I stood in my living room and gaped at Emil in shock. The December sun still cast a feeble light through the louvers of the room's windows. Only two days ago, I had had Tom MacPherson lying on my sofa unconscious from his spirit's collapse in the face of the realisation of its many lives, as I explained myself to the young man standing before me now. Now, Tom was flying above the Atlantic and probably catching up to the sun.
"Karl, I'm sorry," Emil told me again, his hand reaching between us to touch my arm, its fingers gripping my biceps.
"Unglaublich," I mumbled as knowledge of Sergei Alexandrovitch's flight continued to force its way into my thoughts.
Unmöglich. Definitely impossible. Würther hadn't fled me when he regained consciousness and knew who I was. Sergei Alexandrovitch had come to save me. This Tom MacPherson fled me.
"Take this, Karl," Emil told me and I looked at him, seeing him then. Him and the glass of whisky he held towards me.
"Drink it," he said. "It'll help." I knew what it would do to me and help wasn't the word I would use to describe its effects. Numbly, however, I took the whisky and swallowed half the glass without tasting its contents.
I felt it almost immediately. My legs were weak under me and I felt stupor begin to descend over me. I collapsed into the chair behind me. And I did not take my eyes from Emil's face.
"Tell me what happened -- everything from when you helped him home," I said and set the whisky glass on the table beside me.
Emil sat in the chair across from me. "He kept mumbling in a language I didn't know -- it sounded like Russian."
"It was," I confirmed automatically. "Go on."
"Halfway to his flat, he changed to German -- it seemed a flow of consciousness -- but nothing was coherent, Karl."
"He went from Sergei Alexandrovitch to Würther then." I touched the man's thoughts, reliving his memories and hearing my Würther speak again. Hearing him again tell me to leave him on that field of edelweiß. The pain as the bullets tore through his side, crushing bone and lung. And his refusal of immortality. I shuddered. There were times the past definitely was not better than the present.
I smiled bitterly. "He was reliving his life as Würther," I told him. "It was a flow of his memories."
"How do you know?" he demanded suspiciously.
"I read your memories just now. I heard him speak again." Emil became blurred as my eyes glistened with tears.
"Karl!" He pushed himself out of his chair to kneel before me. "You're bleeding!"
His words pulled me back from my tears for Sergei Alexandrovitch, for Würther, dying in a field of wild flowers. "Where?"
"Around your eyes. Are you okay? Should I call a doctor?"
I pulled a handkerchief from my front pocket and wiped at my face. When I peered at him again, my vision was clear. The handkerchief was bright crimson, the colour of arterial blood. I chuckled.
"I'm all right, my friend."
I nodded. "You saw tears in my eyes."
"Tears? As red as blood?"
"Vampire tears are blood, Emil. Tear ducts are generally as useless as bladders and colons are to us."
He sat back on his haunches, still watching me closely. "You aren't just saying that? You aren't going to die because your life partner fled you?"
"Sit back in the chair and finish your story, Emi."
"I helped him into his room and made him sit down. I didn't leave until he started acting like himself again."
"What did he say after he again became Tom MacPherson?" I asked.
He chuckled. "He said he had just gone tripping on the weirdest drug he ever met, a flashback." He saw my puzzled frown. "There are drugs -- hallucinogens -- that make you see things that don't exist or that distorts things that do. LSD is one of them."
"He thought he was on drugs?"
"I'm not sure of that. Americans have such quaint ways of expressing themselves sometimes. It might have been just his way of explaining what had happened to him."
"He didn't say much more than that. I left." Emil smiled wryly. "I had some things I had to think about, and he seemed to be okay."
"You saw him before he left?"
"I went to the airport with him, Karl -- four hours ago. He said he was leaving early."
"We have another week of classes -- before the holidays."
"I asked him why. He told me he had learnt a lot of things about himself, things he had to think about and decide if he wanted to accept."
"Did he say anything about me -- or his experience?"
