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|Wicked as They Come(Blud #1) by Delilah S. Dawson|
“Oh, thank you so much!” I gushed. “You have just made my night and her year. She’ll be able to go to her eternal rest now.”
“Good luck, ma’am, and God bless,” she said before hanging up.
I felt a little bad for heartlessly killing the fictitious Louise Shepherd, but it was for a good cause. And I was pretty sure she didn’t feel a thing.
I programmed the address into my GPS and started driving. I listened to my favorite CDs and enjoyed the safety and silence of my world, my car a little fortress of solitude. I thought through the plan over and over again in my head, trying to work out every detail. For all of his own planning, Jonah Goodwill had missed a lot of details himself, and I wondered if his mind was slipping. He was a man of power and influence, but doctors didn’t seem to exist in Sang. Maybe he was suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, something they would have caught in my world. Or maybe he’d just started out plumb crazy.
It was pitch dark as I zoomed over the state line. I navigated past fields and strip malls and trailer parks until I turned onto Sycamore Lane. The country road was long and barely lit and lonely, but I eventually saw the brick wall from my glance, lit up by fancy yard lights. The matching brick house was needlessly huge, and I imagined that the lawn-care staff was even more extensive than the one at Eden House in Sang.
All that trouble for a vegetable who’d never wake up. What a waste.
I stopped in a dark spot a hundred yards away and straightened my scrubs. I put my ID badge into the glove compartment and tucked the locket under my shirt. I didn’t know who would be in the house, whether a nurse stayed around the clock or Mr. Goodwill had a housekeeper or a housesitter or an entire extended family. I just had to hope that whoever it was wasn’t very bright. Or nosy.
For the tenth time, I checked to make sure that I had all the supplies I needed in my tote bag before I rolled the car into the driveway. No Helping Hands van, which was good. A layperson would be much easier to deal with. Before knocking on the door, I put on my brightest smile.
Time to channel the talented and charismatic Lady Letitia Paisley.
The first knock didn’t raise anybody, so I rang the doorbell. There was movement within, and the porch lights came on, nearly blinding me. And then I heard a click I’d heard only in movies, and the door opened, and I was staring into the barrel of a shotgun. After all, it was the middle of the night on a lonely road in the country.
“Can I help you?” said a teenage boy in an open bathrobe and boxer shorts. His glasses were smudged, and there were Cheetos crumbs clinging sadly to a couple of hairs above his lip.
I looked over the gun and smiled nervously.
“Hi. Did Terry Ann at Helping Hands tell you I would be coming? I’m Carrie, and I have Mr. Grove’s medicine.”
The shotgun dropped, and the boy sniffed. “Nobody called. Sorry ’bout the gun. It’s late.”
“I know it is,” I said apologetically. I held my tote bag open and said, “I’m just filling in. His usual nurse forgot to switch out the IV bag, and they also wanted to start him on IV Zosyn. It’s an antibiotic. It’ll just take me a minute.”
The sullen boy opened the door, and I stepped into a beautiful marble foyer with the sort of curving staircase that must come equipped with at least one debutante in a white dress.
“Thanks,” I said. “Are you Mr. Grove’s grandson?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m Toby. We all take turns staying over here, because Grampa’s lawyer’s too cheap to hire somebody. At least he’s got good cable.”
“You’re a good boy to take care of your grandfather,” I said.
“I never even met him,” the boy said. He shuffled over to loaf on a long corner sofa in the next room and turned on the TV. “He’s been out for, like, twenty years.”
He sat down with his back to me and started switching channels, adding, “He’s upstairs in the big room.”
I walked up the curving staircase and padded down the deep carpet to the only door with a light shining inside. On the way, I didn’t pass a single family photograph or heirloom. The house reminded me of something set up for a magazine. Some obsessively neat aunt probably hired a decorator every five years or so to redo the whole place around the softly breathing man in the bedroom, who never even knew what the walls looked like.
The door was ajar, and I slipped in. There he was, lying in the bed I’d seen in my glance. He was propped up with pillows, and his mustache and hair were carefully trimmed. Even his pajamas were crisp, although I thought it ironic that the top button was unbuttoned, which could never happen in Sang. The room was warm and stuffy, and there was nothing personal, not a single memento. In the background, the radio hummed old-fashioned hymns.
