Release Date: August 13, 2009
Publisher: Changeling Press
Publisher Link: http://www.changelingpress.com/product.php?&upt=book&ubid=1212
Blurb: For some time, Michael has suspected that Wild Bill's done more than just dabble in art. As with every other piece of his personal history, Bill plays his cards close to his chest. But when he lets on that a mural he painted before his change might still exist, Michael's dying to see it -- and Bill's never been good at saying no.
Only fragments of the building remain, but it's possible Wild Bill's painting is still there. Unfortunately, there's a lot more in the ruins than Bill and Michael bargained for.
Steam hissed from the dull chrome hulk of the autoclave and wended up the walls, where it seemed like it could work its way into the electrical system and short out the whole building. All the wiring was on the outside of the walls -- the light switches, the conduits holding the wires, the two-pronged outlets without any ground hole. It was as if whoever´d converted the building from gaslight to electricity had never been fully convinced electric power was more than a passing phase, and soon enough they´d simply need to tear it out to make way for the next ridiculous fad.
I suspected Melba was responsible for the code-nightmare that hummed through her building. Directly responsible.
She must´ve taken my staring for admiration. "Yeah, I run a clean shop," she said. Her voice was so low and rough the telemarketers probably addressed her as "sir." If she even had a phone.
"Not like you can catch anything over the Dracula Bug," she added, "but back when I trained, you could lose your arm to a staph infection. Then there goes your shop´s reputation, right down the can."
"I don´t have the --"
"Don´t sass me, kid. You want ink or not?"
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. "Sorry."
She tied a red scarf around her curly brown bob. A few strokes of lipstick and she would´ve looked like Rosie the Riveter, with her men´s slacks and her rolled-back cuffs. Except the arms beneath those cuffs were covered with colorful sleeves of ink. Oriental flowers, dragons, traditional motifs like you´d see on someone´s grandfather -- just as faded, too, though Melba´s skin was still smooth and firm.
"You do piercings, right?" Wild Bill appeared to be talking to one of the many panthers on the wall of flash. "Maybe I should get another tongue stud... or a Prince Albert."
"Don´t tempt fate," Melba warned him. "Vamps shouldn´t pierce anything that might heal shut."
He glanced back over his shoulder at us and leered. "Wouldn´t want to chip Michael´s pretty teeth, anyway."
"You think you can shock me by talking about your pecker? Nothing shocks me. People think sex is shocking? That ain´t the half of it. I see coloreds and whites getting married now when they couldn´t even drink from the same bubbler before. I treated a whole battalion sprayed with mustard gas, skin practically fell right off ´em and they screamed louder than the amputees. And the smell..." Her gaze went somewhere far, far away.
"Which war?" I asked.
"The Great War."
History had never been my strongest subject. I nodded gravely, as if I knew what she was talking about, and made a mental note to check Wikipedia later.
"All right, show me what you want."
I peeled up the sleeve of my T-shirt and showed her the thorn armband Bill had drawn on me earlier.
"That´s not how it´s done -- you draw it out on paper and I make a sterile transfer."
"Bullshit," Bill said amiably. He hiked up the side of his jacket and pointed to one of his tattoos -- I´m not sure which. He´s got a hodgepodge of them that look a lot like the wall of flash. "That´s how I did this one."
Melba gave him a withering look, which he ignored, then she said to me, "If you didn´t have the Dracula Bug, I´d wash it off you and make you start from scratch, and do it right. Good thing bacteria won´t stand a chance against it."
"But I don´t --"
Her mouth was at my ear. I hadn´t even seen her move -- it was like she´d appeared there. "The blood you brought with you to barter -- you drank some of it. I can smell it on you. Maybe you still eat and crap and run around after sunrise, but that bug´s inside you all the same." My heart started hammering in my throat, and she backed off to a more conversational distance. "Don´t look so blue. It´ll be a fine-looking tat."