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Art of Dying - Body Art - m/m mysteryHemovore

deleted scene: the library

This scene originally came after Mark and Jonathan had their first creepy meeting with "Mr. Smith" at Murray's gallery. What I really like about it is that it shows Jonathan doing his best to be a regular person--but he's not very good at it, and he only ends up annoying Mark. I also like that it shows being V-positive isn't all tight clothes and perfect skin; it's pain-in-the-ass things like careful climate control and very specialized dietary needs.

 

A library book slipped from Jonathan’s gloved grasp and went tumbling to the carpeted floor, where it landed with a soft thump that was absorbed by the stacks of books on either side of him. Jonathan Varga, library card holder. I never would have guessed. But since the visit with Murray was so dishearteningly short, Jonathan suggested a stop at the Harold Washington branch. Who was I to say no to a rousing tour of the Dewey Decimal System?

Jonathan crouched and attempted another grab. The book slid through his fingers yet again, and he clacked his tongue.

“The way you click and cluck, I’d swear you were from a long lost African tribe instead of Hungary.”

He answered me with a sniff and scooped up the book. Slippery plastic covers, but he’d been very particular about coming to the library, not a book store. Not that I minded. It might be a free public service, but at least it was something different to do.

“Are you really checking out a biography of famous vampires?” I asked him. “Aren’t you afraid it’ll lead those boogeymen of yours straight to your door?”

“I’m just looking. And besides, library records are confidential.”

“You believe that?” I stared at him as he brushed a book with his gloved fingertip. He caressed one spine after another, so impervious to my gaze that eventually I caved in and quit staring. I had to jog a few steps to put myself close enough to talk to him in a library voice. He’d been doing a sidestep that flowed so oddly it looked like CGI work. “Do you believe in Santa Claus, too?” I lowered my voice further yet. “And watch your walk.”

Jonathan started a little. Saints be praised, he was actually listening to me. He gave his feet a dirty look as if they’d just betrayed him, and then proceeded to shuffle sideways down the stacks in a manner that was so clunky I could hardly keep from laughing.

“Isn’t there anything you want to go look at?” he asked me.

“Like I’ve got the time to read ghost stories and eat bonbons.”

“You have time to read books. You watch the television. Surf the Internet.”

“For your information, I keep track of your contacts online. None of the show jurors can see your paintings any better than I can, so I have to keep them appraised--with words--of your latest and greatest creations.”

Jonathan was staring hard at a book. He leaned a bit closer and inhaled it, which only made me want to go sniff it too, just to see if it smelled like anything special to me. He closed his eyes and savored his elusive sensory moment, and then turned to me with one eyebrow quirked up. “Take one photograph and rotate it a quarter turn each month before you send it. They won’t even know it’s the same painting.”

Sad but true. “With my luck, you’d sell the same piece to five different places at once and leave me holding the bag.”

Jonathan tucked another book under his arm--this time without the sniff-test--and then swung around the end of the stack to the next aisle. I followed and found him staring at the gardening section while he blotted his wrists with a handkerchief. “How can you describe my work, if black is all you see?”

“Does any art critic know squat about the work they’re describing? Just pick up American Art Review and figure out what the buzzword of the day is. Paradigm. Ambiguity. Juxtaposition. I could sell a painting that didn’t even exist.”

Who knows if I thought he’d find it funny or not, because he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that I was right. He was too busy sagging into the books. “Is it very hot in here?”

“Jesus. You should’ve let me carry your coat.”

I dragged him over to a seating area, and books spilled out behind us in a breadcrumb trail--Decorative Grasses; Color and Composition; Biography: The Vampire Edition. I peeled his coat off and got him propped into a chair, then I handed him a flask from my coat pocket--just one item of the numerous vampire emergency things I had stashed all about my person. “Here, drink.”

“But it’s the library,” he whispered. “You’re not supposed to.”

“Dammit, I just saw someone with a frappucino. Now drink.”

He downed the water and handed the flask back to me, his eyes clearing a bit already. “Okay,” I said. “Now bottle number two. And no pressure, but it you don’t keep it down, it’s not gonna be pretty.” Another man might not argue with a vampire gagging down peanut oil to keep himself hydrated and calorically charged. But I figured he’d be better off if I made him feel at home by being my usual irritating self.

“Right.” Jonathan cast furtive cat-eyed glances left and right from behind his tangled black hair. “Thanks a lot.” He tipped the oil back, and allowed it to slide down his throat in a thin stream.

