Chapter XXIII: AntibodyLeaving The Last Round, I walked down the street, the sound of the heavy metal music Damsel had put on following me. The first stop would be the Skyline Apartments. If I could deal with Paul the ghoul, who already had knowledge of vampirism, I could avoid unnecessary complications. If the plaguebearer could be dealt with without involving the homeless population, it would be better for all concerned. I opened the door to the apartment block and looked at the names of the tenants on the mailboxes.
'P. Anderson...floor five', I read. I figured his front door would be locked and chained, and I didn't feel like kicking down the door. I headed into the door labelled 'Employee's Only', looking for an alternative.
Inside the maintenance room was a computer system with two monitors. One showed the usual prompt, whereas the other seemed to be hooked up to a video surveillance system. Intrigued, I flicked through the channels. Each room was empty with the exception of one darkened bedroom where a woman lay on a bed shivering. According to the emails and apartment notes, the janitor was keeping track of everyone in the building and recording all intimate moments for his own fun and profit. I sneered in disgust and switched off the monitor.
Above the filing cabinet, I found an open maintenance vent. Climbing in, I made my way up to Paul's room.
The air was stale, with a slight hint of decay.
Not good. Unless he really likes roses, I think we have a problem.
The body was lying collapsed behind the kitchen work surface, curled in the foetal position. His face was illuminated by the light from the partially open fridge, revealing a rictus grin, grey skin, beginning to rot.
Hello Paul. Guess vampiric blood has it's disadvantages. Now, what poisoned well were you sipping from?
I tapped my finger on the bench, pulling up a stool. Absently, I hit the button on the answer machine. I really didn't want to talk to the homeless population yet, not until I knew what I was up against.
'Hi Paul, it's me, Hannah. I'm feeling really sick, I hope I didn't give it to you too...'
My ears pricked up, and I paid greater attention. 'Think...ugh...think it's a cold. Could you pick up some cold medicine and bring it up to me? I'm in apartment six, funny, huh? The code to the door is 1203...'
I wrote the passcode on a piece of paper lying on the desk and pocketed it. Not much I could do for Paul now. I'd let Damsel know, maybe she'd know the cleanup procedure.
'And Paul...I had a really nice time the other night.'
I used the elevator to reach Hannah's room, hoping that she was still alive and coherent enough to talk. Punched in the number for her door, mind racing. If she was the girl I saw lying on the bed, she's not in a good way, but at least she's alive.
The entire room was dark, and the lower floor looked as if it hadn't been used in a while. A newspaper from a few nights ago was lying open on the coffee table, but there were no glasses on the bench, no dishes in the sink. I sniffed the air, searching for the scent of food, but there was nothing.
The rancide smell hit me as I opened the door at the top of the stairs. Disease, puerile and invasive, permeated the air, choking even me. I glanced at a door that must have lead to an en-suite bathroom. The smell grew stonger there, and I knew I could not face opening the door. I walked in quietly, hearing the girl coughing on the bed.
'Hannah?' I enquired softly.
'Relax, I'm a friend of Paul's', I murmured soothingly, gently. The girl looked terrible, her eyes red-rimmed, her nose running, dark brown mucus dripping onto the pillow. It was a pitiful sight. 'I've got some medical training, Paul sent me over to check up on you, said he was running late tonight.'
The body was lying collapsed behind the kitchen work surface, curled in the foetal position. His face was illuminated by the light from the partially open fridge, revealing a rictus grin, grey skin, beg-
'Paul's fine Hannah, don't you worry about him. How are you feeling? What are your symptoms?'
I rested my hand against her forehead. Her skin was burning so hot I was almost surprised that she wasn't in flames. I checked her pulse, and found it too rapid, too weak.
'Any idea where you picked it up?'
I raised an eyebrow. 'Clients?'
'Hannah, you're hiding something. How am I supposed to help if you won't tell me the truth?'
'Hannah, you can trust me', I smiled, feeling that sensation of charm radiating off my skin.
'I see. Interesting choice of profession, but everyone has bills to pay. Was Paul a client?'
'Stay with me Hannah. You think it was one of your clients. Who?'
And that didn't rouse your suspicions? Lots of money, no questions asked, and a woman wanting a female escort?
'What was her name?'
'Why was it strange? Did she enjoy your company?'
That sounded like vampiric attraction. Much like how I'd seduced the girl at the nightclub. Made her feel like the most important person in the room, though she didn't remember much afterwards. This seemed to be the same kind of effect, with a different payload.
