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  • Home > Delilah S. Dawson > Blud > Wicked as They Come (Page 20)     
    Wicked as They Come(Blud #1) by Delilah S. Dawson
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    “Won’t madam have a seat?” the man asked, leading me to the middle chair. On a tray beside it sat a variety of scissors, straight razors, glass tubes, and antique-looking hypodermic needles. They didn’t look entirely clean.

    “Excuse me, what?” I said, planting my feet.

    “Your blood, darling,” Criminy said. “Three vials, I think.”

    The man tugged on my hand. I didn’t budge.

    “Darling,” I said sweetly through clenched teeth, “I wasn’t aware I’d be donating blood today.”

    “Darling,” Criminy answered me, “we bring different gifts to the marriage, and right now, we need your blood. So won’t you have a seat and relax? I’m told it doesn’t hurt a bit. Just a pinch.”

    I glowered at him. He smiled. I plunked into the chair and gripped the armrests. My gloved fingers tapped. I wasn’t scared of having blood drawn, and especially not of drawing it myself. But I didn’t trust those primitive instruments, even in a world without infection or disease.

    “Now what?” I growled.

    “If madam would unbutton her necklet? I assure you, my professionalism is unparalleled.” He smiled like a gynecologist.

    I reached up and struggled with the buttons, and the man gently rolled down the neck of my gown.

    “Just a pinch, if you’ll hold still, madam,” he murmured, and I turned my head and closed my eyes.

    Something cold and numbing swept over my skin, and then I did feel just a slight pinch. I heard Criminy’s footsteps move away to the other side of the room, and he pretended to be interested in a painting on the wall. I tried to sit very still and forget that a stranger was draining my blood out through my neck. I did the same thing every day for my patients, albeit from the arm. Was it all that different, just because someone was going to drink it instead of testing it?

    Mr. Ariel held a soft cloth to my skin, swiped something cold over it again, and applied something sticky. “We’re done, madam,” he said, and with my eyes still closed, I struggled to rebutton my dress.

    Criminy appeared at my side, his nimble fingers gentle on the buttons as he patted my hand.

    “I’m wondering, sir,” he asked, “where we might find Antonin Scabrous.”

    The man was fiddling with his instruments, and Criminy chose one of the three vials of blood on the tray and subtly nudged it toward him next to a silver coin. Both items disappeared into the man’s vest, and he didn’t turn to us as he murmured, “Tailor, West Darkside. Look for the Inn of the Old Black Dog. Watch out as you cross High Street. They won’t like the two of you. Coppers here are harder than elsewhere.”

    “And the Magistrate?”

    The man grunted. Criminy shoved over another vial.

    “Jonah Goodwill. Lives in the priory beside the church. He’s well guarded and dangerous.”

    “Many thanks,” Criminy said.

    I tried to get up from the chair, but the man stopped me with a patronizing hand on my shoulder. “You’ll want to sit a moment, madam. And have a biscuit.”

    It was tough not to give him an earful about phlebotomy, but I kept my mouth shut and took one of the cookies from the tin in his hand. I sighed, and the man looked at Criminy with great curiosity.

    “Your lady doesn’t know much for a Bludman’s wife,” he said.

    Criminy whisked me to my feet and said, “She’s of a gentle constitution, and we’re only newly married.”

    Taking the remaining vial of blood, Criminy guided me out the door and half-dragged me through the maze of streets again. I gripped his hand hard, forcing him to slow down.

    “What do you think I am, your personal walking blood factory?” I whispered out the side of my mouth. “You could have at least warned me. Was that even sanitary?”

    He put his arm around me, and I felt his breath on my ear as he whispered, “We needed information and collateral, and we got them both. And of course it’s sanitary. Didn’t you feel the alcool? It numbs and cleans at once. We’re not aboriginals.”

    “Where are we going now? Are we off to sell my hair next?”

    “Good heavens, why would anyone want your hair? Not that it isn’t lovely,” he said. “You heard the man. We’re going to the Bludmen’s district to speak to an old associate of mine.”

    “I just don’t want to be surprised again,” I said, feeling a bit prickly.

    “You will be, no matter what,” he said. “Might as well expect it.”

