22 Twenty-Two

    Another two days passed before I remembered Lydia and Kevin again, and as soon as I remembered, early Wednesday night, I got up off the ugly couch and went to their apartment. I needed to hunt, but I could wait until afterward.

    Their building was nicer than mine: less graffiti inside and out, fewer people living in the halls, less potent marijuana odor. Instead, the halls smelled like they were long accustomed to tasting Indian spices, as though generations of tenets had made curry and dal and raita and bhaturas here. It was enough to make a vampire drool with nostalgia.

    I knocked on Kevin and Lydia's door and waited. I could hear music and televisions and voices and movement all around me, but I couldn't tell if it came from their apartment or from one of the others.

    I was wondering whether I should knock again or come back later when the door opened so hard that I could hear the inner knob slam into the stopper on the wall.

    "What are you doing here?" Kevin roared. His eyes bulged out at me.

    "I guess I should have called ahead," I said. Then I saw how his skin looked tight along the jaw, as if the muscle and fat there had grown tight and dry.

    "Why haven't you gone hunting?" I asked. "You look like you're about to fall over."

    "Went to work, came home," he said, and I could see it in his movement, hear it in his voice, how everything was a struggle, how the clarity of his mind was disappearing. "Was going to hunt, but Lydi fell asleep on the couch. Didn't want to wake her. Had to watch Humphrey."

    They still had that thing? Damn, Lydia was a bigger idiot than I'd ever imagined. "You named the kid Humphrey?" I said. "That's just mean."

    His teeth clacked together.

    "Why don't you go, go away, and I'll look after...Humphrey until Lydia wakes up, okay?"

    He stared at me, as though he was translating my words. After a few seconds, he said, "You know anything about babies?"

    "Sure. You dangle them over the garbage disposal until they do what you want, right?"

    I was a moron for joking with him. He probably wasn't faster than me, but it was too close to call, especially when one of us was in desperate need of a drink.

    He only snapped once though, his teeth closing near my ear. I elbowed him in the jaw, and he stepped back, nodded, and left.

    I went into his apartment and closed the door behind me, shutting out all the sounds and smells of the hallway, and took a look around.

    The apartment was filthy. Not only were there clothes and bottles and toys everywhere, but there was a film of dirt or formula or some unidentifiable bodily substance all over the walls and carpet and chairs. One of the chairs was broken; a leg was missing, and it sat tilted on two legs and a caved-in third, like an old man leaning on a crooked stick.

    And a smell seemed to come from all around me, as different from Indian cuisine as a smell could be, as though the air was infected with this odor of sickness and rot.

    And I couldn't hear anything at all. Not one bubbly baby noise, not even a cry.

    I walked further in.

    Lydia was there on the couch, passed out. Not asleep. She had that same tightness around the jaw that I saw on Kevin's face, but worse. I glanced around for the kid, but still didn't see it.

    I went over to Lydia, opened her eyelids, felt her tongue. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for, but I examined her and compared her state to mine when I'd been needing to hunt for awhile. I thought she was pretty bad, but not so bad that I needed to open up a vein for her. Kevin could take care of her when he got back.

    I needed to find the kid.

    The mess and destruction worsened as I walked deeper into the apartment. My sneakers cracked rattles and crushed Cheerios. I searched every room, expecting to find the kid under a newspaper or a pile of dirty laundry.

    I found him on the floor of the bathroom, lying face up on the damp bathmat.

    He didn't move.

    The air seemed to be rushing in and out of my lungs fast. I hadn't been breathing, to keep out the smell, but now I couldn't stop.

    He was so small. He was a baby, just a little thing, something to be held close and protected and kept away from open flame and sick people, not something to be left on the bathroom floor, on a soggy mat.

    I didn't want to get close to him. I bent my knees just far enough to reach him and touched his shoulder with my index finger. He was warm. He even made a little sound. But this baby was nothing like the eager, sucking face in the picture I'd seen at Will's party.

    I bent closer and looked him over. He was thin and pale, dressed only in a diaper that made the whole room smell of ammonia.

    I lifted him up. He cried, a tiny, pathetic noise.

    I held him close to me, imagining that he could get some warmth from my room-temperature body.

    Then I glanced up into the mirror and almost dropped him.

    Along his back and sides, on his shoulders, even in one place on his thigh, were bite marks.

    Some were almost healed. One dripped fresh.

    They were shallow, all of them the result of someone desperate to feed, desperate to do as little harm as possible, to take as little as needed until bigger, fuller prey could be found. The emaciated look of the kid's adoptive parents was still more proof-they had self control, just not quite enough.

    I swallowed and breathed slowly.

    There was a blue bunny-print bag near the door with a few diapers, a few empty bottles, an extra shirt. I changed the kid, dressed him, and set him in his crib. I packed the bag with all the clean clothes and diapers and blankets and unbroken toys I could find, trying not to think about what I was doing.

    Then I put the bag on my arm, lifted the baby as carefully as I could from the crib, and held him against me.

    In the living room, I stared for a few moments at his adoptive mother, the side of her face pressed into a pillow.

    I could imagine her, lying here and listening as the kid screamed from the bathroom, as his adoptive father bit into his thigh.

    I made sure Humphrey was secure in one arm, and with the other hand, I grabbed Lydia by the hair and lifted her head and torso off the couch. Her eyes fluttered for a second, then opened.

    "Pay attention," I told her, our faces an inch apart. "I'm taking the kid away. You or Kevin show up at my apartment, and I'll kill you both."

    I dropped her hair, and she fell back onto the couch, her skull thudding against the arm.

    Her eyes stayed open, followed the baby as I carried him from the apartment.
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