Kalika drives with me to a club in Hollywood. It is one in the morning but the place is still hopping. What I'm supposed to do with my daughter, I'm not sure. It is she who suggests she hide under a blanket in the backseat until I bring out whoever it is who is to be our next barrel of blood. As she crawls under the blanket, she peers up at me with her serious dark blue eyes.
"You'll be warm enough?" I ask.
"I am never cold," she says.
"If you want, you can sleep. Just don't make any noise when I return to the car. I'll take care of everything." I glance at the crowded parking lot. "But I won't be able to knock him out here."
"Take him to a secluded place," Kalika says. "I will help you."
"I told you, I don't want your help."
Kalika does the unexpected then. She reaches up and kisses me on the lips. "Be careful, Mother. You are not who you used to be."
Her kiss warms me, her words give me a chill. "You know what I used to be?"
"Yes. He told me."
"How come you never call him Father?"
"You call him Ray. I call him Ray."
"But he calls me Sita."
"Do you want me to call you Sita?"
"No, it doesn't matter." I pause. "Do you like Ray?"
She shrugs. "How I feel--I can't explain to you at this time."
"You are not ready to hear."
"When will I be ready to hear?"
"You know this?"
She pulls the blanket over her head. "I know many things, Mother."
The music is loud as I enter the club, the strobe lights flashing, unnatural thunder and psychedelic solar flares to match the scrambled brains of the alcohol-saturated clientele. I am, of course, a superb dancer, even without my vampire strength. Without looking around, I leap onto the dance floor and wait for my daughter's next meal to come to me. Guilt makes me less discriminating. Let destiny decide who is to suffer, I will not.
A man about thirty, with an expensive sports coat and a thin black mustache joins me within a few minutes. His speech is educated; he could be an Ivy League graduate, a young lawyer with something profitable on the side. His watch is a Rolex, his single gold earring studded with a carat diamond. He is not handsome but his face is likable. He speaks smoothly.
"Mind if I butt in?" he asks.
I smile, whirling, my hair in my eyes. "There's no one to butt out."
He chuckles. "Hey, you're a real dancer."
"You're not bad yourself. What's your name?"
"Cynthia. But you can call me Cindy."
He grins, he's having a good time. "I'll call you whatever you want."
After twenty minutes on the floor, he buys me a couple of drinks. We catch our breath over them at the bar. I was right, he's a lawyer but he insists he's an honest one.
"I don't represent shmucks and I don't fudge my billing hours," he says proudly, sipping his Bloody Mary, my drink of choice when I am on the prowl. I am already on my second. The alcohol soothes my nerves, although I don't suppose it sharpens my reflexes. At my waist, above my butt and beneath my leather jacket, I carry my pistol and silencer. But I know I won't need it on Billy. He will go the way of Eric, to endless misery. Guilt hangs over my head but I keep it away with a stiff umbrella of denial.
"What firm are you with?" I ask.
"Gibson and Pratch. They're in Century City. I live in the valley. The traffic's hell coming over the San Diego Freeway in the morning. What do you do?"
"I'm a music teacher," I say.
"Cool. What instrument do you play?"
"Piano, some violin."
"Wow, that's incredible. I have an expensive piano that was left to me by my rich uncle. I've always meant to take lessons, but never got around to it." He pauses and then has a brilliant idea. God inspires it. I know what it is; he hasn't been able to take his eyes off my body. "Hey, will you play me something on my piano?"
I laugh and look around. "Did you bring it with you?"
"No, at my place. It doesn't take long to get there at this time of night."
I hesitate. "Like you say, Billy, it's late. I have to get up in the morning."
"Nah! You're a teacher. You call your students and tell them when you want to see them. Really, we can go in my car. I've got a brand-new Jag."
I'm impressed. "I love Jags." I glance uneasily at my watch, playing the role to the hilt. "OK, but I'm going to have to follow you there. That way I can head straight back to my place after your song."
Billy is pleased as he sets down his drink. "I'll drive slowly. I won't lose you."
Kalika is asleep when I return to the car. Her soft rhythmic breathing follows me as I steam onto the freeway and chase Billy's Jag into the valley. He has lied to me--he drives like a maniac.
