|Home > Delilah S. Dawson > Blud > Wicked After Midnight (Page 32)|
|Wicked After Midnight(Blud #3) by Delilah S. Dawson|
Just behind him, I could smell his expensive hair oil and see the etchings on the brass of his posh pilot’s goggles. He’d taken off his tuxedo jacket and had his white sleeves rolled up as he pulled levers and pushed buttons and twisted dials. The elephant was moving as smoothly as could be expected, the legs working in tandem to propel us through the streets with a lolloping rhythm. The windshield showed screaming crowds scattering on the cobblestones and conveyances rattling away down side alleys on two wheels. A throng of gendarmes up ahead was readying a catapult, and I knew that whatever Sang had for defense, I wanted the elephant to stop moving before I suffered for the driver’s insanity.
As soon as the pilot chuckled darkly and reached for a lever that looked too much like a joystick with a trigger, I knew it was time to act. I whipped the wrench down and cracked him across the skull. When he tried to turn around and grab the wrench from my hand, I smacked him again, harder and at the temple. It wasn’t as easy to put a man out as it looked on TV.
He slumped over, his hands forcing the two large levers forward as he fell.
And the elephant fell with him.
It caught me by surprise, and I slammed forward, right into the windshield. The glass cracked beneath me and gave just a little as the entire monstrosity continued in a slow, graceful fall forward. I reached wildly around me, trying to find something solid to hold on to as, bit by bit, the glass behind my back caved outward. When the unconscious driver crashed into me, the glass finally gave, and I fell out with a gentleman kidnapper and a million-pound copper elephant right on top of me.
* * *
I wanted to pass out, but I didn’t. It hurt like hell, a hundred times worse than my fall from the catwalk at Paradis. And it didn’t help that I was covered in broken glass and twisted metal and the hot, heavy body of my kidnapper. Luckily, I’d fallen out of the window seconds before the entire elephant collapsed, so the cockpit had basically fallen around me, forming a protective, air-filled bubble. Still, I was completely trapped in the pitch-black dark, and no one knew I was here, except for the dead guy on top of me.
No, he wasn’t dead yet.
As the fear ebbed away, his smell replaced it, forced into my nose and mouth by his closeness. I was pinned, with no way to rid myself of his weight. I tried to shove him away, but he was limp and thick and floppy, and I only succeeded in making the meaty part of his arm fall against my mouth.
Screw it. Dude tries to kill me with a copper elephant, eating him is totally fair game.
Considering the fact that I wasn’t trying to woo him or bring him any sort of comfort, I just flat-out bit the bastard’s arm, sinking my fangs in like traditional vampires do and ripping a little until the blood really started to flow. The sustenance was more than welcome, considering the fear and exhaustion weighing me down. I’d never felt more like an animal, a creature with no empathy or kindness or reason. In the dark, I became nothing, just an appetite.
Only at the very last moment did I come to myself and remember that you couldn’t question dead people. If there was any hope of finding out this guy’s motives, he had to be alive when they found him.
And if there was any chance of me not going to jail or facing whatever grisly fate Sang used in place of jail, the driver needed to be undrained. I stopped drinking and held my hand around the wounds, willing them to stop bleeding. There wasn’t much blood left, but his breathing was shallow, and his heart was still beating, so there was some hope. The machinery creaked and squealed overhead as the gigantic beast settled, but it was quiet enough to hear voices in the small space. I put my mouth right up to his ear and swallowed back my hunger.
“Why did you kidnap me?”
“Who do you work for?”
“What do you want?”
At last, a low chuckle, breathy and barely more than a flutter. “Mal—” The machinery overhead groaned and resettled, cutting him off.
But his breathing had stopped. God. Damn. It.
I kicked a slippered foot against the metal, and a cacophony of new sounds took over. Shouting, clanking, and the hum of a great machine starting up. I eased my arm out from under the man’s body and rapped on the closest metal wall. The shouting outside escalated, and I heard an answering knock but not quite near me. I knocked again, and we knocked back and forth until I could feel the metal-muffled ring of a fist against the palm of my hand, playing a Sang version of Marco Polo. I knocked frantically until someone shouted, “Quiet!”
