Strange Fruit Ch. 01bySadieRose©
Part One: Strangers on a Train
(or - In Flagrante Locomotis)
* * *
It was like being a child again.
Rayne Wylde leaned out of the sash window in the corridor of the Virgin Intercity train and sucked deeply on a cigarette, watching as the last trickle of early morning commuters hustled across the platform and into carriages, some wrestling with columns of baggage that would have put an army to shame; others streamlined, in suits and ties, a briefcase under one arm and a copy of the Times or the Daily Telegraph tucked beneath the other.
He had stowed his single holdall in the racks, just within the internal doors of this compartment and now was content to watch the world go by. Even this early in the morning - and it was only just beginning to get light beyond the arched, glass ceilings of Manchester's Piccadilly station - there were plenty of travellers around, but his schedule had seen him arrive with ample time to find his platform. He bought another packet of Benson & Hedges and a magazine at one of the newsagency stands, to flesh out the sense of being on a journey; an adventure. There was even time to enjoy a cup of coffee on Piccadilly's busy concourse. He didn't need the coffee, but it was a part of the ritual of being his own man again, and he was determined to experience every last moment of it to the full.
Funny, then, that he felt more like a kid, bunking off from school to go up to the city; running away from home to find his fortune. Rayne snorted a plume of smoke out through his nostrils at the idea. He had found his fortune long ago. Now he was coming home to reclaim it, before some other sod did!
Outside on the platform, doors were slamming as the final embarkees hurried aboard. A few passed through the corridor behind him, chattering excitedly, or struggling with bags as they searched for somewhere to sit, or hunted down their reserved seats. Rayne was in no hurry. He had booked passage during the previous day and there was a ticket in the headrest of his forward-facing, window seat, in the name of Mr. Raymond James, to verify that.
A whistle sounded, somewhere far off along the platform and echoed eerily in the vast station building. From the front end of the train, a single, deeper note answered it as, with a barely perceptible lurch and the soft clank of couplings, the engine hauled them forward, into the day. Under him, the carriage creaked a steady complaint as it began to glide, with hardly another sound, gathering momentum steadily.
Rayne drew long and hard on his cigarette, feeling the first flutterings inside him now as the wagons began to slip away, like thieves in the cold, grey, pre-dawn light; taking him back to the south of England; carrying him off like so much bounty. This was it - the moment of no return. He was really, and truly going.
Somewhere deep inside him, he felt a coldness begin. No amount of nicotine could subdue it. Beyond his carriage window, the sleeping suburbs of Manchester were sliding past, ever faster; shadows that taunted him with suggested images of everything that lay behind him. He saw Simon's eyes, filled with tears in the flickering of a blue-glass alarm light. Off in the distance a streamer of smoke rose in the still, cool air and he was reminded of the way Fen's hair tumbled down in pale strands like silken ribbons and felt the lingering memory of his Vampiric Progenitor's soft, cold lips against his own.
He looked out at rows of regimental, railway terraces and the urban sprawl of warehouses and industrial estates far beneath the majestic course of the railway line and watched lights start to twinkle in a thousand windows; but his eyes only saw the sadness in a solemn, imploring gaze that was like moonlight in a frosted glass, framed by long, silver shadows.
Rayne bent his head, resting his temple against the door-frame and feeling the thrum of the coach-work in his blood and bones as the train gathered speed. Beneath him the steady clack of iron-shod wheels, riding the junctions surely and powerfully, beat a rhythm into his mind that almost spoke words; "He loves you so... he loves you not..." like a child's skipping rhyme.
Rayne Wylde felt the slow, insidious wetness of a single tear as it tracked down his nose and dripped, blood-red onto the back of his hand. He stared at it for a long, contemplative moment before blinking back the others that stung behind his eyes. Tentatively he lifted his hand and touched the bloody teardrop to the tip of his tongue, tasting the coppery-salty flavour in the back of his throat for an endless time afterwards.
"He loves you so... he loves you not..." whispered the wheels of the train. "He loves you yet... he will forget... he will forget... you will forget..."
He must have been red-eyed when he returned to his seat before the train reached Stockport. There was a young man sitting in the facing aisle seat, diagonally across the table from his own, immersed in the sports section of the Independent, but apart from him, these four were still unoccupied. A faded blue and red rucksack and two duty-free carriers occupied the place next to him, by the window, and he looked up almost guiltily when Rayne took the position opposite.