My plan is simple. I will knock him out the second we get inside, then load him into my trunk. He looks like he's been drinking all night, an easy mark. He won't even know what hit him.
Kalika is still asleep when we reach Billy's place.
I leave my gun in the glove compartment.
Billy's house is modest, considering his new car. The driveway is cracked, the landscaping neglected. He lives in a cul-de-sac. His car disappears into the automatic garage as I park in the street. A moment later he is on the front porch, waving to me. Making sure Kalika is resting comfortably, I get out and walk toward Billy, my boots clicking on the asphalt and concrete. Billy thinks he's in for a night of sex and more sex. His grin as he greets me belongs to a sixteen-year-old. I'm not surprised when he kisses me the moment we're inside with the door closed. His mouth is sweet with the taste of alcohol, his groping hands moist with the thrill of seduction. He presses me against the wall and I have to turn my head to catch my breath.
"Hold on a second, Billy," I protest. "You haven't even shown me the house. And where's your piano?"
He stares at me with a gleam in his eye. "I don't have a piano."
"What do you mean. You said your uncle ..."
"I don't have an uncle," he interrupts.
Right then I smell it. The odor is faint, probably something most young women would miss, but I have had extensive experience with this smell. I don't need supernatural nostrils to identify it. Somewhere in Billy's house, perhaps buried beneath his bed, per?haps cemented into his bathroom floor, is one or more dead bodies. My best estimate as I look deeper into his manic eyes is that it is more than one. I curse myself for being such a fool, for being caught off guard. Certainly as a vampire I would have heard his lies a mile away.
Careful, I let none of my insights show on my face.
"That's all right, Billy," I say. "I don't know how to play piano anyway."
He is dizzy with pleasure. "You lied to me?"
"We lied to each other."
There is a single metal click. The sound is very specific, the snap of a switchblade. His right arm begins to slash upward. He is close to me, though, perhaps too close. Giving him a nudge in the chest, I yank my right knee up as hard as I can, catching him clean in the groin. But Billy must have balls of steel. My blow stuns him but he doesn't double up in agony. His switchblade continues its terrifying course toward my throat. Only by twisting to the side at the last second do I manage to avoid having my jugular severed. But even though I momentarily break free, the blade catches the tip of my left shoulder and slices through my leather jacket. The knife is incredibly sharp; it opens a four-inch gash in my tender flesh. Blood spurts from my body as I stagger into the center of the living room.
How I long for my pistol right then.
Billy limps toward me, holding his bloody knife in his right hand, his bruised crotch in his left. He grins again but he is no longer a happy-go-lucky serial killer.
"You are a spunky little bitch," he says.
I grab a vase of flowers and cock it back in my right hand. "Stop! I'll scream if you don't."
He laughs. "My nearest neighbors are all old and hard of hearing. This house is completely soundproof. Scream all you want, Cindy."
"My name's not Cindy. Yours isn't Billy."
He is surprised. "Who are you then?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because I want to know before you die."
I harden my voice. "I am Sita, of the ancient past. I am older than I look and I have dealt with scum like you before. It is you who will die this night, and I don't care what your name is."
He charges, and he moves fast for a nonvampire. The vase, of course, I throw at him merely to upset his balance. But he seems to know that ahead of time; he ducks and prepares for my real blow. I am already in the air, however, lashing out with my right foot, the heel of my boot, aiming for the sensitive spot on his jaw that professional boxers covet. One hard punch will put him out cold.
Unfortunately my human muscles fail me once again. I am short on the reach. As a result my devastating kick barely contacts his jaw. The blow backs him up, cuts him even, but it by no means puts him down. Wiping at his face, he has hatred in his eyes.
"Where did you learn this stuff?" he demands.
"Through a correspondence course," I snap as I begin to circle. Now I have lost the element of surprise. He watches my feet as he stalks me with his knife. Someone has trained him as well, I see. He does not lunge carelessly, but plots his strikes. One such swipe of his knife slashes open the back of my right hand. The pain is electric, burning, my blood is everywhere. Still, I maintain my balanced stance, circling, searching for an opening. He is skilled at defense; however, he never stops moving his arms. I know I can't let him catch my leg. He would probably saw off my foot, and make me watch.
