Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Bait Most Beautiful
They say fate is a bitch. I say it’s a six-and-a-quarter foot vampire holding a grudge the size of a third-world continent, but hey, I’m just a fifth-rate federal employee, so what do I know?
Anyway, I’m just about to find out whether my theory regarding fate proves true, so if you’re going to stick around, you might want to grab a hardhat, because this could go sideways real fast.
See, I pulled Disinterment Detail tonight, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. Worse still, the name on the toe-tag is attached to a set of bones the likes of which is tantamount to my own personal apocalypse.
They say you never forget your first, and they have that one right. The toe-tag in my hand was my first but it was my training partner’s last. You should take that into consideration before judging me too harshly. The enthusiasm of youth is often corrupted by the indifference of a partner’s last week on the job.
I never agreed with the way Sizemore put Giancarlo down but at the time, I didn’t have a real good grasp of the job. Plus, who the hell was I going to tell about my misgivings? Nobody – and I mean nobody – cares what goes on in the basement ranks.
So, I kept my mouth shut, my neck metal clamped tight and my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t all come around and bite me in the arse. Which it just did. And that brings us back to the six-and-a-quarter foot vampire holding a grudge. Now that you’re up to speed, I’m going to open the casket and we’ll see what happens from there. Hopefully three years in containment has given him time to cool down.
They say time heals all wounds, but the jury is still out and I’m not holding my breath on this one.
His eyes snap open and focus on me. “You’re looking particularly disheveled this evening, cara mia.”
Avoiding his gaze, I kick the shovel out of my way and step back. “Plenty of time to bicker after we get the situation under control.”
He rises from the grave, the motion fluid and graceful, without a trace of the emaciation or atrophy so common in the long confined dead. Setting down beside me, he shrugs out of his suit jacket and stretches, his sleek power a terrible beauty and untamed menace. “By ‘situation’, I imagine you are referencing the trouble for which you wrongfully buried me three years ago.”
Finding myself confronted with this reanimated leviathan, I become acutely conscious of the blood sloshing through my fragile human veins and the noisy echo of my quickened heartbeat thumping in the cage of my ribs. To deflect my apprehension, I respond with some good old misplaced sarcasm. “You get that update from your underground network of worms?”
He smiles at that, the tips of his fangs grazing his lush lower lip. “You’d be surprised by the things I know, thanks to my underground channels.”
“Worms? Really? That seems beneath you.”
“You’ve grown skeptical since last I saw you, Officer. No longer the naïve trainee, but a jaded peace officer, hmmm?”
I grunt. “Nothing peaceful about my line of work. But this isn’t about me. Let’s skip to the part where you introduce a fail-proof plan to get the clan violence under control. So, where do we start?”
I shake my head. “Retribution falls on Sizemore, not me, and since he’s dead, your request is negated. Besides, you hardly look hungry.”
“Not hungry in the least but I’m still going to insist on Rites. Per Section IV, Article II of the Controller’s Manual, the duty falls to an attending officer if the commander is neither present nor living.”
“I know what the damn manual says!” Most of it anyway. Okay, not the bit about not disinterring your own tags. And not the bit about having to assume the fallout of a superior’s screw-up, but that little bitch-slap somehow feels pretty much in line with the whole ‘having a shitty day, thanks for asking’ vibe I have going on.
I reach for the touchpad on my neck metal, my fingers hovering over the buttons but not depressing them. Acting big and bad for the sake of trying to intimidate a probable aggressor is one thing, but baring your throat to a vampire adept – one that you’ve wrongfully interred and then disinterred to ask an itty-bitty favor, as in ‘please come back to life to save a world that despises you’ – takes kamikaze-crazy nerves, and mine were momentarily on hiatus.
He surprises me by saying, “Leave the collar intact, Bianca. What I require can come from your wrist.”
I offer my arm and he takes it, using his thumbnail to slice my wrist just deep enough that blood drips into my upturned palm. He slices his own wrist, and slides his fingers into the groves of mine, clasping our hands, and holding me still while our blood mingles in our joined palms and drips into the ground at our feet.