"Y'don't mind me sittin' here, d'you?"
The singer shook his head mutely, and ran a hand through his wind-blown, sable hair, catching a flash of his reflection in the window as they pulled into Stockport station.
"Only, it's likely to fill up, and I like a table," the lad rambled on. His voice was confident, clear and low; just the faintest traces of a South-western accent beneath the sharper London twang he must have acquired since leaving his native county. 'Somerset...' Rayne thought; 'or maybe Wiltshire'. He loved the cadences of West-country speech; the rounded vowels and the softness of the consonants. It was one of the things that never failed to fascinate him whenever he visited his older sister, Skye and her husband Jack in Dorset; he could sit and listen to Jack's farm-hands talk about nothing all night. Some people got off on French or Italian... Rayne Wylde liked nothing more than a West-country yokel.
Not that this one was a yokel - far from it, in fact. His father was probably lord of the manor somewhere well off the map of civilised England. He was dressed casually, but Rayne's well-schooled eye noted that the labels on his wind-cheater and the sweater beneath were more likely Lacoste and D&G than Woolies or Marks & Sparks. The rucksack looked well-used but was also expensive and made to last. Through the plastic of the carrier bags he recognised the bulk of several wine bottles and a foil-wrapped champagne cork protruded from one top corner.
From the short, smart cut of his dark-blond hair, his clean-shaven, preppy, good-looks and the absence of any jewellery, apart from a gold signet set with one small, unobtrusive diamond on his left-hand ring finger, Rayne deduced that he was probably a graduate; definitely a career man and, like as not, married. Although he couldn't have been in the latter state for long - he didn't look nearly old enough for a start.
Twenty three... maybe twenty four?
His companion looked back at him incuriously for a moment and Rayne realised, with a start, that he had been staring at the kid but as yet he hadn't said a word. 'Jesus Christ on a bike... he must think I'm some kind of nutter!'
"I don't mind," he said quickly now. "Sorry... I was somewhere else for a sec, just then."
The blond shrugged slightly, but he relaxed and a smile graced his lips as he looked back down at his paper. Around them, more people were struggling onto the train and hauling cases up into the overhead racks, but no-one came to occupy their two spare seats and Rayne stretched out a little, watching the upheaval, glad that he chose to travel light.
When the train nudged gently out into the gathering dawn once more, his companion folded his paper and tucked it into a pocket of his rucksack with a yawn.
"I know what you mean," he remarked insouciantly, as if they had never stopped talking. "It's too bloody early for this, hey?"
Rayne only smiled by way of response. The aimless rattle and chatter of the compartment was relaxing him; helping him to think of other things than Fen and the Vampires at Ivy Street - hard as that was right now.
"You all right?" the blond guy asked, suddenly solicitous. "You look a bit... y'know? Under the weather."
"I'm fine," Rayne assured him tersely. "Just got some grit in my eyes, or somethin'."
He set the cigarette packet and his lighter on the table between them as if to emphasise the fact that he really had been leaning out of the window just to smoke. His travelling companion nodded sagely.
"Bad habit, that!"
"One I can't break, I'm afraid," the singer responded, accustomed to being rebuked for his vices. "One of many!" He laughed softly.
The blond extended a hand across the table finally, as if deciding that Rayne had passed his acid test.
"Jamie Halliday," he said languidly, by way of introduction.
Rayne shook the proffered hand. Jamie's fingers were warm and his grip firm and quick.
"Raymond... Ray James," he responded, sitting back.
"I know," Jamie told him, then - seeing him frown - added; "I read your reservation card, sorry."
"It's not a capital offence!" Rayne grinned.
"No," Jamie returned the grin and fished in one of his carrier bags promptly. "You want a drink?"
The singer's ice and lime eyes widened as he produced a litre and a half of Johnny Walker and extracted two plastic cups from a side pocket of his rucksack. Seeing the other man's expression, Jamie looked slightly sheepish.
"I know it's early..."
"It's never too early," Rayne assured him, letting his features soften as Jamie poured him a generous measure of whisky and started telling him about a mate's stag weekend in Copenhagen that he'd just come back from.
"So... you going to London, then?"
Jamie was making short work of his first shot. Rayne took a good mouthful and inhaled the warm, satisfying alcohol fumes before he swallowed it down, feeling it scorch its way through his oesophagus to his gut.
