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Bite Me: A Love Story

Bite Me: A Love Story

Chapter 14

 

14. The Samurai of Jackson Street II

Katusumi Okata had lived among the gaijin for forty years. An American art dealer, traveling through Hokkaido in search of woodblock prints from the Edo period, had come into Katusumi's father's workshop, seen the boy's prints, and offered to bring Okata to San Francisco to create prints for his gallery on Jackson Street. The printmaker had lived in this same basement apartment since. He'd once had a wife, Yuriko, but she had been killed in front of him on the street when he was twenty-three, so now he lived alone.

The apartment had a concrete floor covered by two grass mats, a table that held his printmaking tools, a two-burner stove, an electric kettle, his swords, a futon, three sets of clothes, an old phonograph, and now, a burned-up white woman. She really didn't go with anything else, no matter how he arranged her.

He thought he might make a series of prints of her-her blackened, skeletal form posed about the apartment like some demon wraith from a Shinto nightmare, but the composition wasn't working. He walked up to Chinatown and bought a bouquet of red tulips and put them on the futon beside her, but even with the added color and design element, the picture wasn't working. And she was making his futon smell like burned hair.

Okata was not used to company, and he wasn't sure how to keep up his end of the conversation. He had once made friends with two rats who came out of a hole in the brick wall. He had talked to them and fed them on the condition that they not bring any friends, but they hadn't listened and he was forced to mortar up the hole. He figured they didn't speak Japanese.

To be fair, however, she wasn't doing very well holding up her side of the conversation, either-lying there like a bog person dipped in creosote, her mouth open as if in a scream of agony. He sat on a stool next to the futon with his sketch pad and a pencil and began to sketch her for a print. He had very much admired the great cape of red curls that streamed out behind her when he'd seen her on the street, and he was sorry that all but a few strands had burned away in the sun. A shame. Perhaps he could draw the red curls in anyway. Make them swirl around the blackened rictus like one of Hokusai's waves.

He knew what she was, of course. He was still healing from his encounter with the vampire cats, and it took no little bit of sketching to fill in the details, especially as her fangs were pointing prominently at his ceiling right now and they were far too long and sharp to be those of a normal burned-up white girl. He filled three pages with sketches, experimenting with angles and composition, but on the fourth page he found that a sadness had overcome him that he could not chase away with the moment created in making a drawing.

Katusumi retrieved his wakizashi short sword from the stand on his work table, unsheathed it, and knelt by the futon. He bowed deeply, then put the point of the sword on the pad of his left thumb and cut. He held his thumb over her open mouth and the dark blood dripped over her teeth and lips.

Would she be like the cats? Savage? A monster? He held the razor-edged wakizashi ready in his right hand, should a demon awake. But if he'd been able to raise his beloved Yuriko, even as a demon, wouldn't he have? All the years that had passed, kendo training, drawing, carving, meditating, walking the streets unafraid, alone, hadn't they all been about that? About making Yuriko live? Or not living without her?

When the burned-up girl jerked with a great, rasping intake of breath, cinders cracked off her ribs and peppered the yellow futon and water began to flow from the swordsman's eyes.

RIVERA AND CAVUTO
Marvin the cadaver dog took them to the Wine Country. There they found Bummer and Lazarus, the Emperor's dogs, guarding a Dumpster in an alley behind an abandoned building. Marvin pawed the Dumpster, and tried to stay on task while the Boston terrier sniffed his junk and the golden retriever looked around, a little embarrassed.

Nick Cavuto held the lid, ready to lift it. "Maybe we should call the Wong kid and see if our sunlight jackets are done, then open it."

"It's daylight," said Rivera. "Even if there are, uh, creatures in there, they'll be immobile." Rivera still had a very difficult time saying the word "vampires" out loud. "Marvin says there's a body in there, we need to look."

Cavuto shrugged, lifted the lid of the Dumpster and braced himself for a wave of rotten meat smell, but there was none.

"Empty."

Bummer barked. Marvin pawed at the side of the Dumpster. Lazarus chuffed, which was dog for, "Duh. Look behind it."

