High Bloods

John Farris

Tor Books

1

There were at least four upscale Lycan hangouts within aquarter mile of one another on Santa Monica Boulevard east of the Doheny gateway to Beverly Hills. We left the department Hummer on the center divider with the light bar winking and the no- touch repel charge on high. My partner Sunny Chagrin took the south side of Santa Monica. I took the other side, making my way around the usual debris, human and otherwise.

De Sade’s always had a crowd waiting outside behind a velvet rope, advertising how popular and hard to get into the place was. Twin doorkeeps dressed in this year’s big fashion statement, the Kansas farm- boy look, glanced at the gold shield on my belt and said nothing as I walked past them and opened the brass- bound leather door.

Inside the music came at me like turbocharged thunder. I winced and reached for my noise- canceling whisper tits. At one-fifteen on a Monday morning, Observance minus five, de Sade’s was packed with their typical crowd: hot young media stars or the merely hopeful. Diamondbacker royalty and retro Hip- Hoppers in air- conditioned greatcoats, surrounded by street muscle and sweet sweet chocolate. Raptors of both sexes trying to act twenty years younger than they were. Yesteryear’s big celebs who were back numbers now, all of them with the Malibu gloss that gave them an unreal digitally enhanced look. Maybe half the crowd were High Bloods, mingling with, hitting on Lycans, hoping for the sexual Nirvana such risky liasons promised. Or so the legends had it.

I was there looking for a postdeb named Mal Scarlett. The family was old rich, impeccable bloodlines except for Mal. She had been out of reach for nearly forty- eight hours, according to WEIR. Either Mal’s Snitch had malfunctioned (a rare occurrence) and she didn’t know it, or some illegal surgery had been performed. It was getting to be quite a thing with members of her set: rich kids with tenuous family ties, wanderlust, and no social consciences. If it was a fad it was a dangerous one.

Most people who go missing have patterns. Nine out of ten missing persons turn up within four miles of their homes, dead or alive. The tough cases involve those individuals who are instinctively distrustful, secretive loners— wanderers by habit or by nature. A good description of the rogue population of werewolves, which was already too big to manage effectively.

I was installing the second of my earbuds when a tall girl bumped into me, turned for a look. She gave me a bold, sparkly smile. She was blond, with a narrow, pretty face, an uppity nose. Her glam was Jazz Age: the beaded flapper dress, marcelled hair. She also was wearing one of the gold crosses combined with a wolf’s head— an emblem of Lycan spirituality we were seeing a lot of lately.

She leaned on me, still smiling, and winked hello.

"I’m Chiclyn," she said in a broad Aussie accent. "Chickie Hickey."

"I’m Ducky Daddles," I said. "Is the sky falling?"

She brushed damp hair off her forehead and peered at me, an insolent glint of eyetooth in her crooked smile, mischief in her violet eyes. She’d been doing Frenzies or Black Dahls, but not for a while.

"I think I’m falling for you, Ducks."

I had to get a grip on Chickie, or she would’ve been at my feet. It was verging on heat wave in de Sade’s and she was slippery as goldfish.

A couple of de Sade’s scuffs may have decided I was cutting her out of the flock. They moved in on either side of us, smiling politely. That popular farm- boy look again: yellow coveralls, clodhoppers, neckerchiefs knotted at the side of the throat.

"She’s maybe a tad young for you, Dads," one of the scuffs said.

I’d been silver- haired since my mid- thirties. He took a light grip on my upper- right bicep, and looked surprised. Power lifting is just one way I stay in shape.

None of them seemed to have noticed my ILC shield.

"Blow ahf!" Chickie sneered at them. She had locked both hands on my left forearm. Her fingers contained a Levantine’s collection of baroque rings. "I choose my own company!"

"So do I," I said, with an inoffensive smile.

The scuff thought this over, then dropped his hand.

"Looking good for your age," he said. "Where do you train?"

"Home gym. Is Artie around to night?"

"Who’s asking?"