Then he makes a mistake. Going for my eyes, he subtly telegraphs his intention. My initial reaction is simple--I duck. Then I leap up just after the knife swishes over my head and sweep his lower legs with my left foot. The move is kung fu, very old and effective. Billy, or whoever the hell he is, topples to the floor. I am on him in an instant. When he tries to rise, I kick him in the face, then again in the chest. He smashes into his coffee table and his knife bounces on the blood-stained carpet and I kick it away. Lying on his back, breathing hard, he stares at me in amazement. Standing over him, I feel the old satisfaction of triumph. I step on his left wrist and pin his arm to the floor.
"I actually can play the piano," I say. "If you had an instrument here, I would play Mozart's Requiem for the dead after I stuff you in a closet."
He still has a weird gleam in his eye. "Is your name really Sita?"
"How old are you? You're older than you look, huh?"
"Yes. How old are you and how do you want to die?"
He grins. "I'm not going to die."
"No." And with that, before I can react, he pulls out a snub-nose silver revolver and points it at my head. "Not tonight, Sita."
Once again I am furious at myself, for not taking him out immediately when he was helpless. I know what my problem is. I am used to playing with my victims, a luxury I can no longer afford now that I am mortal. There is no way I can dodge the bullet he can send hurtling to my brain. It is his game now. Taking my foot off his wrist, I back up a couple of steps. He gets up slowly and guards me carefully. He is not one to repeat a mistake, as the odor in his house testifies.
"How many girls have you killed here?" I ask.
"Twelve." He grins. "You're going to be lucky number thirteen."
"Thirteen is traditionally an unlucky number," I remind him.
He gestures with his gun. "On your knees. Keep your hands on top of your head. No sudden moves."
I do as he says. Like I have a lot of choice. The blood from my hand wound drips into my hair and over my face. Like those of a full-fledged vampire, my tears are once again dark red. My situation is clearly desperate, and I cannot think of a dear course of action. He ties my wrists behind my back with nylon cord. Although I can work my way out of any knot, even with my current strength, he complicates my dilemma by redoing the knots several times over. When he is finished he crouches in front of me and takes out his switchblade. He plays with my hair with the tip of the blade, with my eyes even, letting the silver razor brush the surface of the whites. I won't be surprised if he gouges one of my eyes out and eats it.
"You're so beautiful," he says.
"All my girls have been beautiful." He leans close, his breath on my face, his knife now inside my right nostril. "You know, I never met a girl like you. Not only can you fight, you are totally fearless."
I smile sweetly. "Yeah, I could be your partner. Why don't you untie me and we can talk about it?"
He laughs. "See! That's exactly what I mean. You make jokes in the face of death." He slides the knife a little farther up my nose and loses his smile. A typical serial killer, moody as hell. "But some of your jokes aren't that funny. Some of them annoy me. I don't like to annoyed."
I swallow thickly. "I can understand that."
He pokes the inside of my nose and a narrow line of blood pours over my mouth and down my throat. His eyes are inches from mine, his mouth almost close enough to lick my blood. I am afraid he will do that next, and not like the taste. It hurts to have a switchblade up my right nostril. Still, I cannot think of a way out of my situation. Yet I find I am more concerned about Kalika, asleep in the car, than I am about myself. Truly I am a good mother. It was only my love for my daughter that brought me into this evil place. Krishna will understand.
I feel I will be seeing him soon.
"You know what I don't like about you?" he asks. "It's your cockiness. I had a cocky girlfriend in high school once. Her name was Sally and she was so sure of herself." He pauses. "Until she lost her nose and her lips. A girl with only half a face is never a smart mouth."
I wisely keep my mouth shut.
There is a knock at the front door.
Billy pulls the knife higher, still inside my nose, forcing my head back. "Don't make a sound," he whispers. "There is dying all at once and there is dying piece by piece. Believe me, I can take a week to kill you if you try to get their attention."
My eyelashes flash up and down. Yes, I understand and agree.
I know who is at the door. The person knocks again.
Billy is sweating. Clearly he fears some noise has escaped his soundproof spider's lair and that a neigh?bor has called the police. All he can do is wait and worry. But he is not kept in suspense long. The door slowly opens and a beautiful five-year-old girl with stunning dark hair and large black-blue eyes pokes her head inside.
