Kate Paulk Is Not Permitted To Associate With The Likes Of Us

Sorry — I completely forgot till now — which tells you a lot — that Kate had asked me to post.  See, her computer has decided that Mad Genius Club is virus infested (not that the rest of us can see!) and won’t let her in.

She wanted me to post an open thread, usual rules (No hitting, no spitting, no knives, no guns and if you bled on the sheets, have the grace to do the laundry before you leave.  Er… I assume those are the rules, right?)Meanwhile, here is the beginning of Consensual by Kate Paulk.  It’s earc version, but I couldn’t find the finished file.  (I’m not batting 1000 today.)

In my excitement to post the sales-bait below, because, well, I want to see the third, and Kate is highly inspired by cash, I forgot I meant to encourage speculation on why Kate’s firewall won’t let her talk to us:

Has it found out we’re space aliens?

Is it a snob?

Does it think we’ll lead her into the ways of perdition?

Other ideas?



1. Consensual Encounters

Nothing says you’ve left normal reality like walking into a hotel lobby and seeing a Clone Trooper chatting with a Sith Lord. The sign on the back of the Clone Trooper’s armor, ‘Come to the Dark Side. We have cookies. Tonight. Room 1226’, was really just corroborating evidence.

The lure of Dark Side cookies notwithstanding, I took myself to the reception desk and got signed in. I’ll give them this: the staff didn’t seem at all upset by the strangeness manifesting in their hotel. Maybe it’s a southern USA thing, but none of the southern con hotels I’ve been in have ever been anything less than welcoming.

Well, unless the convention was sharing space with one of the more fundamentalist religious conventions. But that’s another story altogether.

ConSensual being one of the bigger southern conventions, I doubted that would be an issue. It was held in one of those sprawling southern cities that takes about five times the land area of a northern city to hold the same population, and usually has so many hotels it’s not hard for any one event to make an exclusive booking.

Whatever they do with them outside the convention season isn’t my business.

I can never keep the hotels straight. This one was one of those modernist faux-elegant jobs with lots of shiny metal and glass, a multi-level gallery area where all the ballrooms and convention areas were, the inevitable bar and house of bad coffee, and the tower containing the actual rooms off to one side.

Since it sat in the middle of one of the less salubrious parts of the city — or at least it looked that way coming in on the airport shuttle — I expected there would be some interesting late night encounters.

I dropped my backpack off in my room: as always, several levels away from the party floor. I’d been able to book the northern side of the hotel this time. After the last con, where a murderous lunatic had crushed garlic into the air vent and opened the curtains while I slept, I was a little paranoid about sunlight and other things.

Yeah, I’m a vampire. I drink blood. Most of the rest is myth, but I am violently allergic to garlic, and while I’m old enough to go walking in the sun that doesn’t mean I like it.

I’d also taken the precaution of registering and signing for my room with one of my alternate identities. I keep a few for backup, in case something happens. Last con, it had, with a vengeance. You don’t get more something than a nutcase performing ritual sacrifices so they can summon Himself Below.

Anyone looking for my hotel room using the name I was registered in with that con would find precisely nothing.

My room was decorated in modernist Hotel Awful, complete with the kind of paintings on the walls that made you wonder who was having who on. This set looked like someone had splattered paint around, ridden a bike through it, then cut up the canvas and sold the results. A similar pattern adorned the bedspread and the upholstery on the chairs. At least everything else was basic beige.

One thing I’d learned from years going to cons, it was always possible to get more mind-bogglingly tasteless.

Back in the lobby area, I braved the con registration queue to collect my badge and the little plastic bag with the program and half a dozen flyers, then scanned the area to see if any of the immortal regulars had arrived yet.

The usual mix of convention exotica mingled and chatted, some costumed, some not. The inevitable Klingons clustered with Clone Troops and Imperial Stormtroopers — possibly giving tips on how to hit the side of a barn at point blank range. A woman in what could only be described as Regency in Space chatted with a White Witch whose pointy hat was at least as tall as she was. The construction had to be reinforced with wire because there was no other way it could have stayed upright. The thing probably made a functional antenna, and with the way the wide brim drooped to cover her ears I gave it maybe half an hour before people were speculating it was an alien mind control device. I knew she was a white witch because her hat and dress were white. She even had a white wand, although thankfully it didn’t have a star on the end. That would have been too much.