"Rawson. Lycan control."

With that Chickie was out of there, almost: I caught a wrist.

"We were having such a good time," I said.

"Piss in your face, Wolfer!" She tugged hard to free herself. I felt her terror as if I were holding a live wire.

I voiced "L-Scan" to my wristpac and her data came up. Legal name, full signal, full reservoir. I was surprised that she had one of the new, injectable LUMOs that WEIR had been testing.

Touching the girl’s humid skin I felt a rush, the flash- contagion of her avid sexuality. And, deep in that part of the brain (the angular gyrus) where the ghosts of intuition live, I was receiving signals that prompted a different glandular reaction. A mystery took creaturely shape.

"I’d like to talk to you after I visit with Artie," I said.

"What for?" she said sullenly.

I stared at her. "I’ll think of something, cutie."

She didn’t try running again. She squared her shoulders and looked me defiantly in the eye.

"Meanwhile you can do me a favor by asking around for Mal Scarlett. Have you seen her to night?"

"No. I don’t even know her. Not personally." She squinted hostilely. "And I don’t do fuck- all for Wolfers!"

"Maybe you’d enjoy a month in San Jack Town for some group therapy in positive attitudes."

She lowered her head, a corner of her mouth tweaking unhappily. I looked at the small ruby eye of the wolf’s-head crucifix near the LUMO (for Lunar Module) site. I had a dull sense of foreboding. Religion, no matter how bizarre, meant organization and control.

Chickie looked at me again, more or less acquiescent.

"Good girl," I said. "Now go have your kicks."

She melted into the crowd of Ravers without a backward glance, pausing to adjust her earbud, which just about everybody nowadays called "whisper tit" because of the shape and size. Due to the noise level she manually accessed a number on her designer wristpac.

I was left with her spoor, the faint chemical traces of the girl’s skin cells sloughed by the hand with which I’d been holding her. They had nearly the same effect on my nose as a gun fired off next to my ear would affect my hearing.

Someone who was having too much fun let out a series of wolf howls. He wasn’t a good mimic. In some jurisdictions, like the Hills of Beverly, it’s a misdemeanor, punishable by a few days’ hard labor on the walls around the richest of all city- states. In a place as liberal as de Sade’s, it was just a forlorn way of denying a national malaise, the dark night of the popular soul.

There was some laughter, which got him going again. But enough was enough: one of the scuffs took off to find the yipper and put him on the street.

I looked at the other scuff. "Let’s go see Artie."

Arthur Excalibur Enterprises occupied the third floor of the building he owned and which also housed de Sade’s. The second floor, presumably, was packed solid with soundproofing. Except for occasional vibrations as if from weak earthquakes, nothing betrayed the presence of the club below.

I was announced; subsequently sixteen minutes went out of my life forever, with no music, laughter, good jokes, or the company of loved ones to ease their passing. I checked in with my partner Sunny, who had nothing useful to report about the social gadabout Mal Scarlett.

Then the door to Artie’s inner sanctum was opened. One of his girls— tall, a glossy chestnut- brown color, and with a long elegant neck— beckoned to me. She was dressed like Peter Pan: couture tunic, unitard, half boots. Her name, I recalled, was Beatrice.

I followed her inside.

Artie was pacing around on a beautiful Savonnerie carpet, talking on his retro cell phone. He gestured to a lounge chair and winked at me. I hadn’t thought he could manage that, considering the shape his eyes were in. Artie was an educated man with a jones for fine art. He collected paintings by Bosch, Bacon, Dali. He also had pursued a life in the ring long past the point where it would have been sensible not to answer the bell. Never going anywhere with it, except to various hospitals for stitches and X-rays. He fought a few names, but for most of his career he was just hamburger on some hack promoter’s menu.