I shuddered. This Jezebel Locke was likely at the heart of this epidemic. There was no chance of rounding up all the hookers in town. Fortunately, it would seem, they became so unwell so quickly that they weren't able to see any more clients.
A small blessing, but not for them. This illness seems to be invariably fatal...
Hannah was beginning to sway, coughing heavily. I could feel her fading, her life draining away.
'Hannah. Hannah, wake up! It's important. Where can I find Jezebel?'
I did my best to reassure her, did my best to smile for her. I took her hand in mine, looked down warmly.
'Paul's...Paul's fine Hannah, really. He was talking a lot about you. Wouldn't shut up in fact. He's really looking forward to seeing you again.'
'He will, I promise you.'
Hannah began to sink into the pillow, her laboured breathing growing shorter, her eyes beginning to glaze over. I squeezed her hand, held it tight in mine.
'Sleep now Hannah, rest. When you wake up, Paul will be with you.'
I sat there for several minutes, her hand in mine. Sadly, I leaned across to close her eyelids, place her hands over her chest.
Full of resolve I stood. Time to deal with the plaguebearer.
The Empire Hotel was situated close to the Skyline Apartments, in the nicer part of town. Nodding familiarly to the doorman, I strode inside the lobby, and spoke to the receptionist.
'Good evening sir', I said, leaning on the counter. 'Could you tell me if Ms. Jezebel Locke is staying here at the moment?'
The receptionist looked me up and down with disdain, sneering slightly. He didn't think much of me, or Ms. Jezabel Locke.
'I was wondering if you could lend me a key to her room.'
Do you have to be like this? I'm trying to save you all from the plague and you worry about petty guidelines...well fine.
'Oh, you misunderstand me', I said smoothly, conspiratorially. 'I'm a friend from out of town, coming to surprise her. I guess you didn't know it's her birthday next week. It would really mean a lot to me if you could let me borrow it, I promise I won't tell a soul.'
You too jackass.
I smiled, shaking his hand, and took the elevator up to the floor indicated by the keycard. Coming to her door, I listened against the wooden panelling, hearing a woman's sophorific mumbling on the other side. Glancing to each side, seeing no-one, I quickly swiped the card and entered, firmly closing and locking the door behind me.
Jezebel was a vampire, the sensation and aura were there. Her eyes, and her aura, had a sickly yellow tinge to them however, burning feverishly, nauseatingly. Her words became one long drawl, her voice low and throaty.
'So you'd be Jezebel, L.A.'s number one recruiter of escorts. I hear you're bringing the house down.'
'I'd rather not. I've seen Hannah, and your fruits are poisoned.' I took a step back from the woman, avoiding her long, glistening nails.
'Like the prostitutes you've been hiring? Why them? What the hell are you trying to achieve?'
Ninth Circle? Dark Gift? She's lost her goddamned mind.
'You're rabid, bitch, I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you down.'
Jezebel screeched, slashing at my face. I leapt back, avoiding the swipe. I did NOT want those nails to touch me. Unfortunately, firearms were out. How could I explain a gun fight on floor five? Worse, what if they arrived late to find the body disintegrating. Too much hassle. I drew my blade, feeling my senses sharpen, and advanced.
Keep my body at an angle, that's what Nines said. Make myself harder to hit.
I faced Jezebel, left shoulder forward, knife in a backhand grip. As she came closer, scratching again at my face, I moved my head and neck to the left, feeling a breeze as the nails sailed past. I returned the gesture, slashing at Jezebel's face with the knife. The blood stained the blade black, hissing on contact.
DO NOT LET IT TOUCH YOU!
This needed to end quickly. I didn't want to come into contact with her infection. As she reeled back, clutching her face, I moved forward, grabbing the front of her blouse in one hand, throwing her to the floor. I straddled her, and as she looked up in fear, I brought the knife down, through her throat. She gurgled once, and then her body disintegrated. Shuddering, I stood, checking for signs of blood on me. Luckily, I seemed unscathed, and none of her blood had touched me. The knife was not so fortunate, the blade slightly twisted by the corrossive substance. The knife stayed on the floor. Let the porters figure that one out when they came to the room.
One thing didn't make sense though. Jezebel was working through the prostitutes, not the homeless, and it was unlikely escorts frequented the vagrant population as charity work. Reluctantly, I had to conclude that there was more than Jezebel spreading this disease. Sighing, I closed the door, and headed back to the lobby. The receptionist watched me as I passed, his gaze suspicious. I affected a cocky smile.
'Sorry about the noise there chief. Lady's a real screamer.' Chuckling, I walked out of the main doors and onto the street.