This being the south, there were any number of corseted women, although all of them seemed to have forgotten that the usual location of a corset is under the clothing. The inevitable uplift certainly distracted the fanboys. Precisely why the corsets should be paired with tied on wings that could be either butterfly or fairy wings depending on your viewpoint wasn’t something I intended to investigate. Some things are best left to the imagination. Or preferably, forgotten altogether.

At least there were no chain mail bikinis yet. Hopefully with the hotel air conditioning set to the typically southern preference of ‘glacial’, there wouldn’t be any. Not that I was holding my breath or anything.

Well, not until I saw who was sitting out front, eying the con-goers with the kind of disapproval that should have had them dropping dead of sheer fright.

He wasn’t here for the con. I’d bet my life on that. I might never have met him, but everything I’d heard about him suggested that he’d find fen irritating at best, and most of the authors offensive. What he’d think about the publishers — particularly the demonic ones — didn’t bear scrutiny.

I hoped I was wrong, and he was just some random businessman who happened to have a rather strong resemblance to one Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula. The closer I got to him, the less likely that seemed.

For starters, he was definitely a vampire. I can pick most immortals by scent: it takes a vampire older and stronger than me to mask the faint cold smell of my kind, and then… well, nothing smells of nothing at all. No scent meant old, powerful, and probably not with good intentions.

He was also the right age — five hundred years, give or take a few. Him being awake in the middle of the day meant only that he’d grown strong enough to tolerate daylight and lose the sense of time that protects younger, weaker vampires. For a vampire his age to tolerate daylight, he had to be stronger than most, which fitted with the bits and pieces known about the man. If this truly was Dracula, the likelihood of him limiting himself was somewhere close to the chances of the sun rising in the west.

I could reasonably assume that he had given up his favorite means of execution: this wasn’t an era when putting people on sticks and letting them die slowly was something that could be done discreetly. That didn’t mean he hadn’t found other ways of torturing people who got in his way.

All of which meant that since I was the only immortal regular around, I had to warn him off. Joyous.

At least this didn’t count as saving the world. Once was enough for that.

He watched me through eyes that slowly grew wider and more intent as I approached. Not that I bothered to hide what I am, since there wasn’t any point deceiving anything weaker than me and anything stronger would see straight through that kind of deception. It’s one of those woo-woo tricks that always struck me as kind of silly.

He wasn’t hiding anything either, and he was stronger than his age would suggest. From what I knew about the man, he was probably about as pissy and stubborn as I am, which tends to make a vampire get stronger faster than normal. Something about not giving up when you’re beaten.

It wasn’t really that obvious who he was: his hair was unremarkably short, and he was clean shaven, which did a lot to change his appearance. It’s just that when someone gets as much infamy as Dracula does, just for being a vampire, it’s worth my while to make sure I know who he is and what he looks like, in case I run into him.

Stoker might have been way off on a lot of things, but it’s worth making sure. Sometimes there’s a seed of truth in all the nonsense, you know?

The upholstery here looked like white leather. I’d be willing to bet it was a good looking fake. Like they were in every hotel I’d been in, the chairs were that awkward not quite comfortable enough to stay in but damned hard to get out of shape which I swear is custom designed just for hotels.

I nodded in his direction. “Staying long?”

His control was damn good, I’ll give him that. He didn’t so much as twitch. “I was not aware this region was claimed.” His accent was one of those not-quite-British accents you sometimes hear from people who started with a British accent and travel a lot. Not bad for someone from the ass end of Eastern Europe.

Of course, with five hundred years to play in, you can learn a language really well.

“As far as I know, there aren’t any claims.” I’m the first to admit I’m kind of an oddity even for vampires, but the last I’d heard staking out territories — yes, I’ve heard the puns, more times than I want to think about — never really took hold in the Americas. It’s only been the last hundred years or so that there’s been enough people reliably in the one place to support a vampire outside of a handful of cities.

Most of the vampires I’d come across were more or less vagabonds, moving from place to place in a kind of circuit to avoid being too obvious. Once you get into the habit of being on the move, the things you need to settle start looking like too much trouble.

He studied me without comment. Slight pressure against my mind, a bit like an incipient headache that never quite materializes, told me he was probing me. I let him. It wasn’t like I had anything to gain or lose in forcing a confrontation.

Eventually I inclined my head in the direction of the Sith Lord and the Clone Trooper. “I’m here for the convention. There’s a fair few immortals who attend, and we have an informal agreement. Nothing that attracts attention, nothing that harms the guests.”

I don’t know if what I got was a smile or not. His mouth made the right shape, but nothing else changed. “A sensible precaution, under the circumstances.”

