A Portrait in BloodbySadieRose©
A 'Rayne Wylde' Tale
by Josh & Sadie Rose © 1999/2006
"This is a story that I wrote a long time ago before the events of the Underwear series. It was meant as a stand-alone but although I hated the story I liked Kev and Dave so much that I thought they deserved something better. I've been tweeking it forever but now it's time for it to see the light of day.
"WARNING: This is entered in the Erotic Horror category for a reason. It is a Vampire story and there is naturally a gory element. If that makes you wince, turn away here. To everyone else, enjoy."
THE WEEK BEFORE XMAS:
The Vampire moved softly through the shadows at the top end of Canal Street, in Manchester's thriving Gay Village. Wrapped in the cold veil of fog and darkness, it seemed as though the fates conspired to make his task easier. On a night such as this, with so many factors unexpectedly in his favour, he could almost convince himself that the Gods wanted him to succeed. This was his true purpose, the reason for his Turning. His quest was ineffably, irreproachably Right.
As he watched, a boy staggered from the heat and warmth of one of the vibrant, red-brick bars near the top of the street. The sounds of music and laughter briefly followed him into the shadows then were snatched away by a closing door as he blundered across the cobbles with the touching lack of orientation only possessed by the truly and deeply inebriated. Using the saplings on the other side of the road as markers, he steered himself precariously up the canal bank towards the bridge and stumbled across the tramlines which glistened with frost in the brick-paved road.
His shadow waited a moment to be sure that no one followed him out of the club. Silently, he crossed to Auburn Street, beyond the dark, imposing Court buildings that loomed over them in brooding judgement and intercepted his quarry at the bridge.
There was ice over this slow-moving stretch of the Rochdale Canal but it was thinner beneath the bridges where the air frost was not so dense. And there was a walkway down to the canal-side here, not overlooked by bars and restaurants as it was on the other side of the road. Perfectly discreet for the kind of liaison he planned.
Anyone seeing them in the darkness, down by the water, would think them lovers, meeting in a brief, fierce, festive clinch. The boy was already past caring who administered his lovebites. His skin was cold to the touch beneath the sleeveless top and fine, gauzy jacket. Through the snug, stretch fabric of his trouser crotch, his saviour felt him stiffen as he was embraced and a stranger's lips and teeth found the softness of his throat. Rapidly extended canines pierced his flesh, biting deep into the arteries of his young neck.
His assailant drank deeply, savouring the hot, coppery spill of mortal blood onto his tongue; the taste of an exotic and perverse young life, pouring out into his mouth; the buzz of illicit chemicals and intoxicating liquor which flushed the boy's system. Under his hands and the jaws, which clamped down harder on his neck, the youth squirmed and cried out just once in confusion and incredulity. Then his slight body was rammed back violently against the roughened stone under the shadows of the bridge, where his attacker broke his slender neck quite easily.
The thumping pulse of house music from the surrounding clubs hid the crack and splash as the boy's limp body tumbled down from the walkway and crashed through the ice. By the time the canal thawed it would be far too late for him. And his killer would already be notorious.
3 DAYS BEFORE XMAS:
It was late afternoon and already winter-dark outside when Rayne Wylde, Vampire and ex-lead-singer with the androgynous rock band Whipsnade, walked into the Rembrandt public house. The warm, golden glow of the house lighting and the randomly twinkling fairy lights overhead greeted him, as did the eyes of about thirty men sitting around the venue, in ones and twos, at tables by the windows or stools around the long, crowded bar area. In the background, Abba's Chiquitita played on the sound system as if the seventies had never ended and conversation dipped briefly as the regulars inspected him. They went back to their conversation almost immediately but several pairs of eyes followed his progress to the bar. Wylde ignored it, quite accustomed to stopping traffic. Jabez, his Sire, had long since given up trying to tell him not to be conspicuous.
It was a physical impossibility for a start... and today he had dressed down deliberately in a plain, dark, cotton shirt and black vest, over snug charcoal denims and an ebony-suede, thigh-length jacket. The short, Cuban heels of his hand-made black boots clicked softly on the panelled flooring as he unselfconsciously crossed the room. Taking a seat at the bar he ran a long-boned hand through wind-tangled, sable hair that hung to his shoulders, framing pale, delicate features.