A poorly screened transfusion in a tank town infirmary gave Artie Lycanthropy, or LC disease. There are those, it seems, who like being werewolves in spite of the monthly wear and tear and limited life expectancy. Others just live with what, as time goes by and their numbers inexorably increase (one thing is certain: nature had never invented a more ghastly disease by which the majority of mankind paid for the fleeting ecstasy of sex), is less of a stigma, even a social distinction. Particularly among the young with their limited sense of mortality or lack of interest in the future of the human race.

Lycans contributed to the world’s economies, or all semblance of civilization would have disappeared following World War II. For putting in a mandatory thirty- two- hour workweek, the Lycans known to ILC, or International Lycan Control, were wards of government everywhere, including the city- state republics that had replaced the centralized governments of North America.

Although lycanthropy is epidemic, for only a small segment of humanity is LC disease quickly fatal. Artie was in that subgroup. His choices, once infected, were to Off-Blood— which is an agonizing process— or go to an early grave. Artie had opted for living. Which meant a complete change of blood twice a year and the ambiguous status of the Off- Bloods.

Unlike those werewolves— about eighty percent of their estimated number— whose activities were monitored and controlled by ILC, Off- Bloods could do business with High Bloods, marry whom they pleased, easily obtain visas for travel outside their official places of residence. They enjoyed citizenship but couldn’t hold public office.

And if they had a talent for making money, they could obtain licenses to do business on their own. But not in Beverly Hills, known as "the Privilege," the shining example of what regrouped civilization could aspire to and achieve. Neither Off-Blood nor Lycan was permitted to pass a night in Beverly Hills, unless they were being treated at a private clinic or the UCLA Medical Center. Those who lived in the Privilege and unluckily became infected, like Mal Scarlett, were expelled.

Expelled and frequently despised by High Blood families, lovers, former friends.

Those who had "the blood" made the rules.

Eventually (as my mother liked to say after about a half pint of Boodles, lemon twist) the fate of every culture seemed to come down to "damned if you do, double- damned if you don’t." After a fourth martini Pym also was apt to conclude, "I like to think there’s an afterlife. But we’ll probably screw that one up also."

America had won a long and grueling war in the Pacific. What that war unearthed in a previously little- known, nearly inaccessible region of the Kalimantan then followed both victor and vanquished home— to Japan, Australia, the U.S. Another, even more terrible war began, and after more than eighty years no one could predict an end to it.

But, getting back to Artie, a victim who had made the best of things in a big way:

Arthur Excalibur Enterprises owned Mexican silver mines, real estate on three continents, vineyards in Sonoma, wind turbine farms in the deserts, small but rewarding pieces of casinos. With High Blood partners he was in the movie and music businesses, areas of pop u lar culture dominated by Lycan talent. Because so many Lycans, off- Observance, were beautiful people, with that shadowy, ravishing mystique behind the eyes.

Perversely Artie was also in a business that could have brought heavy sanctions. He employed a stable of elite call girls, ten-thousand-a-night lovelies. Worth every penny to High Bloods who liked living dangerously. Girls guaranteed to be at their erotic best during the time just before an Observance known as the Aura.

It was a business he didn’t need, but not within my area of enforcement. Artie claimed that he was in prostitution for the favors to be returned by grateful clients. Like all Lycans and most Off-Bloods, Artie despised High Bloods. Maybe with one exception. He couldn’t afford the luxury of having me for an enemy.

In spite of expert makeup Artie wasn’t looking well tonight. It was difficult for virologists to keep up with all the mutating viruses that thrived in human blood. Some were so new even advanced screening couldn’t detect them.

"Sorry I kept you waiting," Artie said. "New girls from Budapest made the border an hour ago." Artie took a drag on his black cigarillo, exhaling with an expression that might have been bliss on a less- devastated face. "Romany bloods. I have a couple of media kings panting for those honeys already."

"All that time in quarantine must eat into profits," I said.

"Same for government regs and fees. So I use intermediaries in Mexico and skip the red tape. But you know me— all of my girls are Snitched before I expose them to Highs."

Or he wouldn’t have been telling me about them. Artie had his back- channel contacts at WEIR. Off- Bloods were seldom bothered by werewolves, for whom they lack charisma or something. But the penalty for introducing an unregulated werewolf into the population was death. No appeal, no exceptions.