No wonder the old man in Sang was crazy.
I walked to the window, which was covered by thick, light-blocking draperies. Peeking out, I had déjà vu, even though it was nighttime. That glorious magnolia reigned over the walled-in garden, sister to the greenspace behind Eden House. The man simply could not let go of his old life. I opened the drapes all the way. The waxy white blooms glowed in the moonlight, and I wondered if Mr. Goodwill shivered in Sang, thinking that a goose had walked over his grave as he kept vigil over my body and Criminy’s fury.
Back to my patient. He had a port in his chest for the IV, and I had to unbutton his pajama top to get to it. Luckily, the IV bag was nice and full, so I had plenty of time; his real nurse must have left recently. I leaned out through the doorway and heard Toby open a soft-drink can and collapse on the couch. Then I heard soft moans. Excellent—careless, hormonal grandson plugged into Cinemax. I closed the door gently and locked it, then turned on the overhead light.
With loving precision, I laid out my supplies on the bed.
The timing had to be just right.
Step One: Prepare the syringe, draw up 250 units of Mrs. Henderson’s pilfered insulin, and inject it into Mr. Grove’s IV line.
Step Two: Use the baby butterfly needle to draw a tube of my own blood.
Mr. Goodwill didn’t know that nothing translated from world to world except my body and the locket. I couldn’t bring over a syringe or a cup or a finger in a baggie, per his instructions.
Step Three: Stuff everything back into the bag, lie down on my back on the floor, and pour the syringe of my own blood into my mouth.
I really didn’t like Step Three.
Step Four: Let my complete exhaustion overtake me in sleep.
I’d considered taking meds to induce my rest, but I didn’t want to lie around on the floor, drugged up at his bedside, when I came back. Getting out of that house without real-world consequences was going to take my best acting performance yet.
Excited as I was, I knew that sleep would claim me as quickly as ever.
Step Five: Hope that my mouth stayed shut when I went unconscious.
Step Six: Pray that my cockamamie plan worked.
My eyes flickered open, and I fought the urge to spew blood all over the place. Somehow I managed to keep my lips together and my cheeks puffed. I sat up and found Criminy across the dark room. The curtains were drawn closed, and brilliant sunlight burned around the edges. Jonah Goodwill slumped at my bedside, snoring through his mustache.
Criminy’s eyes were wide and panicky, his mouth still stuffed with a handkerchief. When he saw that I was conscious, I gave him an exaggerated wink and tried to ease myself silently off the bed. It creaked, and Goodwill startled awake. I sank back down and tried to look pained.
“You’re back,” he said. “Have you got it?”
I nodded my head and pointed to my bulging cheeks. Then I pointed to the door and held my hand up at chest height with a questioning “Hmm?”
He didn’t get it, so I tried a pantomime of a slutty lady with fangs. Mr. Goodwill caught on and chuckled. He rang a bell, and when a servant appeared, he said, “Please ask Miss Scowl and Rodvey to join us.”
My cheeks burned, and the blood began to seep down my throat a little. I tried not to gag.
A few moments later, Tabitha Scowl swooped into the room, followed by my old, venomous friend Rodvey, who was obviously disgusted with the lot of us.
“Rodvey, please hold Miss Scowl’s arms behind her back,” Goodwill said conversationally, and quick as a snake, Tabitha was caught painfully and fighting Rodvey’s grasp. The fake locket bounced off her chest as she struggled.
“This wasn’t part of the bargain, Jonah!” she cried.
“It’s just a test of your loyalty, my dear,” he said kindly. Then he took my gloved hand to help me up from the bed and ushered me over to the tiny, squirming Bludwoman.
Just as I was about to spit the blood at her, Goodwill said, “And now, Tabitha, if you will, please remove the handkerchief from Mr. Stain’s mouth.”
Rodvey let go of Tabitha, and she chuckled darkly as she sashayed to Criminy and slowly removed the gag. Then she stood back, arms crossed over her chest, to watch the show.
Criminy took in a big breath and said, “Not to be too repetitive, but this wasn’t part of the bargain, Jonah.”
“Like you’d ever be peaceable after this,” Goodwill snapped. “You’d be at my throat tomorrow, or starting a riot, or telling the newspapers. You’re far too dangerous to live.”
