Time For Eternity
Bartending wasn't a bad gig for a vampire. Night work. You could get a job anywhere. Especially if you looked not a day over twenty-five and exuded that vampire electric energy that made you seem more alive than anyone else around you.
Ozone was one of the trendiest gin joints in San Francisco. Frankie's shift had been attracting lots of tourists lately. See above, vampire attraction. That and the French accent she couldn't seem to quite shake. Americans loved accents. It might be time to move on. This city was too damned foggy anyway. She wiped down the brushed stainless steel bar. The bottles behind her on glass shelves were backlit by a huge glass panel that gradually changed colors, sliding along the rainbow. The stools were lighted blue disks that seemed to float in mid-air like the bottles. The neon sign O2 outside in the murk cast a pale blue glow over the front tables.
The last of a birthday party was breaking up just before closing. The crowd milled around, collecting coats and umbrellas.
"See ya, Frankie." That one was a regular-Jason? Josh? He left a hundred on the bar. She'd been giving generous pours all night, no matter what kind of shit-ass drink they'd ordered. Chocolate schnapps and vodka was no way a martini just because you put it in a martini glass.
She nodded to him and wiped her glass. Suzie the waitress, saluted, letting Frankie know she was leaving half an hour early. She had a boyfriend waiting at home. Drove Frankie crazy sometimes, imagining what they'd be doing by the time she could close up and trudge back to her three-floor walk-up over on Holt. One (but only one) of the curses of having this thing in her blood was that it drove her crazy with wanting sex.
Great. She could blow outta here right at closing. Like she had somewhere to go or someone waiting for her. The weight that settled in her chest seemed natural after a couple of centuries. Eternity stretched ahead, empty of any real relationships. Couldn't let people close when you had something to hide. She couldn't even escape her fate. The thing in her blood loved life. A lot. It regenerated cells to keep its host body young and once it got hold of you, you just couldn't bring yourself to commit suicide, no matter how hard you tried. And she had. Maybe sex was an expression of its urge to life, too. Maybe that's why she was so horny.
For the millionth time she thought about the moment she'd been infected. A stupid little scrape. How could she know he was a vampire? Or that even one molecule of his blood could infect her? He knew what he was. He should have been more careful. But Henri didn't care about anything. Or anybody. It made her blood boil just to think about it.
Damn you to hell, Henri Foucault….
She slid glasses into the racks over the sink at the end of the bar, hanging them by their stems. If someone granted me one wish, I'd go back and do it over. I'd stop myself from touching Henri's bleeding hand. It was a kind of game she played. How could you make one wish turn out the way you wanted when the universe was out to trick you? Wish to lose weight and you might lose a leg. Want money? What if people thought you stole it and locked you up? No, you had to wish for something in just the right way, with plenty of codicils. So not touching Henri's cut wouldn't be good enough. He might infect her some other time with the same result. She'd been living in his house and imagined herself in love with the "wicked duc." A young girl's foolish crush. The girl she'd been would never leave him. Henri was not only a gorgeous guy but he had that irresistible vampire vitality. Sooner or later, it would be vampire time for her.
She followed the twisted path she'd day-dreamed about so many times before. The horrific conclusion didn't seem so horrific after you'd repeated it about a million times.
The only way to prevent herself from being made vampire for certain was to kill Henri.
It had taken a while to accept that, rat though he was. She wasn't a killer by nature even now. Those people she killed before she knew how to take blood without damaging them still haunted her. For decades she tried to work out various ways of ensuring that her naïve former self wouldn't fall in love with Henri. But there was only one way to be sure. And what would it matter if he died? It wasn't as if Henri made any positive difference to the world. He didn't care about anything or anyone. He was a monster in the truest sense.
Glasses clinked as she dunked them two by two in soapy water, then in hot water laced with sanitizer, then set them out to dry on a wooden rack. The question was, how could a girl of twenty-one decapitate a vampire with more than human strength? They healed anything less drastic. She knew that personally. And she knew decapitation was the way to kill a vampire because that's the way two vampires had tried to kill her when they found she'd been made by another vampire, not born to the blood.
She'd found the answer to her problem during her addict phase in fin de siecle Paris. With enough fruit of the poppy, vampires could be drugged. It took a lot. Enough to kill a human. So if she could drug Henri, then….
The door opened. Merde. She glanced to the glowing blue clock at the rear. Twenty minutes to closing. Why couldn't these idiots stay home on such a raunchy night?