I went silent, waiting.
The voice was muffled but slow and careful. “Shield your eyes, and back away from this wall. We have a saw. Do you understand? Knock once for yes, twice for no.”
I knocked once.
“Here we go!”
I maneuvered the man’s body so that his arm covered my face; I’d let the dead bastard bear the brunt of whatever damage the rescuers inflicted. The whine of a saw started up outside, and I squeezed my eyes shut as it shrieked against the metal toward my side. Hot sparks sizzled against my arm, and I tucked it in more tightly, hugging the dead body to me and shrinking as far away as I could. I was mostly indestructible but not stupid, and a saw wound would majorly mess up my act, not to mention Lenoir’s painting.
Soon I felt a welcome breath of fresh air, or at least what passed for it in the cities of Sang. The metal curled back like a bit of apple peel, and a pair of heavy clippers helped widen the hole. Strong hands in thick gloves reached in to lift me gently from the ruins of the cockpit like a baby bird from a cracked egg. I didn’t realize until they laid me on a stretcher and covered me with a rough woolen blanket that I wore nothing but the ruined corset top of my fancy dress and my stained and ruffled bloomers.
“There’s another one in here,” a man called, and I quickly added, “Don’t let him get away. He’s the villain who tried to kidnap me.”
“He won’t be running anywhere, mademoiselle. Nearly dead, he is.”
I feigned surprise as I sat up and looked on the stretcher beside me. The face was unfamiliar. He could have been any one of thousands of seeming gentlemen who had passed through Paradis since I’d started just a few days ago. Slender, slicked-back blond hair, thin lips. Very pale, but that was mostly my fault.
“Lie down, mademoiselle, and we’ll get you to the chirurgeon. You might have broken bones.”
My heart jerked in my chest. Perhaps Charline had paid well to keep a Bludman in the bounds of Mortmartre, and perhaps Louis had brought enough security to keep us safe on our jaunt to the Tuileries, but I was willing to bet that me showing up in a hospital next to a drained body would cause legal trouble and possible hysteria among scared Pinkies or any men who’d heard of me.
I scrambled to my bare feet, holding the blanket around my body like a cloak.
“I’m fine, really.”
All three of the men digging through the rubble of the gigantic elephant stopped to stare at me.
The lead one who’d helped me out was an older gentleman, a barrel-chested human gendarme with a sharp gray beard.
“You are . . . fine?”
I smiled confidently. “Totally fine. Can I return to Paradis, please?”
One of the other men was a daimon, and he leaned in to hiss, “La Demitasse.”
The leader shook his head in confusion and disbelief. “If that’s what you want to do, mademoiselle. Did you leave anything in the, eh . . . pachyderm?”
They’d opened the entire cockpit up, showing a tumble of gears, wires, cogs, levers, and gauges. I didn’t see my skirt, but I had no qualms whatsoever about snatching up the kidnapper’s abandoned tailcoat and exchanging it for the rough blanket.
“Would y’all mind if I borrowed this?” I asked in my most charming voice.
The gendarmes looked at one another. “Seems fair enough,” the leader finally said.
“Then I’ll thank you for your time, brave gendarmes.” I went up on tiptoe to kiss each of them on the cheek and turned to stroll a few short blocks to Paradis, where the brightly gowned daimon girls and their tuxedoed escorts had crowded out behind a very annoyed barricade of Madame Sylvie and Mademoiselle Charline to watch the chaos. Auguste was already running toward me with a real cloak, but I wanted to keep the tailcoat for myself to see what hints it might hold about its owner.
“Please give the prince my regrets,” I said to Sylvie as I sashayed past.
The crowd split to allow my passage, the girls standing sentry between the goggle-eyed gentlemen and my barely dressed form. No one spoke, but Bea’s hand lingered on my arm as I passed.
As soon as I was in the building and out of sight, I cracked my back and allowed myself to limp. Damn, that hurt. I went straight upstairs and locked my door. After tossing the oil-stained tailcoat on my bed, I went over every inch of it. There was nothing unusual, just a handkerchief soiled with engine grease and a half-smoked cigarillo. No name tag, no packet of calling cards and bills like so many gentlemen carried in their breast pockets. Whoever the bastard was, he’d planned the kidnapping far enough ahead that he’d remembered to empty his pockets.