"Not directly. I kept trying to pin him down. I knew you were -- that you wanted him." Emil looked down at his hands with those words, unable to meet my gaze.
"He said there were a lot of things he didn't understand. That he was frightened when he thought about them. He had to get away from Zürich, away from everybody here, so he could look at them, face up to them."
"Then he didn't reject me?"
"No, Karl, he didn't reject you. He needs breathing space is all."
"Breathing space?" My brows knitted across my forehead. "He's mortal -- he breathes naturally. The cells of his body need the oxygen his lungs pull in from the air."
Emil frowned. "It's an expression; it means he needed to put distance between you -- what he learnt about you -- and himself."
My mind was clearing. Fortunately, alcohol's hold on a vampire was short-lived. I rose and began to pace in the small room.
I had been a fool not to keep him here and watch over him as I had Würther. To help him through the difficult transition into awareness. Honour had demanded I not force myself on him. I hadn't even attempted to contact him in person.
Now he was in America. Or would be before I could do anything about it. With supersonic jets, he was past London and probably past Iceland as well. An image of the map of the United States of America floated through my thoughts.
It was so big!
I stopped in front of the sofa and turned to Emil, staring at him in horror at the near impossibility of finding Tom MacPherson in all those thousands of kilometres.
"Where was he from?" I asked, barely daring to hope this youth knew that much about the man I already knew I must follow.
He shrugged. "I don't think I know. He was reading at the University of Maryland. Wait! I think he said he was from Baltimore -- or near there -- in the province of Maryland."
I sank onto the sofa, shaking my head at the impossibility of finding him. I could steal into the registrar's office -- if only I could work computers, I could go into his records at the university.
My thoughts stopped then. I knew I could find him. I could find everything the university knew about this student enrolled in it. All I had to do was see Marcus Bönner again.
"Are you going to try to follow him?" Emil asked cautiously.
I nodded. "I can find his address, his home."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
I stared at him in surprise.
"I know -- if we find him and he wants you -- you're his, Karl. But you need me to help him accept you and what you offer him. Otherwise, he may just fly off again and you'll never be able to find him."
"You'd do this?" I asked dubiously.
"I love you, Karl von Maribor. I understand that now. It doesn't matter that you don't love me back. You care for me. You like me. You're willing to be my friend. I'll accept that." He smiled wanly, tears glistening in his eyes.
"It's the only thing I've got -- and you need my help. You can't move about easily during the day."
"It may take a while to track him down -- can you afford to be away from the university that long?"
He snorted. "My last term begins after the holidays. I'll simply ask my professors for papers I can write to gain credit for the courses. There'll be libraries there, won't there?"
"I think Baltimore is near the national capital. Surely, there are good ones in Washington you may use."
He smiled tightly. "Will you permit us to sleep together too?"
"You want that?" I asked in surprise.
He nodded abjectly.
"Then you shall have all of me I can give you, Emil," I told him. "What about Josefina and your flat?"
"I'll give her the money you gave me. It'll pay for the flat and keep her in food for a year at least." He looked away. "I don't have anything else left here."
I chuckled, trying to revive the moment's levity. "I don't envy you that meeting, my friend."
He smiled wanly. "I don't envy you yours when we've tracked Tom down."
* * *
It never ceased to amaze me what a computer could accomplish when it had someone at the keyboard who knew how to make it work.
Normally, bureaucrats were alike the world over -- snapping little poodles with no teeth guarding access to the intellect of their masters. In increasing numbers of cases, those masters were the computers that told them what to think.
The clerk at the university's registrar was the snapping, toothless poodle and Marcus Bönner knew how to bypass her and the office entirely, speaking directly to the computer intelligence telling that office what to do.
Bönner was unpleased to look over his shoulder and find me watching him from the doorway of his office. "You're through with me, my Prince," he told me, nervously keeping his eyes on me. "And I with you." I could practically taste his fear.