And then she felt the electric vibrations so powerful they existed just at the edge of consciousness and caught the scent of cinnamon and ambergris. Double merde.
The woman looked like she was about to walk a red carpet somewhere. Black hair done up in complicated, intertwining loops, eyes so dark they might be black, creamy shoulders wrapped in swaths of translucent coppery fabric shot through with gold threads. Her dress was copper satin, full-skirted. She might have been any age.
Frankie's breath caught in her chest. Vampire. And that meant big trouble.
"I felt your vibrations on the street," the woman said. Her accent was vaguely…. Italian. She slid onto a blue barstool.
"What do you want?" Frankie asked, her voice flat.
"I'll have a Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up, two olives."
Like that was what Frankie meant.
The woman raised her brows. "And do use vermouth. So many bartenders these days don't. That makes it a shot of gin with an olive, not a martini."
The vampire might be preparing to kill her, but at least she knew how to drink. Frankie filled a martini glass with ice to buy time. Could she get past her to the door? The vibrations said this one was old and strong. Did Frankie even want to escape? Maybe death would be a relief, but the thing in her blood shuddered in revulsion. She grabbed the blue, square bottle and the Noilly Pratt and scooped more ice into a stainless steel shaker.
"I can't place you. So you must be made."
Frankie stopped shaking the drink. "Look, if you're going to kill me just get on with it."
"Kill you because you're made?" The woman's chuckle was deep and throaty. "I'm the last to point fingers. I made my husband."
"You made him vampire?" Whoa. Probably some horrible divorce revenge.
The woman's smile could only be described as fond. "In 41 A.D. I hope he can get here before closing. He's hosting the after-party for the opera. I find crowds difficult these days."
Frankie was shocked on so many levels. At how old the woman was. That she had been with one man for that long. That she still spoke of him fondly. "Didn't he hate you for making him…what he is?" How could he not?
She shook her head, still smiling. "It gave us forever. You were not made by a lover?"
Frankie snorted. "I thought I loved him." She set the martini on the bar. "But I was just a nuisance. He probably did it to punish me." She wanted to shock this woman who believed in love enough to stay with one man for almost two millennia.
The woman frowned. "You… you are French?"
"How long ago were you made?"
Frankie shrugged. "Couple centuries and change."
"French, around the Revolution." The woman tapped her chin. "Not Henri Foucault?"
"The very one." Frankie's voice was light, as if she didn't care.
"He was a fine man," the woman murmured. "He would not have broken the Rules of our kind for petty revenge. It is the Cardinal Sin to make another vampire. One is outcast from vampire society if the Elders ever find out, never allowed the solace of others who understand one. It is a commitment to the one you make like no other. He must have loved you very much."
A fine man? Frankie snorted. "He loved no one. It might have been an accident. That's the best face I could put on it."
"Making a vampire is never accidental. The human needs repeated infusions of a vampire's blood to acquire immunity to the Companion and survive the infection."
The Companion. That's what Henri called the parasite too. "Oh, he made me drink his damned blood, all right. Then he abandoned me without a word."
Donna thought about that for a moment. "You hate him."
"Bingo. And I hate what I am and I'd give anything to take back that instant when his blood got into that stupid little scrape on my palm." Frankie stared at her. "Anything."
"Ahhhh," the woman sighed. "Centuries of regret and anger can poison your soul."
"I try not to think about it." Frankie started putting the trays of limes, lemons, olives, and cherries into the refrigerator.
"But you think about it all the time." The woman's voice held pity.
Like she should be strong enough not to think about it? "Oh, only when I have to drink somebody's blood to stop the craving. Or when I have to hide my strength. When a wound heals instantaneously. Or when I can see in the dark, or hear the drip in the men's room sink from here, or smell that a woman wearing perfume walked by three days ago, that sort of thing." She sounded bitter, even to herself. "So, yeah. I think about it."
"I'm sorry." The woman took a long sip of her drink. "I know what regret is like."
Frankie shut the fridge door. "I just want to be normal. With normal relationships and a normal life span…. You know… normal?" Frankie tried on a shrug. "Probably not. Anyway I don't want to spend eternity serving the needs of this thing in my blood."
"Henri…" The woman's voice was hesitant. "Henri was guillotined. Did you know?"