"Mmm..." he responded in the affirmative.
"What d'you do? D'you live down there?"
"Mmm... I'm in the media," the singer told him cautiously. You could never be too careful with enquiries like this. He didn't think the lad recognised him, and it would do to keep things that way right now.
Fuelled by whisky, the younger man had already confirmed some of his earlier suspicions. He worked in the public service industry... he was vague about the job but hinted at fast-track promotions and copious, five-figure salaries on the back of his Cambridge firsts in Maths and Administration. Although not yet married he was working on it and produced several photographs of his fiancee, Janet; a hearty, buxom-looking girl with sandy curls and a plain, open face, who was - Jamie assured him - a brilliant dental technician.
"If you ever need your teeth done, she's your girl!"
Rayne promised to bear that in mind, although privately he considered it highly unlikely. An alternative conversation was running through his head in tandem with the real one.
'Well... actually I'm a Vampire. I get paid bugger all for it, but the perks are good. All the blood you can drink! Eternal life! Late nights and early mornings. Getting jerked around by Ancient Undead with inferiority complexes! You should try it!'
"Excellent!" Jamie enthused, topping him up generously. "My sister, Shirley's doing promotional work at the BBC. What field're you in?"
Rayne stared at him blankly for little more than a nano-second.
"I... ah... I work for a music magazine." He glanced out of the window, seeking escape, as they thundered through a deep cutting and burst out between meadows and low, rolling Cheshire hills, etched in blue and gold by the sun that rose behind them. "Y'know... reviews and stuff."
"Sounds good," his companion nodded eagerly, clearly unfazed by his brief hesitation. "Whereabouts are you based? I've got a flat in Finchley if you're ever in the area."
"Holland Park," Rayne said, without thinking.
"Bloody hell!" Jamie nearly spat whisky over half the carriage. "What're they paying you at this mag, then?"
"Enough." Rayne turned cool, lime-cordial coloured eyes on the younger fellow, unblinkingly. "I do other stuff as well, and it's not a huge place. You'd be surprised how cheap it can be to live in Central London if you do it right."
"You're squatting it, right?" Jamie grinned suddenly.
Rayne only smiled by way of response and said nothing.
"You're young, free and single then?" his companion ventured.
Another, more rueful smile answered him; "I'm single, yeah!"
He escaped to the corridor for a little while once they had passed through Crewe, needing a cigarette. The air felt cool and pleasant on his face after the stickiness of the carriage and he wanted to clear his head. Jamie must be getting pretty drunk by now; although the effects on the Vampiric singer were minimal, he still felt as though he was operating at half-speed or something. A part of him just wasn't functioning. He felt empty and isolated, wishing it was Fen sitting in that aisle seat across from him.
Thoughts of Fen Levander left him with an uncomfortable bulge in the crotch of his jeans and he leaned against the carriage door for a while, trying not to think of anything at all, chain-smoking his way through four cigarettes before he became aware that he was no longer alone. The automatic door between the compartment and the corridor shushed open and closed again with a soft thunk and Rayne put his head out of the window, catching the back-draft that blew his hair fiercely back from his skull and sent it whipping violently around his head. That felt good.
After a few minutes of this, he became aware that the presence behind him was still hovering and ducked back into the carriage to avoid an oncoming bridge. Jamie was watching him sheepishly from the opposite door.
"He's taking his time, isn't he?" the lad remarked. He nodded towards the door of the toilet cubicle, which was pushed closed to keep it from banging against the wall, when Rayne merely looked puzzled.
One avian brow tilted upward into the older man's tangled sable hair and Rayne nudged the door firmly with the pointed-toe of his elegant, Cuban boot, then rattled the catch until it clicked and the door swung open.
"I think he must have escaped down the U-bend!" the Vampire said casually, when Jamie flushed scarlet and looked embarrassed.
The blond lad came as far as the door, but did not go in. He was surprisingly tall, on his feet; swaying slightly with the movement of the train.
"You're not gonna be sick or anything, are you?" Rayne asked him, concerned.
Jamie shook his head. And stayed put.
"Well... are you gonna use it or not?" The singer leaned back against the wall of the corridor, stubbing out his smoke impatiently.
In an unexpectedly tentative voice, Jamie murmured; "I reckon you've not been straight up with me."