The attention was unavoidable. No one naturally blessed with Rayne's lean, icy good looks could fail to draw the eye, especially not in a pub like the Rembrandt. Men came to this street especially to check out such examples of masculine beauty.
It was a good lure and Rayne Wylde knew it. He had been reeling admirers in for most of his life and now it was second nature. Once he reached the bar, the muted talk began again. He was aware of the occasional sidelong look but ignored them with a skill perfected after years in the public eye.
"Ello... not seen you in 'ere before," the shaven-headed bartender greeted him genially.
Rayne shrugged one bony shoulder.
"Is that a crime?"
"Depends how you're lookin' at it, doesn't it?" replied the guy behind the bar leaning forward. "What can I get you, mate?"
The Vampire half-closed eyes the colour of crushed ice drenched in green chartreuse, and stared up through the dense lashes. He was perfectly well aware of the mesmerizing effect of his heavy-lidded, narcoleptic stare... that was why he did it. Several guys propping up the bar leaned closer for a better look.
"I'd like Stolichnaya, please," he said levelly, in a quiet voice that nevertheless carried effortlessly over the background noise. He still had a slight, Estuarine accent, even after nearly ten years of living in the North of England. "A double. No ice."
At least five guys around the bar reached for their wallets. The bartender sighed, and turned to the chill-box. He had clearly seen this charade played out many times.
"What's your name, darlin'?" A tall, burly red-haired man with broad shoulders and work-stained denims had been sitting by the door, alone, when Rayne came in. The Vampire did not miss the speed with which he crossed the pub to the bar. His glass was not yet half-empty, but he was here, staking his interest in the newcomer. A definite predator, but a mortal one. If he was Undead or some kind of sub-human he shielded it better than anyone that Wylde had ever met.
The Vampire fished in his jacket for a cigarette and responded with a half-hearted smile.
"None of your business. 'Darlin'!"
"I was only being friendly..." His would-be suitor leaned across the polished counter and waved down the bartender magnanimously. "Oi... Dave! Get us a Becks, and whatever this little fox is havin'!"
Rayne met Dave, the barkeep's disbelieving gaze across the pumps and rolled his eyes silently. In one fluid movement he turned and slid down from his stool to stand before the interloper. Or rather, beneath him; at five foot seven and a half, he stood a good hand-span shorter than the red-head.
Fortunately, Rayne Wylde was not in the mood to be inconvenienced by his lack of height.
"I'm not looking for a Sugar Daddy, sweetheart! I can buy my own drinks, thank you very much."
The big fellow touched a roughened finger to his chin, lifting his head by an inch or so, firmly but not quite roughly. There was however something in the expression on his florid face, in the unblinking flintiness of his pale blue eyes, which spoke a silent warning.
'I can take you,' that look said. 'You're nothing, pretty boy. Nothing at all. I can do as I like with you.'
Rayne met and held his stare with a determination born out of years of verbal and physical abuse. Once, he would have been cowed by so much inexplicable hostility from a stranger but time had given him a hard shell. He glared back unblinkingly at the burly guy.
Ice and granite.
'Try me, fuckwit!' his green eyes warned the stranger.
"Kev, leave him alone. He's only come in for a drink, for fuck's sake! D'you wanna frighten off 'all' our customers?"
Kev blinked finally and looked away first. He seemed to have forgotten that anything existed but himself and Rayne. Now he shook himself like a big dog sloughing off water and leaned on the counter again.
"I was only being friendly," he reiterated.
"Yeah... well do us a favour and be friendly somewhere else, okay?"
Dave pushed a short, chunky glass of clear liquor across the bar towards Rayne and turned away again, pulling a pint for the persistent Kev. Once the big guy had paid and returned to his table with the glass, Rayne tilted his head, catching his host's eye.
"What do I owe you?"
"Nothing...." Dave responded with a wan smile. "Call it compensation for the harassment. We don't like people putting our customers off. Kevan Delaney's okay... his bark's worse than his bite, but he can be a bit heavy-handed, if you know what I mean. We deal with it. Don't we Arren?"
He leaned on the counter again directing this remark to a chunky young man in black cords and a fluorescent security guard's jacket. Arren shook his blond head grimly in response.
"He's a pain in the arse, if you ask me! I don't know why Gerard didn't ban him after the last outburst..."