Rivera looked in. Other than a couple of broken wine bottles and the rice part of a taco combo plate, there was nothing in the Dumpster, yet Marvin still pawed at the steel, which was the signal he had been trained to give when he'd found a corpse.

"Maybe we should give Marvin a biscuit to reset him or something," said Rivera.

"No corpse, no biscuit, that's the rule," said Cavuto. "We all have to live by it."

At the mention of a biscuit both Bummer and Marvin stopped what they were doing, sat, looked dutiful and contrite, and gave Rivera the "I need and deeply deserve a biscuit" look. Frustrated with what biscuit whores his cohorts were, Lazarus went to the side of the Dumpster and started pawing the space between it and the wall, then tried to stuff his muzzle in behind it.

Cavuto shrugged, pulled on a pair of form-fitting mechanics gloves from his jacket pocket, and pulled the cement blocks from under the Dumpster's wheels. Rivera watched in horror as the realization hit that he was probably going to get Dumpster schmutz, or worse, on his expensive Italian suit.

"Man up, Rivera," Cavuto said. "There's police work to be done."

"Shouldn't we call some uniforms in to do it? I mean, we're detectives."

Cavuto stood up and looked at his partner. "You really believe the movies when James Bond kills thirty guys hand to hand, blows up the secret lair, gets set on fire, then escapes under water and his tux doesn't even get wrinkled, don't you?"

"You can't just buy one of those off the rack," Rivera said. "It's a high-tech fabric."

"Just give me a hand with this thing, would you?"

Once the Dumpster was in the middle of the alley, the three dogs more or less dogpiled in front of the boarded-up window, Marvin doing his highly trained, "There's a dead guy in here, give me a biscuit" paw scrape, Bummer barking like he was announcing the big sale event down at Yap-mart and everything had to go, and Lazarus rolling out a long, doleful howl.

"Probably in there," said Cavuto.

"Ya think?" said Rivera.

Cavuto was able to work his fingers between the sheet of plywood and the window frame and pulled it out. Before he could even set it aside Bummer had leapt through the window into the darkness. Lazarus pawed the windowsill, then leapt after his companion. Marvin, the cadaver dog, backed away, then ruffed twice and tossed his head, which translated to, "No, I'm good, you guys go ahead, just give me my biscuit. I'll be over here-well, would you look at that-those balls definitely need some tongue attention. No, it's okay, go on without me."

Marvin had a nose that could distinguish as many different odors as the human eye could colors, in the range of sixteen million distinct scents. Unfortunately, his doggie brain had a much more limited vocabulary for giving name to those scents and he processed what he smelled as: dead cats, many, dead humans, many, dead rats, many, poo and wee, many flavors, none fresh, and old guy who needs a shower; none of which would have given him pause. The smell that he couldn't file, that he didn't have a response for, that stopped him at the window, was a new one: dead, but not dead. Undead. It was scary, and licking his balls calmed him and kept his mind off the biscuit that they owed him.

Rivera shone his flashlight around the room. The basement appeared empty but for piles of debris and a thick layer of dust and ash over the floor, textured with the paw prints of hundreds of cats. He could see the movement of Bummer and Lazarus just at the edge of the flashlight's beam. They were scratching at a metal door.

"We'll need the crowbar out of the car," said Rivera.

"You're going in there?" asked Cavuto. "In that suit?"

Rivera nodded. "There's something down there, one of us has to."

"You're a goddamn hero, Rivera, that's what you are. A real, dyed in the worsted wool and silk blend hero."

"Yeah, there's that, and you can't fit through the window."

"Can too," said Cavuto.

Five minutes later they were both standing in the middle of the basement, fanning their Surefire ballistic flashlights through the dust like they were wielding silent light sabers. Rivera led the way to the steel door that the hounds were going at as if someone had duct taped it to a fox.

"You guys, shut up!" Rivera snapped, and much to his surprise, Bummer and Lazarus fell silent and sat.

Rivera looked back at his partner. "That's spooky."

"Yeah, and praise Willie Mays that's the only spooky thing going on here." Cavuto was a deeply religious San Francisco Giants fan and genuflected whenever he passed the bronze statue of Willie Mays outside the ball park.