Rayne frowned and eased his hands into the pockets of his jeans to disguise the fact that he still had a sizeable erection.
"What the fuck are you rambling on about now?"
"I know who you are," the younger man told him, quickly. He broke off as the door from their compartment opened and a middle-aged woman bustled out holding a vast, puce-coloured handbag tightly in front of her like a battering ram. She eyed them suspiciously, then hurried on into the next car.
Rayne rolled his eyes dramatically. 'Oh, shit-on-toast!'
"I've seen you on TV, and in the press," Jamie said, quietly and urgently. He was closer now. His words smelled of whisky and something sweet... almonds, perhaps? Back in the car he had taken off his jacket and jumper as his limbs thawed out and now he wore a sage-coloured tee-shirt under a thick, chequered, Timberland shirt that exuded a warm, citrus aroma mingled with the scent of his body. Rayne could almost taste him. He licked his lips tentatively.
"So... what were you planning to do? Blackmail me? I'm not ashamed of who I am. I just like a bit of privacy," he said mildly now.
"I won't tell anyone," Jamie murmured, a little awkwardly. "I just sort of..." He broke off and looked away, cheeks bright with points of blood. Rayne felt hungry just looking at him.
He turned away, looking out of the window again to control his impulses. In a heartbeat, Jamie was standing next to him, leaning slightly against him for support. His eyes were a greenish-grey like the colour of his tee-shirt, Rayne realised as he glanced up directly into the lad's face.
"Spit it out," he suggested affably.
"You're with that band... Whipsnade?"
"You're a queer, aren't you?"
Rayne experienced a moment's heart-lurching sense of anxiety that went back to his pre-Vampiric days. 'Shit... he's gonna throw me out the door here!' Smartly, he pulled himself together.
"You got a problem with that, sweetheart?"
Briefly, it was Jamie's turn to look uneasy.
"I... uh.. I dunno. That's what I wanted to.. uh...find out."
Rayne frowned at him, puzzled and slightly irritated.
"What are you talking about?"
Still flaming-cheeked, Jamie leaned into him and whispered something in his ear so softly that he would not have understood, if his hearing had been merely mortal standard. As it was, he heard every word, but still he had to ask Jamie to repeat himself to be sure he had understood properly.
"I wanna have you..." the blond kid whispered, more urgently this time, jerking his head towards the toilet cubicle. "In there. Now."
The train lurched drunkenly across points and Jamie was thrown against him firmly enough for Rayne to deduce that - beneath the tails of that sensible shirt - his dick was even harder than his words. Clearly he wasn't 'that' pissed then!
"I thought you were engaged?" he reminded the blond deliberately. "What about Janet?"
"She doesn't know," Jamie mumbled, making no attempt to disengage himself from Rayne now that they were actually in physical contact.
"Shouldn't you tell her, if you're not sure?"
"I... uh... I wanna marry her, Ray. I just... I'm not sure how I feel about this whole bloke thing!" Jamie nudged against him more deliberately. "And all this way I've been sat across from you and I'm wondering more and more, what it would be like, y'know? I mean... you're not bad-looking, for a fella."
"Cheers!" Rayne said sardonically.
"You're kind of... pretty... actually."
The internal door shushed open again and Jamie jumped back from him as if he had been shot. The woman with the handbag stomped through armed with a tray and two plastic beakers of weak tea, sandbagged by little sachets of sugar and bristling with swizzle sticks. This time she clicked her tongue audibly and shook her head as she marched through into their carriage and the automatic door swallowed her clucks of disapproval.
"We've had it now," Rayne told him with a grin. "The Moral Majority's made her presence felt. We're gonna have to do something just to make her feel truly righteous!"
Jamie took another step backwards into the cubicle, then reached out and caught Rayne's wrist in one hand, towing him inside and shutting the flimsy door as firmly as he could. His mouth pressed itself onto Rayne's as soon as they were locked in and he wrapped himself around the singer like an octopus, rubbing himself urgently against the other man's lean, hard body. His tongue invaded the singer's mouth and his hands quickly found their way beneath his shirt, touching and exploring him, coaxing Rayne to caress him intimately.
"You lying bastard! You've done this before!" the older man hissed softly at him, when Jamie finally came up for air. "All that 'not sure' bollocks was a lure, wasn't it?"