“Where’s my costumer?” Criminy asked.
“She’s drained,” Goodwill said curtly. Criminy bared his teeth and strained at his bonds, and Goodwill held his hand out to me and said, “Now, Miss Paisley, if you will.”
I shook my head no.
“Give him the blood, or you both die.”
I gave him my most eloquent look of tortured pain over comically puffed cheeks.
“Now,” the old man said.
I walked heavily to the chair and leaned over to put my hands on the sides of Criminy’s face. Then I kissed him, parting my lips to let the blood rush from my mouth into his. There was a sort of primal sexuality to it, feeling the hot, red liquid mingle between us, and his tongue lapped it up hungrily. I almost swooned as I pulled away, and he couldn’t help licking the drips off his chin afterward, still watching me.
With hands over my face, I jogged to the basin and pushed the button for water, then rinsed my mouth out as well as I could.
“Alcohol?” I spluttered.
“Rodvey?” Mr. Goodwill asked.
“Left coat pocket,” Rodvey grunted, still holding Tabitha tightly.
Mr. Goodwill handed me the flask, and whatever was inside burned my mouth with fumes redolent of paint thinner. I spit it out and rinsed again, then rinsed with water. At least it wasn’t actually diseased. The rinsing was mainly for show. I was banking on Jonah Goodwill’s ignorance of modern infectious disease. Twenty years out of my world, and he’d probably believe we had colonized Mars.
Leaning over the basin, I willed myself to cry and splashed water over my face.
“What was it?” Goodwill asked me.
“Ebola,” I said. “It’s only communicable through bodily fluids, and I’ve been vaccinated. I’m a nurse, so I got the blood from a patient who had just succumbed.”
“I remember hearing about that one before I came here. That was clever,” he said, nodding appreciatively. “What are the symptoms?”
“From fresh blood, and without medication, it’ll be spasms, hemorrhage, and death,” I sniffled between sobs. “Within minutes.”
“Sorry about your man,” Goodwill said, in a voice that made it clear that he wasn’t sorry at all. “I’ll leave you two to say good-bye.”
Tabitha and Rodvey turned to go, but Goodwill stopped in the doorway, blocking them.
“That is,” he said with a cruel grin, “after he bites Miss Scowl. It’s no good if we don’t spread it around, eh? We’ll drain him afterward and disperse the vials, of course. But it’ll be good to have two fresh bodies of tainted blood.”
“Jonah—” Tabitha said, backing away.
“My name is Magistrate Goodwill,” he said sternly. “Now, bite her quick, boy. I’ve got a genocide to plan.”
Rodvey cut Criminy’s rope, and the Bludman stood slowly, focused on Tabitha. He stalked toward her, and she cringed away from him.
“Crim, no,” she said. “Remember our good times? Remember the caravan?”
“I mostly remember the island and the inn,” he growled, and then he leaped at her. They fell to the ground as he ripped the flesh of her neck, drinking deeply.
“Don’t drain her completely,” Goodwill said, unholstering a miniature crossbow and holding it up to Criminy’s temple. “I need her blud.”
Criminy pulled away from the blood frenzy, his pupils engulfing his eyes in black. Tabitha lay there, her skirts in disarray and her chest barely moving. Criminy was panting, and he wiped his face carelessly as he stood. He gave Goodwill an evil, blood-tinged smile.
“Thanks for the last meal,” he said, and then he twitched.
“Glad you enjoyed your own taste of death,” Goodwill said. “Rodvey, stay until he’s gone, then bring Miss Paisley to the dining room.” And he shut the door, leaving Rodvey behind with us.
“Die already,” the Copper said, with a lazy hand on his own holstered crossbow. “It’s nearly time for tea.”
Criminy twitched again, then spasmed, then went into a sort of seizure. Frothing at the mouth, he bumped into me, then caromed off the mirror and bumped into Rodvey, who shouted, “Get off me, Bluddy!” and pushed him away. I was trying my best to act distraught and betrayed and confused, but I wasn’t sure where to look. Criminy’s mad dance was both terrifying and hilarious, and he was spitting blood all over the place. An especially big glob hit the portrait of Goodwill, and I had to turn my laugh into a choked sob.