"Good point," said Rivera. He tried the door, which didn't budge, but it was clear from the arc plowed into the dust and ashes that it had been opened recently. "Crowbar," he said, reaching back.

Cavuto handed him the crowbar and at the same time drew his gun from his shoulder holster, a ridiculously large Desert Eagle.50-caliber automatic.

"When did you start carrying that thing again?"

"Right after you said the v-word out loud at Sacred Heart."

"It won't stop them, you know."

"It makes me feel better. You want to hold it while I pry the door?"

"If there's a-one of them-in there, they'll be dormant or whatever you call it. It's daytime, they can't attack."

"Yeah, well, just in case they didn't get the memo."

"I got it." Rivera fit the crowbar in the door jamb and threw his weight against it. On the third push, something snapped and the door scraped open an inch. Bummer and Lazarus were up instantly, with their noses in the gap. Rivera looked back at Cavuto, who nodded, and Rivera pulled the door open and stepped away.

A pile of shelving and junk blocked the doorway, but Bummer and Lazarus were able to thread their way through it and were in the room, barking in frantic, desperate yelps. Through a gap in the junk, Rivera played the beam of his flashlight around the small storeroom, over barrels, shelving, and piles of dusty clothing.

"Clear," he said.

Cavuto joined him in the doorway. "Clear, my ass." The big cop kicked his way through the barricade, holding his flashlight high in one hand and the Desert Eagle trained on a row of barrels on the right side of the room, where Bummer and Lazarus were currently indulging a hurricane-level doggie freakout.

Rivera followed his partner into the room, then approached the barrels while Cavuto covered him. Beyond the barking, he heard a faint metal tapping coming from one of the barrels. The barrel was upside-down and had held some kind of solid, the label said something about water-filtering mineral. It was sitting on its lid, which was only partially crimped on.

"Something's in there."

"Plug your ears," said Cavuto, cocking the hammer on the Desert Eagle, and aiming for the center of the barrel.

"Are you high? You can't fire that thing in here."

"Well there's can't and there's shouldn't. I probably shouldn't fire it."

"Cover me, I'm pushing it over."

Before Cavuto could answer Rivera grabbed the edge of the barrel and shoved with all his might. It was heavy, and fell hard. Bummer and Lazarus rocketed around to the exposed lid and were pawing at it.

"Ready?" said Rivera.

"Go," said Cavuto.

Rivera kicked the edge of the lid and it clanked off, then landed with a dull thud in the thick dust on the floor. Bummer rocketed inside while Lazarus frisked back and forth outside.

Rivera drew his weapon and moved to where he could look into the barrel. He was met first by a gray storm of hair, then two crystal blue eyes set in a wide, weathered face.

"Well that was unpleasant," said the Emperor, around the sloppy bath of dog spit he was receiving from Bummer.

"I'll bet," said Rivera, lowering his weapon.

"I may require some assistance extricating myself from this container."

"We can do that," said Cavuto. Cavuto was fighting back a very bad case of the empathy willies, imagining himself spending a night, maybe longer, upside-down, shoved inside a barrel. He and the Emperor were about the same size. "You in pain?"

"Oh no, thank you, I lost the feeling in my arms and legs quite some time ago."

"I'm guessing you didn't get in there on your own, did you?" said Rivera.

"No, this was not my doing," said the Emperor. "I was roughly handled, but it appears to have saved my life. There wasn't enough room in the barrel for any of them to become solid. There were hundreds of the fiends around me. But you saw them as you came in, I'm sure."

Rivera shook his head. "You mean the cats? No, there are tracks everywhere, but the place is empty."

"Well that's not good," said the Emperor.

"No, it's not." Rivera was distracted. He'd been playing his flashlight beam around the room, looking for something to help them get the Emperor out of the barrel. He stopped the beam on a spot by the shelves where the dust hadn't been stirred by their rescue efforts. There, as clearly as if it had been made in plaster of Paris to send home for Mother's Day, was a single human footprint. "That's not good at all," he said.

From outside the window Marvin barked three times quickly, which Rivera thought was a warning, but translated from dog to: "Hey, can I get a friggin' biscuit out here, or what?"

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