Frankie jerked around. Henri, dead? Her parasite's reaction to the thought of decapitation sent another shudder through her. Or maybe it was something else. She'd thought he was out there somewhere, alive, callous, bored with the world but doing exactly as he wanted, always. She'd dreamed of confronting him, even looked for him a couple of times in Paris over the years. The thought that he had been dead all along just seemed… wrong. Then she started to chuckle. The damned, cruel good-for-nothing had escaped even being held accountable for his misdeeds.
She managed to suck in a breath and stop the laughing. It had gotten a little hysterical. The woman watched her, curious. It took a moment for Frankie to gather herself for another shrug. "The devil... the devil got his due."
The woman raised her brows as Frankie pointedly put the gin bottle away and wiped down the bar. Merde. Her hand was shaking. Then she started to think. How could a vampire be guillotined? Why not just disappear as she had seen Henri do? She glanced to the woman.
Who seemed to read her mind. "Too badly damaged to transport, perhaps. Or weakened by the sun…."
Frankie stood immobile, thinking about that. Henri so wounded he couldn't escape, or blistered until he was almost unrecognizable by the sun…. Did anyone deserve that?
"I am Donna Poliziano," the woman said quietly. "If ever my husband or I can do anything for you, you can find us at 430 Nob Hill."
Frankie stopped in mid-wipe. "Right. Like you'd do anything for me."
"But we would," the vampire insisted. "San Francisco is our city. We watch over it. We would know if you were killing for what you need. But the police have found no bodies drained of blood. So you have a soul. You haven't gone mad in spite of your difficulties. So it is a strong soul. Those are rare."
"Just leave me alone. That's what I want." Frankie wiped the same spot on the bar again.
"Ahhhh, but is it?" The woman twirled her glass, apparently thinking. Good thing she didn't expect an answer, because Frankie wasn't biting. Finally she reached into her evening bag and pulled out a tiny cell phone. Her face softened as she said, "Jergan, it's Donna. Change in plans. Meet me at home?" She smiled as she listened. "You too." She snapped it shut and stood. "Chaio, my vampire friend."
And with that she left.
Leaving Frankie feeling… angry. What right had Donna-whoever-she-was, vampire, to come waltzing in here, flaunting the fact that she liked being a monster so much she made a man she obviously loved a monster too? And Henri had been dead for two hundred years and there was nothing Frankie could do about it. She'd never be able to tell him how much she hated him. She felt cheated about that. And…and he might have died, not quickly as the guillotine was meant to execute people, horrible as that death was, but slowly and painfully, damaged by sun, or terribly wounded. Maybe she was angry at herself for the twinge of sympathy that evoked in her.
Frankie shook her head as though to banish all those thoughts. Time did not heal all wounds. But there was no way she was going to give up the callus she had grown to protect herself. It was the only thing keeping her sane.
She flipped up the portion of the bar that let her out and strode to the back room. To hell with cleaning up. Let Steve fire her.
Frankie was dressed as usual, in black leather pants and heeled boots. Tonight she wore a sparkly silver sleeveless sweater, knit so loosely she had to wear an ivory-colored tank beneath it. To work at a trendy bar you had to look the part. Pale was good and who more pale than a vampire? Her blond hair curled softly so she spiked it out with some gel and streaked the spikes black. She was sleekly built and good-looking and her ice-blue eyes could stare down anyone. De rigueur for a bartender in a place like Ozone.
"Frankie. Someone left a package for you," Steve, manager-guy, dressed the part too. Expensive little suit covering his boney ass and a narrow black tie so unfashionable it was fashionable.
"Great." She pushed past him through the chaos of the kitchen. People parted for her as they always did-aura of vampires. That part came in handy.
Steve came up behind her. "Might want to let your friends know there's mail service in San Francisco these days."
"Yeah, yeah." Who could be leaving her a package at Ozone? Or at all? She never got any mail other than catalogues and offers of free credit scores or low cost prescription drugs.
She pushed into the din of the main room. The after office-hours body exchange was already in full swing at six. The two guys who worked 'til eleven were really moving, in that economical way experienced bartenders acquired.
"Hey, Frankie. You got a package. It's under the bar." Ricardo had a body to die for. Too bad she didn't indulge at work. Or at all these days.
"I heard." She began to set out her station, making sure her preps were just where she wanted them.
"You don't want to know what it is?"
"Shit, Frankie, curiosity has been killing me. It was delivered by messenger."
"Learn to live with it." Suzie brought up an order for a big table. The night was off and running. Cripes. Didn't people know how to order anything but Apple-tinis and Cosmos?