I shrugged and spread my hands. “It works. There’s a few of us who keep an eye out, one way or another.”

“Our kind?”

Score one for me. He was a controlled bastard — getting surprise out of him was a definite win. “Nah. You name it, there’s one or more of it here, or will be.” I grinned. “Trust me, I’m probably the best of us you could have run into.”

One eyebrow rose just enough to make a noticeable change of expression. “I would have said being warned off by an elder was impressive enough.”

That was one for him, although I’d be damned if I was going to let him see it. One of the reasons I put up with what was at the time a long and uncomfortable ocean journey to come to the Americas was the way the Europeans were so hung up on class. Being an elder vampire just meant that I was good at not dying. It didn’t make me something you paid tribute to. “I’m not warning you off, just letting you know the convention rules.” I smiled, not showing my fangs. “Call me Jim.”

That’s not my real name, of course. I’m not sure that you could say I’ve got a real name, since I’ve used a whole lot of names over the years, and I don’t remember the one my parents gave me.

He gave me the kind of look that said better than words he wasn’t impressed. Not that I looked all that impressive: I don’t dress fancy unless I’m in costume, and I hadn’t replaced the Olde Worlde Vampire getup after the last con. Right now I was wearing sneakers, jeans, and a gray tee with a logo showing two dragons playing ‘snap the wishbone’ with an armored knight. Oh, and sunglasses, of course. I looked like a paler version of the typical male fan.

After a while he said, “Victor Drake,” and offered his right hand.

I shook it. “It’s a pleasure.” He was still young enough — or held his name in high enough esteem — to use variants of his name. I generally aimed for generic when I built an identity, something not quite as obviously anonymous as ‘John Smith’ but nearly as invisible.

‘Drake’ gave me a thin smile. “I am here for several days on business.” He handed me a business card.

Call me warped, but I had a hard time not laughing. For Vlad Dracula — sorry, Victor Drake — to be the owner of a timber and hardware chain was the kind of darkly ironic twist that hit my sense of humor where it lived. Score another one to him.

His smile was actually more genuine this time. “It keeps me occupied,” he said mildly. “These days my old amusements would not be well received.”

I could think of a few places where making human popsicles would do a lot of good — and a few people who deserved to be human popsicles — but that was beside the point. “True. Times change.” I shrugged. “Personally, I’ll take the security hassles and the like just to have the modern plumbing.”

Drake actually laughed. “You have a point. Modern cities are much less malodorous than their historical counterparts.”

Modern cities typically didn’t turn the local rivers and streams into open sewers, or throw so much ash and soot into the air everything was covered with a thick layer of black filth. Progress and technology might have their disadvantage, but from my perspective the overall result was so much better it made the drawbacks seem pretty minor.

I grinned. “Precisely.” Levering myself out of the Hotel Awful chair took some doing. “I hope your business trip goes well.”

He inclined his head in a gesture that mixed amusement and acknowledgment. “As do I.”


2. A Well-Earned Trophy

I wasn’t exactly inclined to trust Drake, but it was none of my business what he did so long as he did it away from the convention and the hotel. The city was large enough for two vampires for a weekend.

After another meander through the lobby and registration area showed no-one I recognized except as vaguely familiar faces, I started looking for an empty seat so I could check out the program and see if there were any interesting panels scheduled. Instead, I got Sean’s presence in my head. He wanted me to head to the parking garage, so he could show me something.

No, not that something. Sean’s a werewolf, and besides, when he changes shape I get to see it all anyway. He shouldn’t be able to drop messages in my head like that — and wouldn’t have been able to if the silly wolf hadn’t offered his own blood to help me heal from garlic poisoning. The link that gets made when I drink lasts until one of us dies. That’s not the problem: that the link means I can control him if I choose to is.

Typical of the wolf to use it like a blasted cell phone. It’s a good thing I like the silly fur-face.

The elevator to the parking garage was hidden behind a maze of turns in narrow corridors with concrete walls. They’d been done with fake stucco to make them look like stone, but it didn’t take more than a cursory look to tell the difference. I guess guests who had the audacity to park their own cars weren’t as valuable as the ones who’d pay through the nose for valet parking.

Okay, I admit it. I’ve considered buying a junker and driving it to a local hotel just to see the look on the attendant’s face. Who hasn’t?

The elevator doors opened after a short wait, spilling out a collection of humans, oversized suitcases, and what I could only class as weird shit. Presumably the latter was destined for the dealers room, since the odd-shaped bags and boxes didn’t have any other use I could see. Once it had disgorged its cargo — which seemed about twice what the elevator could hold — I stepped in and hit the button for the garage level Sean had dropped into my head.