I watched silently as he fumbled in his jeans pocket, his fear growing. He smiled when he finally found what he was searching for, pulled it out, and held the cross out between us. "You stay away from me."
I stepped into the office and reached out to touch the metal with two fingers. "It's a bit cheap, don't you think?" I asked and smiled. "You have enough money to afford nice jewellery."
He glared at me, his fear receding before my unthreatening mien, even as I disproved the old wives' tale about crosses and vampires. "What do you want?"
"I want all the information on an American student at the university -- full name, home address, school address, everything you can give me."
"It'll cost you."
"I think not." I opened my mouth enough to extend my fangs. He edged against the computer table, shivering in his fear.
"What's his name, my Prince?" he asked in resignation.
I had one more thing I needed to do before following Thomas MacPherson into the western sky. I still had three bags of gold coins secreted in the back of my closet. Schillings minted to commemorate the coronation of Franz-Josef almost 160 years ago. Coins never used, in mint condition.
I carried them to Hauptmann's and demanded to see the president. An account worth two billion francs enabled me to make the demand and produced the middle-aged, healthy-looking man quickly. Appraising him as he strolled up to me, I had to admit to myself the banking industry had come a long way in the image it projected of itself. This man was anything but a Swiss gnome.
"How may I help you, my Prince von Maribor?" he asked.
"I need these..." I indicated my bags now on a receptionist's desk with my hand, "secured."
"A vault? That's no problem, my Prince."
"Perhaps they can be appraised, their value ascertained?"
"That, too, poses no problem."
"Would Hauptmann's ensure it is so?"
"Of course, Sir." He gazed at the bags for a moment. "What do they contain?"
"Commemorative Reich schillings, Herr Präsident -- from the coronation of Kaiser Franz-Josef."
His brow raised questioningly as he glanced back at me.
"The gold ones?" he asked, an unrecognisable excitement to his voice.
I sensed his excitement rising. I nodded again.
"May we carry them to my office, my Prince?"
I lifted two bags easily. He struggled with the remaining one.
In his office, his eyes gleamed and his body actually shivered with desire as he stared at the one coin he had pulled from his bag.
"A registered appraiser, of course, shall need to see each coin, my Prince. If they're all as this one, this collection is priceless."
"At least five hundred million Swiss." He pulled another coin from its bag and stroked it wondrously, as if it were his newborn son.
"I'll accept fair market value for them."
He stared at me with no comprehension.
"Sell them for me, Herr Präsident -- at fair market value. Deposit the proceeds to my account."
His eyes dropped back to the coin in his fingers. "Perhaps Sotheby's...?"
"Will you accept responsibility for this?" I asked standing.
He nodded slowly, still gazing at the coin.
"Then take ten of them for your personal collection -- a gift from me to you."
"And of course deduct any percentage your bank and the auctioneer shall charge."
He nodded numbly.
* * *
We were airborne on the evening flight to Heathrow where we would change to something called a Concorde which promised to have us across the Atlantic and at Dulles Airport near Washington, DC, in four hours -- leaving me with more than three hours to find my hotel and barricade myself against the coming sun. Given what I had already experienced of this world I had awakened to, I believed the company's propaganda.
Emil leant towards me as we left London and asked: "Aren't you supposed to have a coffin full of dirt from your home?"
I laughed, feeling the tension of the past two days leave me. I was doing what I could; and was now encapsulated in a metal bullet ten kilometres above the earth. "Read your economic books, Emil," I told him, "they provide more accurate information than those vampire romances you've begun to read."
He glanced out the small window that held the nearly airless stratosphere away from us, then back at me, his eyes avoiding the paperback book in his lap. "I didn't use to read them, Karl -- but they're the closest thing to information I could find on you."
"You'll have to unlearn all you've read."
He grinned and picked up the book he had intended to read, holding it up for me to see it. Interview With The Vampire by Ann Rice. "She's pretty good as a writer." His grin broadened. "She holds my attention those times I don't have anything better to do than read."
