Allison answered her door with her own cell phone pressed against her. She waved me in without a thought. I wondered if she was aware that she hadn't actually buzzed me in.
The apartment was smaller than I had expected, but the monthly rent was undoubtedly quadruple my own mortgage. The door opened into a small hallway that led first to a smallish kitchen. Shoe boxes were piled on the counter and spilled over onto some stools, as well. The shoe boxes were printed with Jimmy Choo and Manolo and Valentino, words that were foreign to a single, working mother who lived in the suburbs.
I continued following Allison into a smallish living room, where she motioned offhandedly for me to sit on an oversized couch. I was just figuring out how to offhandedly sit, when I saw something I probably shouldn't have seen.
A fresh cut along the inside of her finger.
Normally, the sight of blood does little for me. Yes, I drink blood. Yes, it nourishes this strange body of mine. But that's about the extent of it. I have a supply of the stuff at home. It was not generally a big deal to see blood.
Now, the sight of her bloody finger did something to me that concerned me greatly. It stirred a hunger in me. Real hunger. My stomach growled and my mouth watered and I hated myself all over again. I forced myself to look away, gritting my teeth and grinding my jaw. I looked down at my own pale hands and was surprised to see I had balled them into fists. Purple veins crisscrossed just below the surface of my skin.
A bleeding finger should not arouse a hunger. A bleeding finger should not arouse a need. It was just a wound.
Unless, of course, you were a fiend.
My stomach growled and roiled. It seemed to turn in on itself. Jesus, my sudden hunger was unbearable, unrelenting.
"Jesus," I whispered, still looking down at my clenched fists.
"Are you okay?" asked Allison. She was standing nearby. I could hear her sucking on her finger now.
My stomach nearly did a somersault.
I looked up, despite knowing that doing so might be a mistake. It was. Allison was still alternately sucking her finger and looking at the wound - and wincing. I didn't wince. I stared. No doubt hungrily.
It's just a wound, a voice in my head said. The voice, I knew, was the last vestiges of my humanity. Just a wound. An injured finger. Nothing more, nothing less.
Except I knew that it was more. So much more. The wound, and the resultant blood, represented so much. It represented complete satiation. Unlimited life. Unlimited strength. Complete and utter superiority.
I blinked. Hard.
Since when did superiority matter to me? Since when did I ever care to be better than others, or control them?
I didn't know, but that train of thought alarmed me more than my hunger. That train of thought was dangerous. Violent. Scary as shit.
"Oh, does blood make you queasy?" asked Allison.
I blinked and might have nodded.
She went on, moving her hand out of my line of sight. I tracked her finger closely, the way a cheetah might a wounded warthog. "I'm sorry," she said. "I was cutting an apple when the phone rang. My mom. Always my mom. Especially with Caesar gone. Everyone calls me these days. Everyone feels sorry for me. Anyway, long story short, I cut my finger pretty deep."
"I see that," I said, the words coming out sounding guttural, and not my own. "And, yes, I have a...problem with blood."
"Oh, geez. I'm sorry," she said sympathetically enough, but she was looking at me oddly. I didn't blame her. I suspected I looked like a complete freak, staring pale-faced, my voice barely intelligible.
Samantha Moon, ace detective at your service.
She went to the bathroom and returned with a Band-Aid. She was watching me as she returned. I knew she was watching me, but I ignored her curious stare. Instead, I was openly staring at her finger like the hobgoblin that I am.
"I'm just going to put this Band-Aid on. Do you want me to do it in the other room?"
"No, here is fine," I said, perhaps a little too quickly. I leaned forward a little in the process to get a better view of her finger.
God, help me, I thought.
Allison continued watching me as she sat across from me on the coffee table. She was Hispanic. Very toned. Lean muscles undulated with each movement. She was wearing short white shorts and a tight tank top. She looked, if anything, like the girlfriend of a world-class boxer. I knew from Romero that she was a personal trainer and competitive body builder. I didn't doubt it.
Except I wasn't looking at the way her muscles rippled or flexed. I was closely watching the way she removed the Band-Aid from the wrapper. She next peeled away the protective backings, exposing the sticky underside. I noted the way her blood continued to fill the open wound. It really was a nasty cut.
I began sweating.
What the devil was wrong with me? But I suspected I knew. I hadn't had human blood in a few weeks, and I was missing it terribly. I didn't want to miss it. In fact, I had made it a point not to think about it.
But to see it now...right in front of me...triggered something in me that I was having a terrible time controlling. Or dealing with.
I looked away, breathing hard.
"Boy, you really do have a problem with blood," said Allison.
I think I nodded. Who knows. Maybe I drooled like ghoul. I kept looking away, breathing slowly through my nose, focusing on the thing that was in front of me, which was a magazine with Katie Holmes on the cover. She looked happy and unencumbered. The words above her said: "Freedom."
"I can go in the bathroom if you want," said Allison.
I was about to tell her to please do so, but there was something in her tone. Something...challenging.
"No, don't," I said. "I'm okay."
"You don't look okay."
"I've been...sick," I said, using my old standby excuse.
"I'm sure you have," she said, her words surprising me. "I'm sure you've been very, very sick."
I looked at her sharply. She had quit playing with the Band-Aid, which now dangled from her finger and thumb. She was squinting her eyes a little. Squinting them at me.
"You're here to find out who killed my Caesar," she said. She lowered her wounded hand in front of me.
"Yes," I said. The word was barely understandable to my own ears. The significant wound along her finger had begun bubbling over again with fresh hemoglobin.
"You are here to help us find answers," she said.
I nodded again, this time unable to speak.
"And you're also a vampire," she said.
I looked at her sharply, and her eyes narrowed further still. I said nothing. She said nothing. Blood was now dribbling freely down her finger. I swallowed hard. It was all I could do to not lunge forward and seize her finger.
She leaned toward me and held her finger in front of me. Like a carrot. "And you're very, very hungry, aren't you?"
I flicked my gaze from her wound to her eyes and found myself nodding.
"Then drink, Samantha Moon."