We were served refreshments by a Nordic beauty who shone like a polished silver loving cup. She wore de Sade’s obligatory chains and leather, a coiled pink cat- o’- nine, boudoir- style, on her wide belt. She was new to me, trying not to react badly to my presence.

"Saw you when you came in," Artie said, glancing at a wall of surveillance screens monitored by two more of his girls. "Interested in somebody, or is this a social call?" He smiled cynically at the notion, then snapped his fingers and said to one of the girls who turned alertly to him, "Put Mr. Rawson up on number three."

So I was treated to a rerun of my encounter with Chickie Hickey after I had walked into de Sade’s.

"Know her?" I asked Artie.

"Aussie. Minor roles in three movies. Her agent’s Johnny Padre."

"Once she got on to me she was ginky. More than they usually are. I’ll probably look her up again before I leave. How often do you see Mal Scarlett in the club?"

"Two, three times a week. Sometimes Mal and her entourage close up the place. They’re good for business. You saw the paparazzi outside. Like flies on spoiled meat." He laughed softly, then went on about Mal. "Great body, birdshit for brains. Enough money to paper the Louvre. Guilt money. Mother Ida gave Mal the boot, of course, when she got infected. I don’t have to tell you about Ida Grace." Artie sipped his tea, staring at me, a fat mauled lid nearly obscuring his left eye. "Mal’s daddy died, didn’t he?"

"A bug he picked up in the tropics conked both kidneys."

"The Rawsons live next to the Graces, so you must’ve known Mal when she was a kid. And her older sister. What was her name?"

"Elena Grace. Half sister."

"Disappeared too, didn’t she? Ever learn what happened to her?"

As far as I knew I might have been the last one to see Elena alive. When she begged me to kill her. I was in love with her, so of course I hadn’t. But sometimes, in the throes of the bad mean blues, with no clue to Elena’s fate, I thought it might have been merciful to do what she’d asked of me.

"I don’t think Mal has disappeared," I said. "Probably just holed up somewhere with the rock star du jour. WEIR reported that she went off- line at 0110 hours Friday."

"Off- line?" Artie mused. "Lose many that way?"

"More and more lately, it seems." My turn. "What do you know about the First Church of Lycanthropy?"

Artie cocked his head slightly, as if he might have detected a certain grimness in my question.

"How it got started? Don’t know. One thing I can tell you, it’s more entrepreneurial than religious."

"Or political?"

"All religion is politics. One way or another."

Beatrice looked up from her laptop and shook her shapely head, sprinkles of stardust in her close- cropped hair glinting at me.

"I’ve checked all the up- to- the- minute Bleat blogs," she said. "Mal Scarlett, she lay low."

"She’ll turn up," Artie predicted. "No technology is perfect, I guess."

I had a hunch there was more Artie could have told me— about Mal, or the First Church of Lycanthropy. An oddball religion so astutely promoted had to be a cover for something else. But Artie always had been a miser with info that might eventually be worth a bundle to him. My resources as an ILC employee were limited.

I got up from the lounge chair to prowl around the office, a converted loft with fifteen- foot ceilings and two skylights. The she- Lycans didn’t exactly bristle at my passing, but their tension was evident. Bea, on the other hand, was High Blood: she just grinned at me when I gave her a thank- you pat on one shoulder.

No visit to Artie’s would have been complete without a look at the latest of his boojum trees that he couldn’t manage to keep alive indoors in spite of compulsive pampering. But maybe that was his problem: too much love for something basically unlovable.

The boojum was a spindly, fuzzy- looking thing in the glow of full- spectrum lights trained on it. In the wild, and fully mature, they grew past fifty feet in height. This one was just getting a good start at ten feet; beneath one of the pyramidal skylights it still had room to grow.

Excerpted from High Bloods by John Farris.
Copyright 2009 by Penny Dread ful.
Published in July 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.