"Are you trying to tell me something?" I asked innocently.
"Only that you're fucking me as soon as we're in our hotel -- before we do anything else."
I shook my head slowly. Less than two months ago, Emil Paulik was a young man not about to hike his backside for anybody, a young man bent on someday marrying and fathering children. I had eased his fears and took his virginity partially by guile. I was still amazed at how far he had come since then, and with no help from me.
He had already forsaken his girlfriend and, with her, his future plans of fatherhood. He was truly comfortable being what I had once known as an invert. He was equally as mercurial about immortality. The world had truly changed from the one I knew before I slept after Würther's death.
"Karl, can you stay awake during the day or do you just collapse into something like a coma when the sun comes up?" he asked, his voice not carrying beyond me.
"It depends on how much heat there is," I answered. "If it's sunny and hot as in summer, I simply collapse where I stand within an hour of the dawn. If there's not much heat, I don't need sleep."
"You could go day after day in the cold?" he asked with surprise.
I smiled. "If you put me naked on an Antarctic ice field, I could probably do that -- though I'd still burn some from just the heat in the sunlight. I probably wouldn't have skin burning off me, though."
"You can take that much cold?" I had aroused his curiosity.
"Cold doesn't affect me. At least, not any I've found. I've romped naked on snow-covered mountains near my home."
I sensed his mental shudder even as he asked the question. I nodded. He hated the man for the hold he had on me; yet, he wanted to know everything about him, accepting how closely my life was entwined with his.
"Will I be able to trust you?" I asked suddenly, following a doubt that came to me as I toyed with this realisation about him.
"You know I search for Sergei Alexandrovitch -- this Tom MacPherson. Yet, you want me. You believe you love me enough to follow me into immortality. Are you going to tell yourself that, if you can't have me, no one shall?"
"What kind of person do you think I am?" he demanded in a hiss.
"Don't allow yourself to be hurt. There are things I need to know about you every bit as important to me as the gaps in your knowledge of me are to you. You can't just walk away from me here as you could back in Zürich."
I grimaced, wondering if I was saying too much. "We're an easy breed to kill, once you know how."
He studied my face for long moments. "Why would I want to kill you?"
"Because you can't have me."
"Unless Tom decides he doesn't want you," he reminded me. "But why're you worried about me killing you?"
"You're asking questions about the effect of heat and cold -- how we die."
He sat back in his seat and shook his head slowly. "I'd never kill you, Karl. I love you. I want to be like you and spend my life with you. If it comes to that, I'll accept whatever you'll give me and share you with Tom."
He watched at me intently, even as he fell silent. The silence between us grew, making me nervous. Gingerly, I reached out to touch his thoughts.
|I hoped you'd finally come in my mind,| he told me telepathically. I stared at him in amazement. |Read my thoughts, look under every doubt you can find. I invite you here, Karli, any time. I will never hurt you and, God willing, I'll never fail you.|
I was reading his thoughts, thoughts directed to me. He wasn't telepathic. He was not projecting the thoughts at me. But his invitation was there, repeating over and over again, because he guessed I would read his thoughts. Worse than his knowing my telepathic ability was how organised was the first thought he wanted me to read.
This man had me pegged far too well for my continued equilibrium. It had seemed all so very straightforward when I sniffed his crotch on the promenade in Zürich in the middle of October.
Pay him a weekly stipend, I told myself, and keep my libido sated.
Straightforward and simple. Very Karl-Josef-Gustav-von-Maribor-centred. Only, I had not considered Emil or how he saw our arrangement. Inconsiderate me.
* * *
The squad of men left the two Suburbans and quickly formed a column, two abreast, on the dark, glass-strewn street. Ronnie Barber looked to the one man who stood beside the driver's door of the first vehicle. "You have your pistol with you?" he asked and the man nodded.