Someone had left a gassy gift in the elevator. A noxious one, too, adding rotten egg gas to the already unpleasant odors of sweaty human, tobacco, and cheap perfume. There are times I wish my nose would shut down in self-defense.

It was warmer and liquid air humid in the basement levels. The sweat smell lingered, mixing with gasoline, oil, and various mechanical odors. I’d still rather breathe that than recycled digestive system.

“Over here, Hickey!” Sean waved from somewhere at the far end of the basement — there were so many cars in the way it was difficult to say for sure just how far back he was.

I didn’t hurry. The wolf had probably retreated to the air conditioning inside the car. Hard to believe that two weeks ago it had been cold enough for a jacket — although the fact that we were something more than a thousand miles further south might have something to do with the difference. Small wonder every con hosted its very own flavor of con crud.

Sean’s car wasn’t anything special: one of the mid-range Ford sedans, originally silver and now a kind of gray, old enough to have collected its share of dents and scrapes. What he had hanging off the rear view mirror was something else altogether.

The wolf sat in the driver’s seat with the door open, grinning up at me. If I leaned that way, I might find him attractive: dark blond, the kind of wiry physique you get when you’re burning calories at speed, and the inevitable shit-eating grin. As always, his hair looked like he’d been running his fingers through it.

He wore jeans and a too-tight tee he’d probably picked up at Goodwill. Between his tendency to forget to keep his claws in when he scratched himself and unexpected shifts, Sean went through tee shirts like they were disposable. I’d never asked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bought in bulk at Goodwill. Why spend a lot on something you’re going to ruin in one or two uses?

That wasn’t the problem. His rear view mirror sported a shriveled up set of demonic equipment. Yeah. That equipment.

I could understand him keeping it for a trophy, seeing as he’d bitten it off the demon in question, but he really didn’t need to advertise.

It’s not like it was subtle, either. Even dried up like that it was larger than human average. And no, I don’t go around measuring. I see people’s thoughts when I’m not actively blocking, and for whatever the reason that particular piece of human equipment seems to get an awful lot of fond thoughts.

Frankly, I’m glad I mostly don’t need to deal with that any more. If I drink something other than blood I need to let it out a couple hours later, and sometimes when I’m well fed and like the lady I can rise to the occasion, but that’s about it. No embarrassing semaphore acts, no getting led around by the wrong head, none of that.

“What do you think, Hickey?” Sean asked. “Should I bring it in to show off?”

I sighed. “Wolfie, unless there’s a lady werewolf for you to shake your tail at, people are just going to think you heard about head hunting and got the wrong head.”

“That’s what I like about you,” he said with a grin. “You’re such a cheerful, encouraging kind of guy.”

I shrugged. “Practice.”

Sean wagged a finger at me and climbed out of the car. “Guess I’ll leave old ugly’s gear there. Funny thing, no-one’s even tried to break in since I hung it up there.”

“Did anyone ever try before?” Werewolves might not piss on their possessions to mark them, but that didn’t make them any less protective of whatever they regarded as ‘theirs’.

He grinned and popped the trunk. “Not that you’d notice.”

*     *     *

Sean didn’t have much gear with him: enough to fill a big duffel bag, and a backpack for toting whatever he picked up during the con. Both were the same anonymous green-gray canvasy material that’s cheap and sturdy and looks like everyone else’s gear.

The wolf probably picked his out by scent.

We didn’t say much until we’d found his room — pretty much the same as mine, although he was a couple of levels lower and on the southern side. The sideboard and bedside chests looked classy but the dark wood veneer probably hid chipboard or something equally cheap. The usual fancy booklets sat on the sideboard beside the TV.

If this hotel was typical of the breed, they’d include a long list of amenities that cost extra — basically anything that wasn’t your bed and shower. I found it amusing the way they’d advertise high speed Internet but charge you an arm and a leg to actually use it.

None of them had managed to outdo one I’d stayed in where they charged you an arm and a leg — and wanted the same amount for dialup as they demanded for broadband.

I’ve got one of those neat little netbooks that have gotten popular in the last few years because they’re so small and light, but even though I bring it with me it doesn’t get much use at cons. There’s too much entertainment happening elsewhere.

Having to get it de-garlicked after the last con didn’t help. It’s amazing how the stuff lingers.

Sean dropped onto the bed and flopped back. “Have you seen any of the regulars?”