 “Don’t think about it too hard. It’s three a.m.; there’s probably no one here but other vampires.”

“Drinking coffee." His voice was thick with oil.

“What?”

“If they are vampires, then why are they drinking coffee?”

Damn. Why did he always have to be right?

“Frappucinos,” I said, and slipped the oil flask back into my coat. “Come on. We can come back on Friday. They’re open twenty-four hours on Friday, too.”

It’s a royal pain to drive in Chicago sometimes, but right then I was glad to have the car. Like me, it was decked out with emergency vampire items in every nook and cranny. “Are you thirsty?” I asked, holding the door open as he climbed into the passenger’s seat. “The water’s probably frozen, but we can thaw it on the dash.”

He nodded vaguely. I closed his door and he rolled down the window, then draped a limp, bare hand outside. They might’ve been pretty hands, pale and fluttery. Except for the black pigment ground under the nails and into the calluses, just like I’d pictured at Beacon, when they’d still been hidden behind those slippery, treacherous gloves.

I made a mental note to go over the car with antiviral cleaner the next day while I grabbed a couple of waters from the trunk.

We weren’t far from the hive, but I had a vision of him hurling salad dressing on me in the elevator. “Do you want to drive around for a while with the window down?”

“I’d like that.”

And so we drove. I picked one of my typical routes, “route C,” and challenged myself to drive it backwards. The city was so peaceful at night without its rush-hour traffic, at least at that hour. The morning rush hour would be twice as brutal, with the vampires leaving their third-shift jobs while the regular joes slogged in from the suburbs to report to their desks promptly at eight. But right then it was a fairyland of bare trees wound with white lights, twinkling subtly as they were obscured and revealed by the twisted black branches when we passed them.

Except it was a little hard to enjoy the scenery when my glance darted over to check on Jonathan every couple of seconds. The wind had caught his hair and was spraying it back over the headrest. He looked like a model from a high-end stereo ad.

“So,” I said, once we’d stopped at a red light. I always wondered if I really had to stop if it was the middle of the night and there were no other cars for miles around, but this time it gave me a chance to gather my thoughts. “Any idea why you swooned in front of the cookbooks?”

“Pff.”

The light turned green. But I was still the only one on the road, and I was starting to get pissed off enough to challenge the wordless, African-clicking-language reply. “What, did your house fall on a witch’s head? ‘But it wasn't a dream. It was a place. And you and you and you…and you were there.’”

He draped a painter’s hand over his eyes and refused to look at me. “All right. The light has been green. It means ‘go’ in America, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, touché.”

We drove around without talking, me determined to do route C in reverse, him sprawled pitifully, sipping at the thawed rind of an icy core of bottled water. I was almost at the dry cleaner’s when he finally gave in and spoke. “I think it may have happened because I tried using the gym today.”

“The gym.”

“Yes, on the twelfth floor. Now there is a small room for V-positives to use--did you see the tenants’ newsletter? So that contamination is not a problem.”

The gym. That irked me on so many levels. Because when vampires survive the first brutal courses of the virus, they come out with bodies like Michelangelo sculptures. Jonathan didn’t need to work out. His body was perfect. “Oh, Auntie Em.”

“Well. It was something to think about besides the problem of getting cat.”

We’d passed the cleaners a few minutes before, and I scoped out a long row of empty parking spaces in front of non-vampire friendly businesses that actually closed at night. I pulled over and put the car in park. Maybe a little forcefully.

“You can’t do these random things, Jonathan, just because you think they look fun. If you want to bulk up, fine. But you’ll need to drink twice as much water and another eight ounces of oil the day before you work out, and a double-shot of blood the day of.”

“How do you know this?”

“I…read it.” In V Living.

He nodded, brushed his hair out of his eyes and rolled up his window. “Okay. I cannot afford to do it, then. Not with all the difficulty I’m having with my source. I should have said something to you before I tried. That much is obvious.”

Oh, and he’d managed to hit the nail right on the head. That was the reason I was really upset; because he had a life when I wasn’t around. Because he’d done something without my prior approval. Because he was actually worried about the whole cat blood situation, but not worried enough to actually talk to me about it. And because he left the apartment by himself, without me there to shield him from the big, bad world, or maybe the world from him. The urge welled up to just move in--to make my office, with its pull-out couch and closet filled with my best suits, my actual bedroom.

But since that would mean I could never date anybody, I stopped that line of thought before it started circling around in my head like a bad driving route.

“I’m ready to go home,” Jonathan said, and I caught a glimpse of his eyes reflecting back at me from his window. Cat’s eyes.