She settled in and tore open the wrapper. She could smell the leather binding. An envelope slid onto the table. "Open me first," it ordered in the same calligraphy. How coy. Okay, she'd bite (no pun intended.) She turned up the little lamp on the table until it cast a pool of light over the letter. The envelope was made of heavy paper, the kind that felt like it was made of rags, like in the old days, not wood pulp. Expensive. She tore it open and spread out the sheets. It was signed Donnatella di Poliziano. The woman from last night? Frankie frowned.
Emotions chased each other through Frankie's belly and up into her throat. Time machine? The woman was a loon.
Yet the world held vampires. How many people would think that was crazy?
Her heart began to thump uncomfortably in her chest. What if you could change things, just as she had daydreamed for so many years? What if she didn't have to be vampire?
She opened the book. The leather was supple and cared for. The sheets were vellum. That had to mean it was really old. Her Latin was a little rusty, but there was a note to Donnatella and no one could miss the signature. Leonardo DaVinci. Donna's friend was DaVinci? Possible, if she had lived since ancient Rome. Of course the signature might not be real. The note said… that time was a vortex. Yeah, I got that part from Donna's letter. She skimmed ahead. That you could think of another time and the machine would… would take you there. Oh, right, and how was that? And the machine couldn't stay in the new time forever. It would slip back to its point of origin. She flipped the pages. Lots of diagrams and scribbled notes, indecipherable. It looked like the notes were written right to left, as though to be read in a mirror.
This was bullshit, of course.
Her eyes slid back to the signature. DaVinci. He'd invented a flying machine four hundred years before the Wright brothers… If anyone could have invented a time machine, wouldn't it be Leonardo DaVinci?
She sat in the dim blue glow of Ozone, the open book seeming to float in the circle of brighter light on the table. What was even more stupid than this obvious hoax was that somewhere inside she wanted desperately for it to be true. This was her chance to make that daydream real. The universe was granting her one wish.
Okay, authenticate the book. If the book was real…
She'd have a decision to make.
You're just going to look and see if it's there.
There was no way she was going to find a time machine built by Leonardo DaVinci in the crypts under the Baptistery. So this whole journey was a stupid waste of effort.
The young woman in that tiny shop off Market Street hadn't looked much like an expert in old books. But the prof from Berkeley who frequented Ozone said she was. The girl confirmed the book was real and written by DaVinci. She almost didn't need to say it outright. The reverence in her voice after she compared the signature to known DaVinci autographs, examined the paper, tested a tiny spot of ink, said it for her. She said it was characteristic that he wrote from right to left. He was left-handed. She'd translated passages more precisely for Frankie: the theory of how the machine worked, how he'd built it. And his note to Donna, like a kind of a preface. The note said he'd never found enough power to operate the machine. But he thought that Donna could. He knew what she was.
That still sent chills down Frankie's spine. Vampires could call on the power of the parasite in their blood. There was a lot of it. Frankie didn't know exactly how much. After some hesitant early experiments, she never used her power except to run out her fangs, and then she used as little as possible, at least until this week. But she'd seen Henri actually call power to create a whirling blackness and just… disappear. It was how vampires moved around without being seen. Handy for what she'd been up to in Florence. And no doubt the source of the bat myth. Who knew the source of the other myths-silver and holy water, wolfs-bane? Thank God they were myths. She liked silver jewelry. And who wanted pizza without garlic?
So she left the book with the amazed girl as a gift, taking only Donna's note and directions with her. And here she was in Florence, just to see if this could possibly be true. Not that it could. Not that she'd do anything if it were.
Who was she kidding? If she didn't intend to use the machine if she found one then why had she used her power to disappear and reappear inside a hospital supply room to steal enough morphine to float a ship? And why had she bought clothes that might be mistaken for 1794? Waisted, full-length skirt in Revolutionary blue, flat leather slippers and an off-the-shoulder red blouse with a white scarf looking very much like a fichu. Let's not forget the fact that she'd gone back to her natural blond curls, sans spikes. They might very well be mistaken for hair arranged a l'enfant, as she'd worn in so long ago.
There should be no lying to herself. She'd bought a replica of a gladiator's sword and it was packed, along with a change of clothes, in a leather gym bag that had cost her a fortune at the Hermes store. The very concept of using it on Henri caused a shudder in her. Could she do this? She bit her lip. She wouldn't have to do anything. There was no time machine under the Baptistery.
