Bite Me, the story of Artemis’ adventures in New Orleans between the events of Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc. is taking awhile, but coming nicely into shape. So, just for fun and to get a little feedback along the way, here is the first chapter. Note that the awesome portrait below is not of Jacky/Artemis! But it is by Viktoria Gavrilenko, the cover-artist for WtC and the soon-to-be-released paperback edition of VI. I am trying to convince her to do Bite Me as well, but she’s making noises about a much-deferred vacation…
Bite Me: Big Easy Nights.
By Marion G. Harmon
Anne Rice sucks. Lord Byron, Bram Stoker and lots of other writers too. Before they got hold of the horrible legends and turned an unclean spirit possessing a decomposing body into a freaking romantic hero, nobody anywhere thought vampires were nifty.
An unhealthy obsession with bloodsuckers wasn’t a problem before the Event. Sure, there were a few delusional psychotics who believed they were nosferatu, and a subset of Goth culture that wore fangs with their Victorian lace, but what’s the harm? Except for the psychos, I mean. Today it’s a whole different story.
Jacky Bouchard, The Artemis Files.
Anne Rice sucks.
It became my personal mantra years ago, and I repeated it to myself as I watched the fang-action across the room. I’d been haunting Sable’s for weeks, and the scene Sable and “Evangeline” were putting on was depressingly familiar. She stood beside his chair (throne, really), all lace over crinoline, while he sipped at her wrist and she shivered deliciously. The rest of his court watched him with greedy eyes. I sipped my coke and ignored the sad hopefuls watching me.
God. One more night.
The windows open to New Orleans’ warm and damp spring night didn’t help, and the sweaty crowd around me made me glad I didn’t have to breathe. A deal’s a deal, I reminded myself again. Sable had “requested” my presence in his house three nights a week; in return, he left me alone when I hunted in the French Quarter. Speaking of hunting, it had been long enough between bites that the bodies around me were looking less like people and more like Happy Meals. Time to work.
Looking around for a likely suspect, I caught the eye of a kid with a face-full of freckles under bad makeup and a mop of unevenly dyed raven hair. Without lowering my glass, I pointed at the door with my pinky-finger and started moving that way myself. He blanched and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, but he pushed his way out of the crowd and met me in the doorway. Envious stares followed him.
“I don’t do public fang,” I whispered in his ear, and jerked my head for him to follow me. Down the hall from the crowded parlor was a study where nobody would interrupt us. I took his hand and he flinched a little at my cool grip, but then he squeezed. I almost sighed.
A single red-tasseled table lamp lit the study; Sable liked it dim and probably didn’t have a hundred-watt bulb in the house. I sat down on the velvet-upholstered loveseat, straightened my skirts, and patted the cushion beside me.
“I.D.?” I said, keeping my voice low. He looked puzzled and now I did sigh. “You don’t expect me to risk entrapment, do you?”
“Oh, yeah.” He nodded eagerly and pulled out his wallet to hand me his driver’s license. I held it up. It looked real enough and declared he was Steve Jansen, eighteen, but I took a picture of it with the camera hidden in my bloodstone cameo broach anyway, then sat demurely while he put it away.
“Na— yeah.” He blushed, and suddenly I didn’t have the patience for it. I reached across his lap and took his right hand, pulled it gently towards me, and locked eyes with him.
“It’s easy.” I put influence into my words and felt him relax under the suggestion. Drawing his hand around my waist made him lean across me. A polite, or at least cautious, boy, he braced it against the loveseat so he wasn’t lying across my frill-covered chest. The move put his head at an angle, neck in front of me, and despite my influence his Adam’s apple bounced again. I added more influence to a gentle “shhh,” and watched his pupils dilate till his irises practically disappeared. The pulse in his neck slowed along with his breathing, and when he was ready I leaned forward, opening my mouth.
Just a touch of my teeth and his blood flowed, electric copper on my tongue. I wrapped my arms around his waist as he went boneless, made a seal with my lips, and started counting. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four… At thirty I stopped the flow with a lick. He didn’t twitch, and I laughed lightly—mood improved as always by the spike of heat in my veins.
“Breathe,” I said, and he took a deep convulsive lungful. Pushing him upright, I patted his shoulder. “Hold still.” I pulled a handkerchief from my skirt pocket, dabbing away the two little spots of blood left behind before applying it to my own lips. Standing up, I pulled him up with me and over to the door. Holding his hands, I waited; there was no way I was letting him out into the crowd in his current state; people could play cruel jokes on someone who’d just been vamped.