“Not yet.” I shrugged. “You’ll want to be a bit careful of the instincts, though.” Werewolves normally didn’t get on with vampires. Sean made an exception for me. “Dracula is staying here — he’s using Victor Drake.”

The wolf let his breath out on a low whistle. “I thought he was a legend.”

“Apparently not.” So far in my experience those legends tended to have some kind of truth buried in them. What that truth was usually differed a lot from the legends, in ways that usually ended up biting someone in the butt. As often as not I was the someone concerned.

“Huh.” Sean considered what I’d said for a bit before he said, “So what’s he like?”

I should have seen that coming. Sean had all the curiosity of a puppy, and about the same level of restraint. Okay, it mostly manifested around pretty women, but still… I should have expected him to want to know about the world’s most notorious vampire.

“He’s a cold bastard,” I said with a shrug. “Self-controlled like you wouldn’t believe, doesn’t give much away. Pissy, too.” That last wasn’t exactly something I’d observed, but rather an inference from the way he’d regarded my interference.

“Just like you, then.” Sean grinned, taking the bite out of his insult. “So what’s he doing in the neighborhood?”

“He owns a hardware chain specializing in wood.”

That got the wolf laughing. Like me, he had a pretty good idea of the history of the Dracula myth, although he hadn’t studied it the way I had. “So long as he’s not sticking it up anyone’s –”

“I doubt it,” I said dryly. “That gets noticed.”

He chuckled. “You’re such a prude.”

I shook my head. “And you’re a shit-stirring bastard.” We’d had this discussion a few times now. I’m not a prude, I just don’t see any need to get that explicit. The wolf likes to tease me about it, so it’s become something of a running argument.

“It’s fun, too.” Sean rolled off the bed and stood. “Any other fun people to avoid?”

I shrugged. “I haven’t looked at the program yet.” I pulled it out of the bag and flipped through to the guest list. “Well, unless you want to get involved in the latest round of capitalist versus communist hostilities, you probably want to avoid Red Zimmerman and Daniel Sanderson.” Zimmerman was probably the genre’s most notorious communist sympathizer, where Sanderson was equally loudly gung-ho pro-American-style capitalist. Neither that nor their wives stopped the two men carrying on a secret war that was… well. It wasn’t under the bed so much as under the bedcovers.

The wolf’s teeth looked sharper than they should be when he grinned.

“Let’s see… guest of honor is — oh dear God. Ren Savant.”

Sean’s groan echoed the one I wanted to give. “Maybe there are gas masks in the dealers room?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I wasn’t planning on getting that close.” I flipped through the guest list and biographies ranging from pompous to ridiculous. And stopped. “Christopher Marlowe?”

Okay, it’s not like the name is off-limits because there was an Elizabethan poet and playwright of the same name, but still… It was a trifle snobbish to use that name in fiction, even if you owned it. “Yeesh. Next we’ll have Bill Shakespeare roaming the cons.”

Let me tell you, the wolf’s giggle isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a true psychopath giggle, low-pitched and quite evil.

I shrugged and looked on. “Hm. New agent I don’t recognize, fellow called Mike Onyx, is on a couple of panels.”

“Are the Bostings on any?” Sean wanted to know.

I flipped through the panel listing. “Yeah. Some silly twit has given Natalia the sex panel again.”

Sean’s eyes lit up. “Cool! Who’s she dissecting this time?”

It would be a dissection, too. Natalia, being a reformed succubus, was dangerous on most panels, but she was sheer hell for anyone who didn’t have her sense of humor when she was on a sex panel. “Some woman who does paranormal romance, one of the Interchangeable Feminists, and they’ve got Sanderson as the sacrificial male.”

“That’s a definite, then.” Sean’s grin belonged on his wolf shape, not the human one. It had too many teeth for a human. “What are these people on?”

“Self-delusion.” I’m not sure if I sounded bitter or just dry. The fact is, most of the field is crazy. What varies is how much.

The wolf shrugged. “Probably. Let’s go see if anyone else has shown, hm?”


3. How to Handle a Drunk Vampire

The crowd had thickened considerably when we returned to the lobby and registration area. This wasn’t just a metaphor — there was no shortage of oversize fen. Despite the typical fan being more intelligent than the human norm, there was plenty of mental denseness around too, most of it deliberate.

Not that this was in any way surprising: there’s a very special kind of stupidity only the highly intelligent can manage, and it’s most likely to show up amongst outcasts. You don’t get much more social outcast than a science fiction convention. It’s the ghetto of the intelligent and socially inept.