I know I owe him blood, but I don’t know what he’s doing with it and my stomach churns as my imagination goes into overdrive. Before I can formulate a question, the earth beneath us begins to rumble and he lets go of my hand.
“They’ll take five minutes to incubate and another five to acclimate,” he says, watching the dirt tremble, “but I’m not sure we have that much time.”
“What are you talking about?!”
He tears the cuff off his sleeve and presses it to my wrist to staunch the blood flow. “Trouble is on its way. Didn’t you wonder why you were assigned my toe tag? Section III, Article 1.13 of the Controller’s Manual states an officer shall not be permitted to disinter one of her own tags.”
“We’re shorthanded lately, because of the budget cuts and --”
“Government rhetoric! He reunited us to finish us off.”
“No, Bianca, he went dark.”
It was too much to believe. My training officer, the one person I had ever really trusted in this pathetic world, was not only not dead, but had become a corpse and set me up, and the only man – correction, corpse – who could possibly save me is the one man – correction, corpse – whom I wronged for no reason other than to go-along-to-get-along.
Giancarlo grabs me by the shoulder. “Listen to me. Sizemore wrongfully contained me, to prevent me from interfering with his plan to transform himself and take over Ricardo’s racquet. He’s the reason the clans are warring. I’ve been disinterred for ten minutes, which means he should be arriving any time, if he ‘s not already here.”
The ground stops rumbling and everything becomes eerily silent. He grabs me around the waist and pulls me close as dozens of bodies thrust up through the soil, slick with ooze and mutating as soon as their odd gray skin comes in contact with the air so that they look human. “Behold our offspring, Bianca, born of our blood union. Your blood gave them life, mine gave them power.”
I struggle against his hold. “What have you done?”
His mouth brushes my temple. “What was necessary to save us. Now, hold still while I put that fail-proof plan you asked for into action.”
He grabs my wrists and uses his belt to lash them in front of me. I thrash against him but it’s futile, of course. When I resort to screaming, he gently binds my mouth shut. Lifting me over his shoulder as if I weigh nothing at all, he carries me to the pine trees that edge the north border of the cemetery.
As the wormpires bind me to the tree, he cups my chin in his hand and says, “You left me to rot in that box, Bianca. Three long dark years I lay cramped and confined. And do you know what I was thinking about every moment? You. And do you know what I realized? The only way to draw out Sizemore was by offering him bait most beautiful - you.”
It’s true what they about your life flashing before your eyes. What they don’t tell you is all the things you wish you had said or could say, and I had a million things to say to the rat bastard who’d just betrayed me six ways from Saturday, but since he’d shut me up so effectively, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do but curse him at the top of my lungs in my head.
Soon as I am tied in place, the wormpires disappear into the earth and I am left alone with my enemy. He leans in close, so that he words caress my face. “Sizemore is here. I can feel him. He and his clan. What do you think, Bianca? Will he kill you? Will I? I’ll leave you to wonder. After all, that’s what you did to me. Justice above all else, right?! Isn’t that the Corpse Controller motto?”
He leaves me there, bound and gagged and riddled with disbelief. But moments later, his voice purrs into my ear: “You will think me weak, Officer, that I cannot leave you here drowning in terror, but that is the way of it. He is coming for us, you and me, but I and our offspring will rescue you. Do not doubt it. And we will exact slow justice from every dark heart. You have my word as an adept and as the sire of your offspring, cara mia.”
They say all is fair in love and war. I don’t know much about war, and even less about love, but I have a pretty good grasp on the advantages of allies, so even though the thought of a controller getting into bed with a corpse defies common sense, logic, and every last vestige of decency, I can’t help but think that a liaison with Giancarlo would be good for my health. Doesn’t hurt that he’s smart, sexy and has sarcasm down to a fine science.
They say live and let live. I say a plague take them. Better yet, Giancarlo’s incisors. This morning I was a single, childless, county corpse controller. Tonight, I’m the jobless mother and consort of the city’s most powerful corpse, and I will do whatever it takes to protect my family, even if that means losing my humanity to do it.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold but as I watch Giancarlo teach our spawn how to feed off the entrails of our enemies, I say revenge is a dish best served bloody as hell.
A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.