When his pupils started to contract I kissed him on the cheek. Putting all the influence I could into it, I whispered “Goodnight Steve, now go home and don’t come back,” and pushed him out the door. He went straight down the hall without looking back, walking fast and without answering any of the calls sent his way. Two shakes, and he was past Sable’s looming doorman and out the front door. Obviously, the suggestion had taken.
I shut the parlor door firmly and put my back to it before reaching into my skirt and pulling out my earbug. Wiggling it into my ear, I pushed off and headed for its second, outside door—the other reason I’d chosen the study.
“I am so out of here.”
“Roger that, Night Hunter,” Paul said. “I’m parked three blocks south.” Stepping out into the night, I threw myself into the air, swirling into mist to lift off and climb over the house. I followed the line of wrought-iron streetlamps south down Royal Street to where Paul had parked the van just south of St. Louis Cathedral. Floating down and in through the open passenger’s window, I pulled myself back together.
Paul didn’t twitch. “So Steve is another rescue? Can’t do too many of those, you know.”
I shrugged. “One less donor-boy won’t be missed—and it only really sticks with the first-timers. The fang addicts eventually come back.”
Looking me over, Paul frowned and fingered the gris-gris pouch he wore under his shirt. I knew what he saw; I’d gone Full Goth tonight to fit in at Sables. I wore a high-waisted black skirt, poofed out by an underskirt to give it bounce. Frilled at the bottom, it hugged my rib cage just below my breasts, held up by wide shoulder straps buttoned down in the front. My top was a ruffled black blouse with a high neck, closed with my bloodstone cameo—the only splash of color in the whole outfit. Black stockings and button-up boots finished it off. I’d stopped short of putting a bow in my hair and it hung straight and long down my back, but I still looked, maybe, eighteen. Certainly too young for the French Quarter after dark, which was why I was here. Talk about entrapment.
Vampires and werewolves and witches, oh my. Supernatural breakthroughs weren’t all that rare, post-Event. Most breakthroughs responded to their triggering episode by manifesting classic superhero-type powers, but enough people had already been into magic as an alternate lifestyle, or were just purely superstitious, or had a thing for creatures of folklore and fantasy, that we had witches and vampires and werewolves and fairies and demons and other less popular and well-known magical types right alongside the superheroes. And if the capes made Chicago their home, supernaturals have made New Orleans, hometown of Voodoo and vampire-Goth culture, their own. It’s been a mixed blessing for the Big Easy and a job for me.
“Did you confirm Steve’s I.D.?” I asked.
“Yep,” Paul said. “You can spot ‘em. Face-recognition picked him out of the Berkley High yearbook. He’s only seventeen, and that makes it three for three.”
“Good.” I smiled, and Paul looked away. He didn’t like vamps and I didn’t blame him. Do mice like cats? Does an addict like his supplier? The buzz had seeped out of my blood, and I slumped in my seat. In Chicago right now I’d be sitting at a high table in The Fortress, sipping drinks with Hope and watching other superheroes and their groupies. “Take me home, Paul,” I sighed. He nodded and started the van.
I certainly didn’t need the escort home; I could have misted, or if I was feeling peckish, walked home, maybe collecting a rapist or two on the way. Although that wasn’t as easy as it used to be—humans are good at pattern recognition, and the evil-intentioned were acquiring an aversion to young ladies walking alone.
But Grams—Mama Marie—would put such a hex on Paul if he didn’t see me to the door, the detective wouldn’t risk it.
We drove back through the Quarter’s close one-way streets. Mama Marie lived in one of the narrow two-stories on Esplanade, an old house with its back to the French Quarter and its face to the rest of the world where she could keep an eye on it, lest it make any sudden moves. Not that the rest of the world wasn’t useful; when Hurricane Katrina came over the levees and tried to drown New Orleans, capes from all over descended on the Big Easy, got everybody out, and kept the flooding to a minimum.
Didn’t matter; up in Chicago we joked about Chicagoland—there was us and then there was the rest of the country. Down here the Quarter was the center of the world; the rest was foreign and suspect.
Paul pulled us up half on the curb, and I got out before he could reflexively open my door for me (like me or not, I’m a lady). But he opened the wrought-iron fence and followed me up the short walk that wound through the front yard. Grams kept it covered in planting-boxes and pots full of herbs and climbing plants, with a screen of small yew trees that nearly hid the front porch. He stopped at the porch steps, but stayed while I unlocked the door. Or tried to; sure enough, Grams opened it for me, standing out of my way and nodding to Paul over my shoulder.