"Then, you stay with the cars." Ronnie smiled. "And shoot any nigger who gets within 20 feet of you. They'd strip one of these in five minutes if you give them a chance." He patted the bonnet of the Suburban. "You wing one, let him bleed -- he's a thief, a drug pusher, or a killer if he's out here in this cold tonight."
He turned to the nine other men in formation before him. "Okay, boys, we've got us a good one tonight. The very best. We're going into the Washington Baths and make those queers understand that what they're doing in there makes God real mad at them. We show them God's wrath tonight. We're the Christian Men United For Morality -- that says it all. Let's go in there and beat the hell out of them."
Ronnie Barber turned and started down "P" Street SE and heard broken glass crunch under nine pairs of boots as his men began to follow him towards the lights at the end of the street.
He'd been going over the plans for this operation for the past two days, ever since he'd arrived from Brunswick. He knew it like the back of his hand -- the layout here in Anacostia, the set-up in the Baths, what he should expect inside. Even how long they had to do what they were supposed to do. He was so damned wired that he hardly felt the cold.
He still couldn't believe it. Ronnie Barber was leading a Christian Men United for Morality operation. Him. Just a boy putting mattresses together in Brunswick Georgia. Sure he'd joined CMUM when Reed Stephens called on God-fearing men to help him get elected to the Senate three years ago. He'd been excited when all those others marched through the streets of Brunswick. He'd been on cloud nine when Reed called all members of CMUM to Atlanta to show America what things were really about. But him? Just a thirty-year old country boy who'd just barely made it through high school?
Now, CMUM was national, not just Georgia. And Reed Stephens was Vice President of the United States. They had to defend Reed against the queers and the drug pushers. And, if this operation went like it was planned out, he was going to be offered a national job with the organisation. That's what that preacher in Towson near Baltimore had kept telling him while he was learning this mission. He'd be making a lot more than he had been back in Brunswick. He'd also be doing what he knew was right.
His men were behind him as he reached the door of the Washington Baths. He pulled his truncheon from his belt. He felt like one of those old Vikings getting ready to storm a castle as his hand gripped the door knob -- only, he was here to fight for God. "Here we go!" he yelled and shoved the door open.
There was a fat man with a shaved head behind a counter and Ronnie ran towards him. The man stared at him, his lips moving like he was trying to say something. Ronnie noticed the studs in the man's ears as he brought his truncheon down on the man's head.
Something crunched and blood was suddenly everywhere. The man collapsed against the back of his chair, his eyes still staring at Ronnie. He hit him again and the man slumped out of his chair, his eyes still open.
He pointed to two men. "You two stay here. Don't let anybody out and take care of anyone who wants to come in." He looked to the other seven and grinned. "Come on," he told them. "We've got to clean up this place for God."
They took the dormitory first. There were only three old men on the bunks there, naked and sleeping. The squad had surrounded them before they even woke up. There was hardly any noise before the men were beaten into unconsciousness. Two men were in the steam room and were quickly silent.
Ronnie gazed up at the railed balcony of the second floor. He figured the queers were doing their abominations behind all those closed doors up there. He felt himself hardening as he tried to imagine what they were doing to each other. "Upstairs," he called to his men as he started to climb.
It had gone just as smoothly as he'd been told it would. The two Suburbans were on South Capitol heading towards Maryland. Ronnie suspected some of the queers at the Baths were dead. Especially those two he'd found screwing in the first little room on the second floor. They'd both gone over the railing and hit the floor below hard.
But that was what this unit of the CMUM was all about. The eleven of them had been recruited from around the country to make up the first strike force. And they'd proved just how good they were tonight at the Baths. The preacher in Towson was going to be proud of them. He hoped that David Trellum would be too.
That Trellum had been a cold fish the couple of times Ronnie had met him. But he had the right idea -- fight fire with fire. And field a first strike force that would take God's fight right to those queers and drug pushers. It didn't matter if a few sinners got killed. The faster they died, the fewer sins they could commit.
He laughed and turned back to look at the men riding with him. "We did a good job tonight, boys. I'm real proud of you."