"Mother," Kalika says. "Are you OK?"
Billy is astounded and immensely relieved. He lowers his switchblade. "Is that your daughter?" he asks.
"What is she doing here?"
"She came with me. She was sleeping in the car."
"Well, I'll be goddamned. I didn't know you had a daughter."
"There are a few things about me you don't know." I glance at Kalika, wondering what I should do: be a good mother, warn her to get away, or remain silent and try to get out of this hell hole alive. Honestly, I don't know how quick Kalika is, exactly how strong she is. But a vampire her size and her age could take Billy. I speak carefully, "I am not OK, darling."
"I told you," she replies.
Billy withdraws his knife and stands in front of me. He is bleeding as well, and he has plenty of my blood on him. He holds his messy knife in his right hand and he has his shiny revolver tucked in his belt. Plus the light in his eyes is radioactive. He looks as trustworthy as Jack the Ripper on a PCP high. Yet he gestures to Kalika to come closer, as if he were Santa Claus anxious to hear her wish list.
"Come here, darling," he says in a sweet voice.
And she comes, slowly, observing every blessed detail: the composition of the floor, how Billy stands, the height of the ceiling, the arrangement of the furniture--moving precisely the way an experienced vampire would move while closing in for the kill. Her arms hang loose by her sides, her legs slightly apart, well-balanced, and she is up on her toes so that she can move either way fast. Billy senses there is some?thing odd about her. When she is ten feet from him, he drops his smile. For my apart, I watch in wonder and terror. Only then do I realize the full extent of my love for my daughter. I would rather die a dozen times over than have anything happen to her.
"What's your name, sweetie?" Billy asks when she stops directly in front of him. His voice is uneasy, perhaps as a result of the power of her stare, which is now locked on his face. Kalika tilts her head slightly to one side, ignoring me for the moment.
"Kalika," she says.
He frowns. "What kind of name is that, child?"
"It's a Vedic name. It's who I am."
"What does it mean?" he asks.
"It has many meanings. Most of them are secret." She finally gestures to me. "You've hurt my mother. She's bleeding."
Billy gives an exaggerated sigh. "I know that Kalika, and I'm sorry. But it was your mother who hurt me first. I only hurt her back to defend myself."
Kalika doesn't blink. "You are lying. You are not a good man. But your blood is good. I will drink it in a moment." She pauses. "You can put your knife and your gun down now. You will not need them."
Billy is having a night of amazement. His face breaks into a wolfish grin and he looks down at me. "What kind of nonsense have you been teaching this child, Sita?"
I shrug. "She watches too much TV."
Billy snorts. "God, I can't believe this family." He takes a step toward my daughter, his knife still in his right hand. "Come here, girl. I'm putting you in the other room. I have business with your mother that can't wait. But I'll let you out in a little while, if you behave yourself." Billy holds out his free hand. "Come, give me your hand."
Kalika innocently reaches up and takes his hand. She even allows his fingers to close around her tiny digits. But then, in a move too swift for human eyes to properly follow, she grabs his other hand, twists his wrist at an impossible angle, and rams the knife into his stomach. Literally the blade is sunk up to the hilt. An expression of surprise and grief swallows Billy's face as he stares down at what she has done to him. Slowly, as if in a dream, he lets go of the knife. It is obvious his right wrist is broken. Blood gushes over his pants and Kalika stares at it with her first sign of pleasure.
"I am hungry," she says.
Billy gasps for air but finally he is getting the idea that he is in mortal danger, that he might be, in fact, already screwed. Summoning his failing strength, he makes a swipe for Kalika's head. But she is not standing where she was an instant before, and he misses. She is her mother's daughter. Twice she kicks with her right foot, with her shiny black shoes that I bought for her at the mall, and the cartilage in both his joints explodes. Falling to his shattered knees, he lets out a pitiful scream.
"How can you do this to me?" he cries.
Kalika steps over and grabs him by his hair and pulls his head back, exposing his throat. The calm on her face is eerie even for me to see.
"If you understood the full meaning of my name," she says, "you would have no need to ask."
Billy dies piece by piece, drop by drop.
Kalika satisfies herself before she releases me.
Even I, Sita the Damned, cannot bear to watch.
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