    Ignoring my reticence, he pulled me along at a clipped pace, my heels slipping in muck on the cobbles. From time to time, he hugged me to the wall as a horseless carriage went by, leaving only inches to spare between us and the jerky machine. Like the engine of the caravan’s train, the odd carriages had machinery and tubes and wires bursting from the place where horses should have stood. The drivers, perched on rickety benches above and pulling levers, all wore aviator’s hats and goggles and navigated the narrow roads with little regard for pedestrians.

    No wonder the air was so smoggy—the engines puffed green steam out one side and gray smoke out the other. The lack of horse manure was a bonus, but there was also a certain level of disdain inferred by the machines. If a horse stepped on you, it was personal. But if a horseless carriage clipped you, it was indifferent and cruel, and the driver just kept on driving as the snobby faces behind the window turned away.

    We were trotting along a broad avenue when we passed two expensively dressed ladies wearing high platform boots and strange rose-colored glasses. Their pink-tinged eyes shot daggers at me, and the older one hissed, “Bludhoney.” I felt Criminy tense and snarl, but I kept moving forward, pulling him with me before he tried to defend my honor.

    At the next cross street larger than a drainage ditch, he took a right, murmuring, “That’s enough of High Street.”

    We turned onto an alley specializing in foodstuffs. Butchers and bakers and wine shops stood open, while occasional carts offered lackluster fruits and vegetables. No wonder everyone looked either sickly or florid—even the green things weren’t green. The broccoli was gray, and the apples were the gold of old urine. The entire rainbow of plants ran from whitish yellow to yellowish brown.

    But the bread smelled heavenly, I’ll admit that. And the coffee. And something wafting from a store labeled Chocovanerie. I slowed down to sniff.

    “You don’t want to do that, pet,” Criminy said, dragging me along. “Wait until we get somewhere healthy. This stuff is all ersatz.”

    “What’s ersatz?”

    “Fake,” he said curtly. “No nutritive value. Made of ground-up meal and flavorings, sometimes even sawdust. It’s all the poor can afford. Those vegetables are half-rotten.”

    And then I could smell it, the subtle sickness wafting from the baskets. I rubbed my nose along Criminy’s shoulder, trying to drown the stench with berries.

    At the next big cross street, he started to take a left and then looped back when he saw a Copper on a bludmare standing sentinel. “Residential,” he said. “I’ll just make ’em nervous.”

    So we went, past booksellers and weavers and pet shops crowded with droopy magpies and small, yappy dogs. We wove through poor streets and rich streets, past beggars and dukes and Coppers. I was getting a headache from hunger and thirst and overpowering smells, and my eyes were so full of new things that they were nearly crossed.

    “Mr. Paisley,” I murmured, “don’t forget to feed your pet Pinky.”

    He stopped to look at me tenderly and murmured, “Sorry, love. I was so busy trying to keep you safe that I forgot how your kind wilts without food and drink.”

    He sniffed the air and made several turns until we were in a brighter, altogether richer part of town. When he stopped at a shiny green cart with delectable steam rising from a closed bin, I started drooling a little.

    “Wrappy and a squeeze,” he said, flipping the man a coin.

    “Gonner try some real food, eh, Bluddy?” the man said sourly, but he handed over a cup made of thick, waxed newspaper folded origami-style and brimming with golden liquid. With his other hand, he used tongs to select an oblong packet wrapped in the same greasy newspaper. He dropped it into Criminy’s hand with a smirk, and we left quickly without thanking him. I could tell that Criminy was furious. That seemed to happen a lot in the city.

    “That is for me, right?” I said. Whatever it was, it smelled good. Like fast food.

    “It’s for you, but it’s piping hot. Chappy bastard was hoping to burn one of us. I’ll hand it to you as soon as it’s cool enough to eat, I promise.”

    He put the cup into my hand, saying, “Drink fast. These cups don’t last long.”

    After a moment of examination, I turned the cup sideways and poured the golden stuff into the side of my mouth.

    “Grape juice?”

    “That’s why they call it a squeeze,” he said wryly. “But city grapes don’t grow purple or red—only yellow.”

