“Thanks for the save, but I'm over eighteen.” he murmured.
“So is your audience.” Edward snarled. William fished around for his cigarettes in expectation of an extended admonition, but his brother's attention swung in a new direction. “Have you seen Frost?” he demanded suddenly. William shrugged.
“Didn’t know she was here.”
Edward started back toward the house without another word. The stab of apprehension deepened while he scoured the gloomy ground floor for a glimpse of Lilian’s hair and shoulders, discovering instead the gatecrashers condensed into a smirking knot around the kitchen door, filling the darkness with their cold flesh. Light filtered underneath it in a slim, inconstant line, the handle secured from within. He could sense the vivid, expanding silence that pushed against the walls and smelled perfume, the new-suit scent of the pimp, broken skin and blood. Leaning against the door he spoke Lilian's name, but received no reply, and stood back to throw his weight against it.
The kitchen was thickly stuffed with the dirty, matte-red stench of savagery, its lashing shapes preserved by the hollow flicker of the florescent tubes overhead; one had given out, its housing crushed flat against the ceiling, the other smeared with dark stripes. The chairs had been swept out from beneath the table into a chrome-legged tangle behind the door, the refrigerator displaced sideways and resting at a heavy angle, painted with lightning bolts of red that had bled into the slick of milk oozing from the corner of the door, marbling the white with greasy pink. Two drawers beneath the counter hung from the last inch of their lengths, their contents lying in a complex disarray that flashed white under the blinking tube. Everything formerly stationed on the bench had found a new place in the chaos scattered across the linoleum, the cardboard boxes of cereal and pasta soaking up the blood in which they had settled.
Orb lay where he had fallen, on his back with arms splayed out, surrounded by a slowly spreading pool of mirroring darkness on the pied linoleum. It formed a dense, satanic gloriole beneath him, reflecting the bars overhead and soaking into his matted ivory locks. Lilian stood upon his chest in bared feet, her pale eyes fixed on the pain twisting his features, her floating, static poise at once weightless and transfixing while he choked on the blood glutting his airway, her forearms painted with it. Her left hand clasped a pair of scissors, their stout blades like something cast from a ruby-hued alloy, having gained the colour in the wounds struck into the man's throat, into his shirtfront and clean through the palms of his hands. Slipping over the edge of shock and subject to its strange array of gasping, spastic contractions, Orb's plight could not keep Edward from the sight of his assailant. A slicing whine rang in their ears, the shrill voice of a red stare. He stepped over the chairs and pulled the curtains against the garden.
A blackening bruise encircled Lilian's neck where it had been impressed by a throttling grasp, developing on her skin like a darkroom image. The dark, drenched satin of her dress hung about her in a slack embrace; slowly, almost imperceptibly, whatever held her began to wane with the sound in their ears and she wavered like flame, shoulders sinking as she listed toward the counter, forcing him to catch her arm. A neat line of her own blood divided her chin where it ventured from the deep split in her lip. He eased the scissors from her grasp. Freed of them, she stood under her own volition, the colour of her eyes consumed by bloated, staring pupils that were the fearsome hallmark of her state while on the ground her victim groaned and jerked. She lifted an arm and pushed it around Edward's neck, closing her mouth on his with a need that shared its flavour with her blood, whispering the black words that brought his hands to her and pulled their bodies down onto the table. He pushed her dress over her waist, grasp sliding on the slick, dark red it left on her cold skin as he dragged her hips toward himself. She tore his belt free and hissed another exhortation, closing her legs around his waist but the sound of her voice against his neck opened his eyes and caused him to step back from the table, where she lay down slowly, bringing her hands up to her face.
Wresting back something of his resolve, Edward doused a cloth under the tap, coming back to take her wrists and wipe the thick stains from her arms. Cold water trickled from her elbows.
“Can you walk?" She stared at him with dry, blank eyes; he struck the ends of his fingers swiftly to her brow, an ancient antidote to her immuring fugue, and Lilian came back to him slowly, looking from his mouth into his eyes as she returned. “Can you walk?”
She pressed her lips to the back of her hand, regarding the blood as though it was some unfamiliar substance.