Rayne saw him close his mouth and looked back at Dave in time to note the warning look that passed between bartender and punter. He frowned slightly at the cold expression and the tightening of Dave's lips.
"Who's Gerard?" he asked to diffuse the situation.
"Gerry? He owns this place. Doesn't show his face in the bar much. Lest there's trouble... then he can clear the joint like Bernard Manning at a W.I. meeting!"
From his puzzled expression, Arren was clearly too young to understand that analogy. Rayne acknowledged it with a small smile that Dave returned more warmly this time.
"What happened?" the Vampire asked him now, touching the glass to his lips and letting ice-cold vodka roll over his tongue. "Has Kev caused you problems before?"
Dave's face was an impassive masque. He had the kind of bleached, neutral features that let him blend into the background; light, sandy hair cropped short to his skull; blue-grey eyes and a narrow, ascetic mouth. He dressed casually, in muted colours; short sleeved shirt and faded jeans; no jewellery. Ideal for a bartender in a place where the punters are only interested in themselves.
"Kev likes to put himself about," he ventured; a little reluctantly, his customer thought.
Rayne arched one eyebrow and set his glass down, waiting. Beside him, the lad called Arren grinned and took a good swig of his pint.
"He thinks he's a bit of a geezer," the youngster remarked in a tone that suggested otherwise.
"And that's uncommon in a pub 'round here?" Rayne looked from one face to the other with a slightly cynical smile.
"Yeah... well... he's put himself about around the wrong faces just lately." Again the young man looked at Dave, almost for confirmation this time.
The bartender shrugged disinterestedly.
"How do you mean?" Rayne Wylde allowed his fine, dark brows to lower and his full, pale lips pursed contemplatively. Arren checked him out shamelessly whilst he thought the Vampire was not looking.
"You're not the Old Bill, are you?" the security guard suddenly demanded, bringing that icy green gaze right back to his round, innocent face.
Rayne glanced down at his own slight frame in a rather self-deprecating fashion and snorted softly through his nostrils.
"Yeah... right! Do I look like any cop you've ever seen?"
The other man seemed mildly abashed but he murmured; "Can't be too careful, y'know. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes these days!"
"We've been raided two or three times in the last few weeks," Dave elaborated wearily. "Nothin' incriminating but, you know..."
Rayne looked a silent question at him.
"It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth," the other man, Arren, added, pushing his empty pint glass across the bar. Dave filled it automatically without asking what he wanted.
"Why were you raided?" Rayne asked.
"Cos there's been trouble. Not good for tourism!" Dave pushed the pint glass back over the counter, suddenly surly, and palmed the security guard's change. "Why else?"
"Give 'em their due... they've looked into... y'know... the canal," the drinker's lines faltered a little as if he remembered too late that he was not supposed to say anything.
Rayne fired an enquiring glance in his direction now. He took care to keep his eyes wide and his expression utterly guileless. It was a ruse he had practiced until the facial techniques were second nature to him; ever since his teens it had served him well.
"Canal?" he breathed, lifting the glass to his lips but not drinking. "You mean the murders?"
"Yeah... you know how it goes..." Arren cast a wary glance towards Dave the barman but the other man only shrugged his shoulders and turned back to polishing the glasses. This was the public domain... Arren was only confirming a little well-known gossip. "The body... the lad they pulled out of the canal the other week. Kev was chatting him up too, yeah? Cops come down and asked questions, didn't they, Davey?"
Rayne let his eyes slip sidelong to meet Dave's unflinching, flinty gaze.
"Yeah... they asked some questions."
"Do they know who he was; the last boy?" the Vampire asked, to all intents utterly horrified, and captivated. "Did he drink here?"
"Once or twice," Dave nodded his head and busied himself with the pumps, cleaning heads and emptying slop trays. It suddenly occurred to Rayne that he was protecting the big man, Kevan; deflecting the conversation away from him. It was subtle but almost certainly a defensive reaction. Dave was looking after his regulars, whether he liked them personally or not. A couple of guys came to the bar and he moved away to serve them.
"He's not a happy man," Rayne observed, turning back to the fellow on his left.