Yet she'd bought Canadian maple leaves and South African krugerands at a precious metals exchange because she'd need currency good even in 1794, and nothing was easier to exchange than gold.
No, there was no question about what she was going to do if she found some kind of a machine under the Duomo's Baptistery. Or about how much she wanted it to be there.
She moved through the stream of worshippers to the cobbled pavement outside the cathedral. Across an open plaza the ornate octagonal Baptistery rose. She slipped inside the great brass doors and slid into the shadows of one of the marble columns that marched around the perimeter in pairs. Priests moved quietly about dousing lamps, signaling the visitors that it was time to leave. Soon only the many candles to the right of the altar shed their flickering light across the intricately tiled floor. To other visitors the amazing dome painted in medieval glory and liberally doused with gilt would be lost in shadow. But Frankie could see it clearly, along with the statues lining the upper gallery whose bases held the relics of the saints they portrayed. The remaining priest looked around and thinking the Baptistery empty, slipped out a side door.
Frankie exhaled. Okay. Okay, she could do this. She didn't even need to refer to Donna's note. She'd memorized it long ago. She crossed the marble mosaic floor to the altar at the far side and peered behind it.
Merde! Uh, maybe she shouldn't say that here. Or even think it, no matter how surprised she was at the gaping aperture at her feet . Donna was right. A stairway led down. Frankie was having difficulty getting enough air. It wasn't that the Baptistery was stuffy. Three breaths. Okay. She started down into the darkness. The air rising from below was cooler. A warm, if faint glow increased as she descended. Bending to peer out before she took the last three steps, she saw a wide, empty room lit by a single lamp standing on a kind of altar in the middle. Donna said it always burned there. Marble coffins lined the edges, the profiles of their owners trapped in stone. The floor was made of heavy stone slabs with worn lettering. The place smelled like a basement. But there was also an aroma of dust and stone that somehow combined to convey age.
One slab was not inset. Frankie chewed on her lips. Just as Donna had said.
Below that slab were catacombs. She knew what that meant. Decaying bodies. Maybe rats. Crap in a hat. Could she do it? Just to see that a stupid machine wasn't there? Frankie should just turn right around and run up these stairs as fast as she could.
But she didn't.
It was impossible to undo what had happened to her. Even if the time machine was there (which it wasn't), even if it could take her back (which it couldn't), she might not be able to bring herself to kill Henri, or he might kill her instead. He was certainly stronger than she was. But if she didn't try, she would live forever in a half-life of isolation and regret, hating what she was, even escape into suicide impossible. She'd probably go mad, just as Donna had said.
So she had to try. And that meant lifting up the slab with the strength of a vampire and going down into the catacombs.
A nervous giggle escaped her and echoed against the sarcophagi. What was she afraid of? She was a vampire for God's sake! She couldn't die. She'd heal a rat bite. Was she afraid she'd catch death from some moldering corpses? Not possible. But if it was, so what? She'd welcome death if she could escape eternity as a vampire. And the truth was, she was way worse than anything down in those crypts.
She strode across the floor to get the lamp and set it down next to the slab. She crouched and heaved the stone to the side. Echoes reverberated from the stone arches as she set it down. The angle of the hole revealed only darkness. Still she picked up the lantern and started down the worn stone steps. The walls of the stairwell were dry, surprisingly, and when she got to the bottom, the shadowy niches that surrounded her seemed to contain only dust. Not so bad. She held up the light, just to face her fears. Dust and some crumbly bones. Okay, there was one where the skull was pretty much intact. And here and there some primitive crucifixes, some scraps of leather were evident. There was a feeling of fullness and … timelessness in the air.
She could deal. No sigh of rats yet. Save the best for last.
She opened up the little map Donna had drawn. The catacombs formed a maze and she had to get to the other side. Kinda like the first computer games she'd played. Hope she didn't run into any gobbling ghosts. She muttered directions to herself as she turned corners. Left, right, right…. Finally she came to a long straight corridor.
Bingo. She strode down between the niches stacked four high to the wall at the end. She knelt. Tenth brick up from the bottom. Push.
She wasn't sure if she was surprised or not when a portion of the wall swung open. Maybe this was an elaborate hoax to see just how far she'd go. Maybe someone inside that darkness was waiting to pop up and make a funny home video.
It was a mark of her desperation that she didn't care. She stepped over the threshold.