"I can walk." she murmured hoarsely. He dropped his jacket from his shoulders and handed it to her.
“Go up to my rooms and lock the door.”
The formica slid beneath her legs and she stood looking down at the man on the linoleum with the detachment of an incidental spectator, still feeling the stroke of Edward's hands under her dress. The soles of her feet felt glutinous beneath her and her head ached dully from behind where it had been slammed against the cupboards. He walked her to the door and pressed a key into her hands; Lilian stared down at it.
“I thought no one could ever scare me, but..." She spoke slowly, clearing her throat and the last words trailed off in her reluctance to complete the admission. "But you do... and now you got me cold.”
“I was never going to let you walk.”
“Smile when you say that.” she murmured, expression conceding an appreciation of the unwholesome sentiment, eyes falling to Orb once more. “Fucking cops are looking for him.” Bowing her head, she slid by him, walking through the onlookers as they stepped back from her. When she was out of sight Edward returned to the prostrated man and studied his condition before leaning forward and kicking at his broken arm, satisfying himself that he was as moribund as he appeared. Drawn like requiem sharks, the lurking presence clustered in the entrance hall waited impatiently, agitated by the prospect of blood so thickly saturated with the desperate, petrol-sweet essences of violence and agony. Their blank, expectant faces greeted him as he emerged.
"Thirty minutes." he muttered. "Clean it up."
The scavengers surged into the kitchen, sinking down on all fours around the dying man and immersing him in the dry, jagged sounds of the clothing torn from his body and the jerking violence with which it was disputed, addressing his slippery skin with their greedy wet mouths. The junior participants contented themselves at the back of the scrum, wiping their hands through the congealing, wine-dark puddle and grinning as they licked the taste from them. Some paused in their preoccupation to glance at the surrounding disorder. In the garage Edward pressed the door closed with his shoulder and stood alone in the vacant gloom awaiting their act of disposal, the taste of her blood still articulated in his own mouth.
In its extreme decrepitude the walk-in chiller at the back of the catering kitchen had begun to freeze champagne in the necks of the bottles still crowding it, a fact pointed out to Susan by a colleague as the latter departed. Hunching in her jersey, she shuffled in its frigid depths, hauling boxes of Pol Roger and Cristal toward the glass door. Propping it open in the hope of defeating the malfunction, she had succeeded instead in rousing the motor to fresh exertions and cursed it heavily. The thought of William recurred with troubling frequency; she huffed clouds of steam and paused to rub her hands together in an attempt to distract herself. The motor shuddered to another of its erratic halts, and she heard the clatter of the kitchen door.
“I’m not doing this alone...” she called, glancing at the room reflected in the glass before her. Susan listened for furtive activity, the rustle of a bag as someone helped themselves to food, or the clink of purloined bottles. Slowly, she scuffed across the icy floor toward the door, hands clasped to her stomach, wiping her frosted nose and listening again.
The quietude was broken by three small, deliberate sounds, the sharp little tap of something metallic against formica. Curiosity pulled a frown across her face; some element of its isolated artifice urged her to consult the glass again.
A small, circular face, depleted by the paucity of tones and contrast in the reflection, floated between the rows of benches. Inside its annular outline two dark eyes and the oval-shaped hole that was its open mouth formed the entirety of its features. Flat and disembodied, it was as simple as a child’s mask lofted on a stick and yet it stilled her breath and clamped both feet to the ground. She sought to drag a name toward it, framing possibilities until a match was volunteered by a glimpse of sickly, pliant gold; it was Opal La Rue who stood in such purposive immobility, gaze fixed, her small mouth open so that she appeared not to seek with her eyes but to siphon the air. Her hand was poised upon the bench around the handle of a spoon, ready to tap another bar of feinting noise. The idea that she was the object of such a lure settled on Susan like the crystalline cold drifting around her and she eased herself behind the boxes, relieved that they were still numerous enough to conceal her, pulling the neck of her jersey over her chin to smother the steam that billowed with her breath. Securing the neck of a bottle with her left hand, her gaze fell to the white floor, ears tuned to any advance until the motor coughed and struck up again.