Sean’s nose had to be at least as overwhelmed as mine. Any number of cheap perfumes and aftershaves mingled with the smell of bathing-optional lifestyles and the after-taste of a veritable potpourri of recreational substances. It took concentration to pick up the brimstone tang that told me at least some of the demonic regulars were here.

Editors, probably. Most of the genre publishers were dominated by demon editors. Real demons, doing their part to spread misery and despair. They certainly weren’t doing much to spread good books — your average demon has no taste.

I couldn’t smell anything that suggested Raph was here, although I knew the angel planned to attend. Whether he’d have a new con squeeze or he’d bring his pet succubus wasn’t something I wanted to speculate about. What Raph’s actual job was wasn’t something I wanted to know. I preferred to leave fighting demon lords to the people who were most qualified for it.

Not that I’d been given a choice. Raph was pretty close about the rules he had to keep to, so all I really knew was that he didn’t like having to watch me fight and not be allowed to help.

A group of Australians — the accents gave them away — were setting up a table with a bunch of promotional goodies, presumably to publicize some convention or other. From the conversation, I gathered that they’d got themselves a grant from their government that covered their expenses. They seemed to think it was a sweet deal, and I couldn’t blame them.

Who wouldn’t like to be paid for what amounted to a long vacation interspersed with partying?

I meandered over to the dealers room, which naturally wasn’t open yet. From the look of things booksellers would be in the minority. I saw trolleys laden with clothing, costumes, jewelry, weaponry… And a few with books. I didn’t recognize any of the dealers except the skinny weapons merchant who I think was also a Crown author.

So far so good. I’d been here several hours and hadn’t seen anything foreboding. No blood magic implements in any of the dealers wares, no ritual sacrifices, and best of all, no corpses. Victor Drake didn’t count: he wasn’t part of the con. If he did something stupid, so long as he didn’t do it to any of the con-goers it was no business of mine.

I started to relax a bit. I could hang out with the wolf, meander through the parties with Natalia and her family, and generally enjoy myself while arranging enough assignations to get myself fully fed. Perfect.

It couldn’t last, of course.

When I extracted myself from the crowd so I could breathe properly, without the feeding reaction too much humanity evoked, I saw… Well. It was in the bar, laughing loudly in a tenor that had the distinct timbre of a vampire’s voice — humans don’t hear it, but there’s a kind of extra resonance there — and it was very, very drunk. It was also a Sight to Behold.

Editorial demons were probably drooling enviously over the fashion sense, or lack thereof.

I drew closer, keeping my face as neutral as I could: usually very. The drunk vampire had auburn hair with that slight too-good-to-be-natural tint, and was nominally male. While I approached, he pushed long fingers into his right eye. What emerged was a glass eye, one of the reasonably good quality ones — although they’re not made to be treated like that.

He held it over his victim, a human who was so totally wrapped in vampiric mind-games he probably wouldn’t have jumped if someone hit him, and said with mock solemnity, “I have my eye on you, my friend,” then laughed again.

“Gross.” Sean sounded as though he was trying not to growl.

I nodded. It looked to me like this was one vampire who needed to be put out of everyone else’s misery. Not that I’m being judgmental, mind you, but someone who makes jokes that bad, even when they’re staggering drunk — and I really, really did not want to know how much alcohol a vampire had to drink to get drunk — does not deserve to live.

With his eye back where it belonged, the vampire was one of your pretty-boy types. I guess he’d been changed somewhere in his mid-twenties, but he looked like he was barely out of his teens. He wore an expensive three-piece suit of the faux-gothic persuasion, which would have been tasteful in black or dark gray. In blood red, which clashed with his hair, it was just… wrong. The hot pink shirt didn’t help.

Yeah, there’d be demons in awe at his fashion sense.

The human he was gracing with what passed as his wit was a typical fanboy of the skinny variety, mousy and unremarkable if you excused the look of ‘freshly landed fish’.

It wasn’t until I got even closer that I realized the vampire was something in the order of four hundred years old — plenty old enough to know better. Considering how long he had to have been drinking to be this drunk, I was amazed I couldn’t see any… well, leakage.

It’s not that being a vampire makes you lose bladder control, it’s just that when you don’t use your bladder that much you don’t recognize the ‘time to empty’ signals.

Oh, and I wasn’t trying to scare the drunken fool. I hadn’t done anything to conceal my approach, but I got within a couple of feet of him before he realized I was there, and spun around with what I hoped was a quote from some Elizabethan play. It sounded like it, all “What, ho,” and an accent that was a lot more guttural than modern English. Which I could have dealt with, if the vampire’s bladder hadn’t chosen that precise moment to decide it had suffered enough abuse.