I wadded up the coat and hid it in the petticoat drawer of my armoire, undressed, and fell into bed. My head swam, half woozy with blood and half hyped up on fading adrenaline. Someone knocked on my door, and hours later, someone else scratched quietly. I ignored them both. I’d had more than enough excitement for one night.
* * *
The next morning came all too soon and, with it, the ache of bruises in places that had never been bruised before. I stretched and pointed my toes, feeling limp all over. As if they’d been listening at the door, which they probably had, Mel and Bea slipped in and approached my bed as if I might bite their heads off or faint.
“Oh, la. I can’t believe it. I just can’t. Are you . . .”
Bea signed alive, and I laughed.
“Y’all, I’m fine. Giant metal elephants run away with me all the time, and I haven’t died yet.”
“It’s all over the papers. Shows are sold out for weeks. Everyone wishes to see you. Mon dieu, chérie. You’re the most famous girl in Mortmartre. Ever.”
I could not care less that everyone wanted to see me. But wait. Someone more than wanted to see me—someone was expecting me. I’d promised Lenoir a full day of sitting, and the thought of that dizzy, drunken, golden time under the relaxing and dreamy effects of the Red Fairy was a mighty powerful lure. I would heal faster and not feel as much pain, and I would have a bit of respite from the wagging tongues and clutching hands of the gentlemen who would be showing up later tonight to see the girl who’d lived through a pachyderm rampage.
Bea held out a tube of blood, and I took it and thanked her. They had a rushed conversation of signs, and I barely understood that there was something Bea wanted to tell me that Mel didn’t want me to know. And I did want to know, but I didn’t want them to know that I was learning more sign language. And I also didn’t want anything to come between me and Lenoir’s studio.
I drank the blood faster than usual—not that I needed it after draining the pilot last night. When I went to my ewer and began to bathe hurriedly, Mel rushed over.
“Mais . . . surely you’re not going out today, are you? You need to rest.”
I smiled and continued trying to clean off the smudges of grease and blood. “I’m off today. And I have an appointment with Lenoir. I can’t be late.”
The two daimons exchanged a weighty glance.
“It can wait.”
I pulled clothes out of my armoire and darted behind my screen to change. “It really can’t.”
“Demi, ma chérie. We understand. We really do. But you are already a star. A portrait by Lenoir will not make life any different. You’re as high as you can go already. But you have to take care of yourself.”
I stopped furiously pulling the strings of my corset to glare at her over the screen. I’d had just about enough of this line from her and from Vale. And I couldn’t even tell the daimons about how my main goal with everything was simply a front to get to Cherie.
“I am taking care of myself. But what I need most is not a bunch of mother hens and sassy-pants roosters telling me what I need. I’m not going to Lenoir’s studio because I think it’s going to make me a star. I’m going because it’s relaxing there. Because he’s the only person who understands me, who gets what I’m going through. When he’s painting me . . . I don’t know. It’s peaceful. Relaxing. Nothing here is ever relaxing. Here, I feel like someone owns every aspect of me, every moment of my time.”
“And when he’s painting you, you don’t feel like that?” Mel asked carefully.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not like that. I just don’t have to be what everyone else wants me to be.”
Bea frantically sketched signs in the air, and Mel sighed. “She says . . . well, I don’t think you should tell her that. Oh, la. As you wish, my love. Long ago, the daimons believed that—”
The door burst open with Charline in a long purple robe that grazed the ground and a fancy headdress. Behind her stood two human gendarmes and what had to be Paris’s version of a reporter, a dapper daimon with a gravity-defying mustache who held a very large and unwieldy camera-type thing.
I huddled behind the screen. “Mademoiselle Charline, I must protest. I’m undressed!”
A sharp flash blinded me and filled the room with pink smoke.
“Well, that’s her job, ain’t it?” the reporter said, and I pulled my lips back to show my fangs.
One of the gendarmes looked as if he wanted to hide under the bed, but the other one, the older one from yesterday’s scene at the toppled elephant, growled and grabbed the reporter by his arm.