Opal sucked air past the wet walls of her palate, licking back the taste of prey, the girl's fragrant, salted warmth and the promise of the blood that it protected. Three quarters of a century had passed since she had claimed a first unwitting victim and the hundreds fallen to her since had imparted wisdom with the contents of their veins; the vampyre knew that fear and cold and prodding disbelief were on her side and savoured ragged, oozing thoughts that curled her cold tongue against her teeth. She failed to detect the presence seated on the counter behind her and William's stare, turned scathing apple green, met her wordless scowl with the same intent he had accorded the back of her head as he sat with his arms folded. Opal straightened slowly and looked around herself. setting down the teaspoon and turning toward the door. He slid onto his feet, stare remaining on her profile, and they exited together. After a while, Susan's wary consultation of the chiller door revealed that she was, to her bafflement, once more alone, the kitchen holding no sign of occupation beyond the stacks of dirty dishes. Rubbing her arms, she rounded a counter and leant over it to peer between them.
Opal glared blackly at William as they strode along the passage, desiring liberty from his determined chaperonage, but he shepherded her into the entrance hall and outward through the front door without obliging her. Rage had struck her mute, her glare clutching at his face as she slapped her phone to her ear, fury burning blue-white at the sound of Edward’s voicemail but he kept her moving down the driveway, putting out an arm to prevent her darting back toward the house.
“Paint a number on that little slut." she spat. "When I'm done with her, that is the only way you'll recognize what's left." At the threat he thrust her out between the iron panels of the gate.
"You go near her again and you’ll wake up in a fucking tin of catfood.” William promised as her driver drew up behind her.
A stripe of dull magenta had begun to flush the blue horizon as Susan looked toward the window and the encroaching dawn. Her shoulders ached; the valet squad had long since gathered their equipment and departed, leaving the house in peace, and she stood alone in the smaller kitchen, frowning at the distinct impression of stickiness beneath her slippered feet. Out in the entrance hall the stairs creaked but she was startled by the sight of Lilian in a black robe, her pale hair loose against her shoulders. She said nothing, standing curiously distrait in the shadow of the doorway as though listening to distant conversation. Her gaze fell slowly to the floor before Susan's feet.
“Can you smell something in here, or is it just me?” the latter asked. “I wouldn’t come in with nothing on your feet... there's broken glass.” She shook her head at the ceiling, indicating the blinking light. “And I have no idea what happened there.” Lilian remained where she stood, hands poised on the sash about her waist. Without the kohl around her eyes or the distractions of her wardrobe, the fair and almost gentle simplicity of her features were a surprise to Susan, the differences unsettling to her eye, as were the colours marking her neck and mouth. “Are you... alright?”
“Are you with...?”
“Edward, yeah. Whirlwind romance." Susan’s preoccupation with the damage to her face prompted her to smile darkly. “He's not the type to smack you in the piehole and just leave it at that. We're on the low, so...”
“Oh... no, I won’t say anything.” Susan promised quickly.
She followed Lilian into the porch, taking out her cigarettes and offering her one. Blackbirds had begun to sing in the garden like a chamber of tuning musicians as the eastern sky turned several shades of fuscine pink, the air already warming over the dew-cooled grass. The paper boy rode by and heaved a broadsheet over the wall; he caught sight of the women and turned his bike in a circle before the gates, craning for a better look until Susan lifted an offensive finger, prompting him to pedal on.
“It looks the same.” Lilian murmured, taking in the gardens with a slow turn of her head. The remark hung unaddressed as her companion struggled with its context.
"This place does my head in.” Susan confessed. “I see things, I can hardly sleep... half my brain is telling me to go upstairs and pack.”
Lilian took the stairs back toward Edward’s room, leaving Susan frowning after her from the shadow of the porch. Pausing on the landing, she leant in toward a painting, struck by the impression that the glass had conveyed in passing. Even in the darkness she saw it was her mouth that had begged notice, its half-circle of bruising already faded almost to nothing. She closed her eyes, dissolving something of the immuring unreality but her reflection persisted in confounding her, a thin, pale stripe remaining where the two sides of the wound had fused.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
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