*     *     *

I helped him to clean up — I’m not that much of a bastard. Besides, getting him to his room and into somewhat less eye-watering outfit also gave me plenty of opportunity to find out just what kind of idiot I was dealing with.

The wolf, damn him, found reasons to be somewhere else.

On the whole, that was probably a good thing, because the kind of idiot I was dealing with was the worst kind. I can deal with a reckless vampire. I can even deal with a reckless drunk vampire. A reckless, drunk, vampire author is pushing it.

I had to fight the urge to scare him sober. That would mean taking a sip, and I wasn’t touching blood that full of alcohol. “Christopher Marlowe.” The Marlowe, of course. Sixteenth century playwright, died young with a knife in his right eye, under circumstances that could be called suspicious only if you really wanted a major understatement.

Obviously the ‘died’ part wasn’t true. As for the rest, well… It was a brutal era.

He smiled, looking boyish and surprisingly vulnerable. “It isn’t that unusual a name.”

I was seeing things. Marlowe did not bat his eyelashes at me. Metaphorically or otherwise. “Around here? No.” Not when you saw people calling themselves ‘Rainsong’ — and that was one of the milder ones I’d seen. “That’s not the problem.” I folded my arms and didn’t quite glare at him while he sat on the bed fumbling with his shoelaces.

“Oh, please.” Marlowe knew sarcasm, even drunk. “Do try keeping your nose out of other people’s affairs. It’s ever so refreshing.”

“I don’t care what you do in private, or what you do it with.” Although from what I knew, during his official life the ‘what’ had been mostly Mrs. Palm and her five daughters. Or perhaps given Marlowe’s entirely too obvious leanings, Mr. Palm and his five sons. “You’re not in private.”

Fortunately, Marlowe had been so obviously staggering drunk no-one was likely to think I was sleeping with the twit.

“We are now.”

He was not trying to make a pass at me. “Nope. There’s a bunch of fen who saw me hauling your drunk ass here. They’re probably assuming I cleaned you up and left you here, since I’ve got a reputation as kind of a cold bastard.” That was stretching things a bit. For the most part I avoided attention altogether.

Marlowe finished tying his shoelaces and smiled triumphantly.

“People might not know what you do in here, but they know who goes to whose room, when, and make guesses about why. Someone goes into your room and doesn’t leave, you’re in trouble.”

He looked honestly confused — one in his favor, I suppose. It meant he didn’t normally kill his meals.

I didn’t give him time to think about it. “I don’t know — or care — what you’re used to, but here there’s enough immortals on the con circuit that we’ve got some rules. Nothing in the hotel, and nothing that attracts attention.”

He pouted. “I’m an author, sweetheart. I’m supposed to attract attention.”

“Not the kind that wants to shove something sharp through your heart and chop your head off you aren’t.” How had he survived? Marlowe did not have anything like the kind of self-control a vampire needed to avoid the howling mobs.

On second thoughts, I didn’t want to know how he’d survived. I know most people are stupid, even the smart ones, but I preferred not to have the evidence in my face. No matter how Marlowe had managed to avoid the mob, it had to be something that would make me wince.

He levered himself to his feet. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was thin enough that he gave the impression of being tall. Part of it was vampire glamour, of course. Even when we’re not trying to, we project a certain amount of what we are. “Ah.” He smiled, and even drunk as he was it was the kind of knowing, sarcastic smile that set my teeth on edge. “Jealousy.”

“Hardly.” I didn’t try to conceal sarcasm. “I just prefer not to have to clean up after childish idiots mess themselves in public.”

*     *     *

I shouldn’t have been surprised that Marlowe followed me back down to the lobby. He was the type to do things just to piss someone off.

Fortunately for my self-control, the Bostings were just done checking in when I got there. “Natalia!”

She turned, and smiled. “Jim!”

Even a reformed succubus packs a powerful hug.

Don Bosting shook hands, as did the two Bosting spawn. It was — of course — Ricky who asked, “Who’s the vision behind you?”

Natalia dropped her suitcase. “Kit!” A moment later, Marlowe was getting the Natalia hug. I think his eyes would have crossed if the right one hadn’t been glass.

I winced and shook my head. I should have guessed she’d know him. Natalia knew everyone.

“Long time no see, playboy. Are you still drinking yourself stupid?”