I resisted the urge to turn and give him the finger. Who ever heard of a vampire with a curfew?
Grams closed the door behind me.
“Did you have a good night, Jacqueline?”
“Jacky, Grams. Jah-kee.”
“Well, child?” What she was really asking was, did you kill anyone tonight? There’d only been the once.
I sighed, kissed her cheek. “Yes Grams, I had a good night.”
“Best get to your studies, then.”
Ten minutes later, after I’d opened my economics textbook on the dining room table, she ambushed me with a brush. One hundred strokes, and she put my hair in a black bow. I didn’t say anything. She didn’t either. When she disappeared into the kitchen, I closed the book and wandered into the parlor.
I’d never come to New Orleans as a child— I’d grown up in Southside Chicago, on the other end of the country, and hadn’t known about Grams at all. Although Grams was dark Creole, with light mahogany skin from the shores of Africa, high French cheekbones, and startling dark blue eyes from God knows where, Grandpa Bouchard had been all Cajun—pure French Acadian— and Mom had been, to quote Grams, “whiter than white,” which had to make growing up the daughter of a voodoo queen tough. She’d rebelled by running as far away as she could inside the US, getting rid of her accent, and marrying Dad, Fred Siggler, as down-to-earth a man as had ever been born.
I traced the pictures on the mantle. Mom looked just like me, pale in a way that might have indicated a romantic ailment in another century, and her midnight-black hair went down to her butt. I only ever remembered her shoulder-length braid, but I also remembered getting one hundred brush-strokes, sitting in her lap until I got too “grown up” to sit still for it.
Did she used to sit still for one hundred brush strokes, too?
Well, if I couldn’t study, I’d advertise. Before leaving the parlor, I turned Mr. Robinson right side up. Grams had cut the ward-boss’s picture out of the Monday paper and framed it before turning him upside down on the mantle—a bit of hoodoo that had to be giving him headaches. Legba didn’t object when I took him out of his room and draped him over my shoulders. An albino python, Legba was Grams’ animal totem for Papa Legba, her patron loa, and she used him in most of her important rituals. Now I took him upstairs and outside on the balcony.
Esplanade’s north and south lanes were divided by a thick strip of grass and trees with a walk down the center. Nowadays the city’s old and new money mostly lived in grand gated communities in the suburbs, but in the old days, when riverboats steamed up and down the Mississippi and New Orleans was one of the busiest ports in the world, Esplanade had been the neighborhood and favored promenade of the rich and elite. With the recent re-gentrification of the neighborhood, all the new Old World lampposts and house lamps showing off the restored homes, the street had become a favorite night-walk again, so I stood out on the balcony in the warm spring night, pale as Legba in my Goth finery, and passersby got a look at Mama Marieh’s granddaughter, le vampir. A few waved, and I smiled but didn’t wave back. Others walked faster. One young man stared for awhile before moving on. I actually spotted one of the Big Easy’s few capes night-patrolling overhead. Him I waved to. Then I frowned.
I could see like a cat, and down the street I could see Paul’s van, parked in front of a shuttered store. To use Hope’s words, “Hey what?” I might be Detective Negri’s current assignment, but we were both done for the night.
The vampire’s kiss had become the thrill-drug of choice in New Orleans, and there wasn’t much the law could do about it. Make voluntary donations illegal? All the vamps would die since we couldn’t just sip blood from cocktail glasses. Require consent forms? When we could bind consent with our influence?
But at least the police could keep us away from minors, on the grounds that in Louisiana you had to be eighteen or older to give blood without a physician’s approval—which was good, since New Orleans’ vampire-Goth subculture was stronger than ever now and had a huge teen following. So the Department of Superhuman Affairs had sent me south, where I could work with Detective Negri to keep the dumber and more arrogant vamps off the younger stuff. Which didn’t explain what he was doing down the street.
Watching the house? Why? Nobody in their right mind would have messed with Grams, even before I came to stay. Mess with one of New Orleans’ reigning voodoo queens? She’d hex them till they wished they were dead. No, I didn’t believe in voodoo. Really.
Watching me? I was the one vamp the police actually trusted, even if only a couple of them knew I was a superhero back in Chicago.
“Jacqueline?” Gran called from downstairs.
“Coming, Grams.” Going inside, I shut the door.
I never considered that Paul might be watching the people watching me.