    I gulped the juice, and he threw my cup onto the ground and handed me the thing he’d called a wrappy. It was a sort of burrito, filled with boiling-hot lava that tasted a lot like shepherd’s pie. It was gristly and heavy on the potatoes and beans, but it had a perfectly satisfying oil-to-salt ratio. I thanked him and licked the sauce off my gloves as we walked.

    At last, he turned down a dark alley under a riveted sign reading Darkside. I could have sworn the temperature was ten degrees lower on the other side of that sign. The road was poorly kept, with missing cobbles and graffiti in white chalk.

    Drain U, one said.

    Bluddy go home to the ground, said another.

    It was a residential area, but the windows were blacked out or covered with neatly nailed boards. The doors were all painted blood red. There were no window boxes or decorations. No one would live this way on purpose, not unless they were forced. The dismal streets and Criminy’s tense silence spoke volumes about the oppression of his species by mine.

    The next cross street was more open, with wooden signs hanging just like those on High Street—but darker. I saw a jeweler, a pawn shop, an apothecary. Then, up ahead, a sign featuring a black dog on its back, feet in the air, with an X for an eye. That had to be the Inn of the Old Black Dog. Next door, a spool with a needle—Criminy’s friend, the tailor.

    We ducked through the burgundy door into a bright room painted with harlequin diamonds in light blue and violet. It was just like Mrs. Cleavers’s wagon but neater, with mannequins and mirrors abounding and bolts of cloth stacked neatly on shelves. Directly facing us, head down over a tabletop sewing machine of brass and black iron, was the first Bludman I’d seen in the city.

    He looked up at us with a mouthful of pins and grinned like a voodoo doll. His skin was light brown, which contrasted oddly with golden hair and ice-blue, piercing eyes. But his face was jolly, and he seemed glad to see us. That was really starting to mean something.

    Stashing the pins in a jar, he stood to stretch his back with a series of pops. He locked the front door, then faced Criminy with open arms, saying, “Crim! How long’s it been?”

    “Too long, Antonin. Too long. How goes it?”

    They hugged and beat each other on the back. Apparently, that male gesture crosses world and species lines as the only acceptable way to show masculine friendship.

    “Manchester’s not what it used to be,” Antonin said, running a hand through his curly gold hair and making it stand on end. “The Coppers get rougher every year. Did you ever think you’d see the day when I’d be stuck sewing in Darkside? But the Magistrate’s put up new restrictions, and here I am.”

    “So I noticed,” Criminy said, taking in the room. “Nice spot, though. I guess the fine ladies and masters of High Street secretly send their footmen to you with measurements?”

    “They do.” Antonin chuckled. “No Pinky can make a finer seam than I. Business is good, if society ain’t. And who’s this lovely creature?”

    When his eyes turned on me, I could sense a latent but polite hunger underneath. Criminy’s arm snagged my waist, and he drew me close, saying, “My wife, actually. Letitia, this is Antonin Scabrous, formerly of Scarborough and the best tailor in Sang. We started out in the same caravan as lads and bunked together for our apprentice years.”

    “Ah, yes. The tale of two tailors’ sons who ran off to join the circus. You got the exciting end of the bargain, and I still ended up with a needle in my mouth,” Antonin said with a laugh. “How’s the caravan, anyway?”

    “Good, in general,” Criminy said. “That is, until some rowdy bastard stole my lady’s wedding present, a fine ruby locket. We think he’s in the city.” His voice dropped. “And we think you might know of him.”

    Antonin winked. “Won’t you come back to the sitting room, have a drop to drink? I might have a biscuit for your lady somewhere, too.”

    We followed him through a curtain of jingling beads and down a narrow hallway cheerfully decorated with hundreds of painted thread spools mounted on nails. We sidled through the tall door at the end of the hall, and I had to blink. It was a narrow sitting room so bright and yellow that it was like sitting in a lemon. The velvet chaise was yellow, the chairs were white with yellow spots, and the walls were yellow and white damask. It was so bright that my teeth hurt.

    Criminy swung Pemberly off his shoulder and muttered, “Pem, guard the hall.” She scampered to the center of the hallway and stood on her hind legs, and her head began slowly spinning, her eyes casting red lights on the walls, dancing over the rainbow of spools. She had become a copper disco ball. I had completely forgotten the sleeping snake on my own arm.

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