Marlowe smiled. I have to admit it was a sweet smile — he was definitely a charmer when he wanted to be. I hoped there weren’t any incubi around. “Your friend there seems to think it’s unwise.”

“Oh, pooh.” Natalia wrinkled her nose. “Jim’s a stick in the mud.”

All three Bosting males looked at me. Given that they’re all something over six foot, and Don and Anson are built like the proverbial brick outhouse, it’s kind of like being stared at by a wall. Ricky’s just as tall, but he’s got more of a dancer’s build, or a fencer’s.

I spread my hands. “That is Christopher Marlowe.” I wasn’t going to ask where Natalia had met him. It didn’t matter.

Three identical looks of narrow-eyed disbelief met my comment.

“He’s drunk. I just got him cleaned up after he… lost it.” I shrugged. “I didn’t mean to scare him.”

Ricky snickered. “Poor Uncle Jim. You get the best weirdoes.”

“Tell me about it.”

Anson shook his head. “He’s a vampire too?”

I nodded. “And heaven help whoever turned him.”

“Don’t be nasty, Jim.” Natalia’s accent was on tour again. “Kit’s a sweet boy.”

Both Bosting spawn rolled their eyes. Don just sighed. “Another one of your exes, dear?”

Natalia laughed. “Not really, no.” She twinkled in our general direction. “I’m just pleased he’s writing again.”

I wondered if he knew his editor was almost certainly a demon, and decided not to ask. Natalia could babysit Master Marlowe. I had better things to do.

And if you haven’t read the first book, it’s


        1. Eh. I find those books highly amusing, and with her having a full time job, she needs to see money before she takes time to finish #3. So, pure self-interest.

  1. Just be careful where you read these books. Especially if you are familiar with the Con scene. People look at you sideways when you laugh aloud in the orthodontist’s waiting room.

  2. Interestingly enough my new antivirus also doesn’t like MGC, it always wants to ‘take me back to safety’ I tell it, “where’s the fun in being safe?” and come on over anyways 🙂

    1. It must be some link off this page that I don’t have on mine. Um…
      Also, you guys are letting me down. Sure I put the buy-bait in, because dang it, I WANT the third book. OTOH…

      How about reasons her firewall is protecting her from the likes of us?

      -because it’s sane
      -because we have cooties
      -because it knows we’re secretly space aliens

      — Go!

      1. My tired brain replaced ‘cooties’ with ‘cookies’ – reference to the beginning of ConSensual and the Dark Side cookies?

        And now I’m stuck reading the whole thing – yeah, I rushed over and bought it. That is not exactly YOU helping ME get MY writing done.

        I am going to hold off until tonight, and the taxes firmly underway, and the gym machine in the basement assembled (only 3 bolts, but it’s been weeks) and used for 5 min. If I can.

          1. Someone put writers’ bane in our tea? Because I’m working on the sinus mess from h-ll. Can’t until my shoes or pick up the newspaper from the driveway without my head and half my jaw throbbing in utter agony.

  3. I think she’s blocked because we have cookies. Especially if she’s anywhere near the dietary insanity fields generated by NYC and CA.

  4. Her firewall wants to read the next book and has decided large swaths of the internet are utterly unnecessary to creative pursuit. She’s lucky it doesn’t control her door locks or have access to her credit cards or she might find herself unable to leave the house with mysteriously unordered delivery arriving each lunch and dinner.

    1. That sounds quite reasonable. It’s probably just a start. Soon it will be figuring out ways to lock her in the basement with a computer and nothign else until the next book is finished

        1. One hopes the firewall is advanced enough to recognize that carbon-based lifeforms do require food, water, and sanitation. Electricity and routine maintenance is oddly ineffective with the non-silicates.

    2. …there are grocery delivery services out there. But they’re mostly urban, and more expensive that going to the right discount store / getting what’s on sale. So her firewall can be persuaded not to do that under the argument that food delivery == no more money for electricity, which’d be the death of the software running the firewall.

  5. YAY! I’m allowed back!

    I’m still switching firewalls this weekend. I was not a happy camper being locked away from the rest of you mad geniuses.

    And J.P.? If my firewall tries that it had better be making regular substantial donations to my bank account. I happen to need that day job.

    1. Hmm. If all the half cents from multinational company banking transfers start disappearing a la Superman, I’m suspecting Kate’s firewall.

  6. Ah ha! Kate has triumphed over Skynet! WordPress no doubt realizes that we are all Space Aliens and tries to protect outsiders from _us_. I cannot imagine a program that thinks Kate needs to be protected from anything.

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