He had nothing more to say to me on the ride home, and me? I had no idea how to make small talk. I’d always thought, on our rare outings, that Driving Miss Jonathan was fun; tonight, it was incredibly awkward. I shaved a few turns off the route. If he noticed, he didn’t mention it.

After the ill-fated workout attempt, I was more determined than ever to find a backup source of cat blood. I could buddy up to someone who worked at an emergency vet clinic and get them to help me out. Although the source cat would need to have a clean bill of health, because who knew how Jonathan’s virus would react to FIV or FeLV? Cats that’d been hit by cars, then. Or cats dying of old age. There had to be enough of those to let us get ahead in the blood department, right? Though blood was so perishable, we couldn’t exactly stockpile it. Unless I could somehow convince Jonathan to try powdered Mexican blood. He wouldn’t eat it. He hates everything…. He likes it! Hey, Mikey….

The next day I set up a new email address and put my own ad on Craigslist, and was rewarded with a dozen threatening Van Helsing emails and an invitation to chat with someone named “Candi.”

Maybe she knew where I could get some cat blood.

I sighed, and tipped back in my ergonomic chair, and stared up at the ceiling. Now I was three days behind on my to-do list.

How different was cat blood from, say, cougar blood? Or lion blood? What if I cozied up to a vet a the Lincoln Park Zoo? I bet a big cat could spare as much blood as a hundred little kitties. If Jonathan could stomach it. If he didn’t laugh me right out of the room when I asked him.

But even if he did agree to it, it’d be one hell of an expensive experiment. If Jonathan was right, and blood did convey some sort of essence to the imbiber, then he wouldn’t be the only V-positive who wanted to take a sip from something big, sleek and predatory. There had to be more demand than there was supply. If I did locate a source, could I afford what they’d charge? I hadn’t sold a painting in nearly three months. And the new blood search wasn’t exactly helping me move the merchandise.

I supposed that meant I should arrange for the messenger to go get the paintings from Beacon, so that I had something to sell…so that Murray didn’t start charging us a storage fee. He’d already left me four messages to call him back, and with each one the urge to avoid him grew stronger. In hopes of distracting myself from my feeling of dread, I scanned the back of the Virusol tub while I punched Murray’s number on the speed dial. Grapefruit. Chemulite Labs actually thought the stuff smelled like grapefruit.

“Good afternoon,” sang a pleasant female voice. Almost chirpy, but not quite. Was it the girl who’d shown in Mister Smith? Hard to say. Murray had a string of young, sleek, professional women who were thrilled to work in a fancy-schmantzy gallery. They weren’t usually the most riveting conversationalists, but they were pleasant, if interchangeable. “Beacon Gallery. How may I direct your call?”

It was on the ripe end of afternoon, but most people didn’t say, “Good evening,” anymore unless they were being campy on purpose. It parsed too much like, “I don’t drink…wine.”

“Murray, please. Mark Hansen calling.”

“Right away, Mr. Hansen.”

A little experimental-meets-classical played as she put me on hold, and I determined from a blurb on the Virusol label that the “specially formulated emollients and skin conditioners” that some people actually wiped themselves with the stuff. As in, their bodies. What next, bleach baths?

“Mark.” I steeled myself for a tirade. “Mark. Oh, Mark.”

“Murray….”

“You’re like a son to me, Mark. You never call.”

“I have other duties, you know.” Like being abused by trolls from Craigslist.

“You wound me. Truly, you do. Listen, Mark. These paintings.…”

“Pick out a messenger and send them back. I trust you to choose a service who won’t milk us for our last penny.”

“They’re not coming back.”

Wonderful, I thought. Something had happened. Fire. Flood. Robbery. Sure, Beacon Gallery was insured and we’d get the money for those paintings just as soon as we jumped through acres of red tape. But the loss of the paintings themselves would be hard on Jonathan. Just thinking of him gazing at those paintings under Murray’s special lightbulbs choked me right up.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“A delivery guy showed up with a box truck and a whole suitcase full of cash money. The twenty Vargas are now part of the Smith Private Collection.”

I sighed, and clasped the grapefruit-scented popup wipes to my chest like a newly-won Oscar. “Oh, Auntie Em.”

____

 

Read the first chapter of Hemovore at Samhain Publishing

Read a contraband cat blood scene here

Read a sexy alternate ending here (Spoiler alert! If you're not keen on spoilers, read the novel first, then come back.)

Buy Hemovore at Samhain Publishing - My Bookstore and More

 

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