don't know how to exercise really effective control."
He snorted. "Shit! I'll bet they don't even have it all put together on computer like Koughlin and his gang did - they're keeping track of everything in their heads!"
"And this would then make it right to storm in and change history ourselves?"
"Change history?" Emil asked.
I nodded, tight-lipped. "Last year, I was prepared to root out the octopus this preacher in America headed. I was ready to kill the lieutenants who controlled his bullies - but Tom stopped me."
The American sighed. "There was a real chance the Christian Center could disrupt America enough Koughlin came to power as Hitler and Mussolini did. It was best the American government destroy their organisation by using the law - once we'd given them the evidence. People would see what the fascisti had in store for them. They would pull away from that path.
"But these are nothing more than the crazies left over after Koughlin's empire collapsed. The stormtrooper squads themselves without their leaders. They don't think, they aren't organised - they're no threat to America or any other country."
"But they are threats to whomever they choose to bully?" I asked.
"They're like the guy out there in Utah who seceded from the country and the FBI ended up killing his 14 year old kid because the nut wouldn't surrender. You get that deep into this barrel of rot, and the government runs the risk of alienating citizens because the nuts are always going to put women and kids out on the front line just hoping some federal agent takes a potshot at them. If the government won't do it, then they do it themselves - like those crazies in Canada and Switzerland a few years ago."
"Then, you suggest we go in and judge these bullies where we find them?"
He stared at me in surprise for a moment. "No, Karl. Only those who would affect us. Who would come after us. The rest will die away soon enough - or burrow deeper so they can't be seen and can't do anything."
I shrugged. "If you two decide we need do that, then we shall make forays into the American outback and search out these bullies. But, now, we have one more organisation committed to killing me that hasn't been heard from. How do we protect our guests without making everyone a vampire?"
Emil grinned. "Perhaps that wouldn't be so bad-"
"No! The more of us there are, the more likely one of us makes a mistake. Look at this boy. He is irresponsible. He doesn't think things through - he simply does whatever comes to mind at the moment. And can you imagine our star reporter Linda Renfroe investigating a case after she becomes one?"
Tom cringed. "It would be like Clark Kent walking into the newsroom at the Daily Planet and stripping down to his Superman suit."
Emil smiled and said: "Perhaps we need remove ourselves from them-"
"So they'll stop being targets," Tom finished for him.
I nodded. "Then, tonight, the three of us need return to the Grünewald. We leave Valentin with the two women and our two vampire pups."
Tom stood. "I'll meet you there, lovers." Before either Emil or I could respond, he was gone.
"I suspect our American seeks to avoid what he knows will happen in the barn, Karli."
I smiled. "He does have this strange fixation about human blood, doesn't he?"
"How do you think our young pup will take to what we do to this assassin?"
"He's American - perhaps, he'll be as cold blooded as these two creatures have been."