"Well... it's bad for business, innit? Hits the tourist trade at this time of year. Young bloke just like any one of us, getting stiffed in what's supposed to be a safe area. No one fancies just popping out for a drink after dark. Can't expect him to like it." He took a long swig from his pint glass and surveyed Rayne over the lip for a moment. "You live 'ere or are you just visiting?"
"Just hanging out," the Vampire said levelly.
"Why've I never seen you in here before?"
Rayne shrugged his shoulders.
"You weren't looking?" he suggested.
"Right!" Arren laughed incredulously and swigged his beer. "You gonna stick around?"
"Depends..." Rayne shrugged his shoulders coyly.
"Yeah... on whether or not I score tonight!" He winked at the other guy pointedly. Arren had none of the guile he had observed in the bartender. His expression and body language were both open and inviting.
"Can't see you havin' too much trouble there!" the security guard told him, franking this assessment. "In fact... if I was a single man..."
He did not finish his statement for at that moment the pub door opened and closed and a tall, attractive youth, barely out of his teens, strode in with the sort of casual confidence Rayne recognized from his own boyhood. He was blond and clean cut, in tight denims and a skinny-rib T, with a grin you could cut glass on. Without hesitation or preamble, he walked straight over to the bar and flung his arms around Arren, kissing him ravenously.
"God I've had one hell of a day!" he exclaimed theatrically, when he finally came up for air.
Rayne felt his fangs extend impulsively and turned away, shaking his shaggy, black mane with some amusement. He noted that Dave was still watching him guardedly and winked again, feeling like a co-conspirator in some kind of game. To his chagrin the barman just turned away, without responding.
Not used to that kind of cold-shoulder treatment, especially not among gay men, Rayne nursed his drink for a little while and pondered what he had learned before coming out tonight. Of course the drowned kid in the canal was old news, but more disturbing was the pattern forming over the past few weeks; a pattern of disappearances which had the Manchester Gay Village as their common denominator. The missing were all within a certain demographic. All but one had been boys, under twenty-five but over sixteen. They weren't runaways... normally they held down good jobs and had secure lifestyles. The only factors they seemed to share for definite were that they were all gay and all dead before their time.
And all drained of virtually every drop of blood in their bodies.
Rayne Wylde emptied his glass and decided to move on. Under normal circumstances he would have stayed for the night. Even though he had lived up here for nearly a decade it had taken him until tonight to explore the Village and he had enjoyed his visit enormously thus far. He had been looking at an apartment in the city and that was how he came to hear of the killings. It was not the kind of gossip that did the housing market any favours but hey, it was a nice apartment!
This was his type of pub too, just a shade on the rough side, with that elusive promise of sex or violence that he recalled from his mortal days in the fleshpots of London. But he had not come here on the pull, he reminded himself with a sigh. Since he had been Turned, nearly ten years ago now, he had come to realise just how unusual it was to be a Vampire with a soul and a conscience. His Progenitor, Jabez Everman, never failed to remind him that he had a duty to those less fortunate than himself.
As a mortal he had been unashamedly selfish, determined to indulge himself to excess, no matter what effect the drugs and drink and sex might have on his body or on others. Now he was largely immune to the highs he had known in life. Not that he was incapable of pleasure, or desire; it was just that he felt things much more acutely these days. And his habits were far darker and more dangerous than he had ever dreamed they could be.
Outside, on the cobbled street the cooler air hit him like a wall of sleet, sobering him and clearing his head instantly. He sensed that he was followed out into the night but did not look back right away. It seemed only fair to let the pursuer make up his mind what he wanted to do before launching into an all-out attack. After all, it was not as if the guy could kill him!
He moved unsteadily across the street towards the wall overlooking the canal and heard the other man walk quietly and surely after him. When Rayne lurched forward deliberately towards the low, grey-stone barrier, a pair of strong, warm, mortal hands caught him and pulled him quickly upright. He felt the rub of denim and heard the heavy clink of the fellow's canvas tool bag as it slipped from his shoulder.
"I don't think you wanted to do that," said a mellow, mildly bemused voice, close to his ear.
Rayne leaned back against his 'rescuer'. It was funny, he thought; Kevan Delaney dressed like a labourer but he smelled all wrong. He was too clean, too... fragrant.
"Mmmm... I think I've 'ad too much to drink," he slurred huskily, turning his face into the larger man's sweatshirt, just to be sure. CK1, his nose told him. It was never wrong.