Halfway to the Grave

Page 24

My face paled considerably listening to him speak, but I wanted to hear the rest. "Go on."

"Lucille informed me two weeks afterwards that I had to go. Wasn't bringing in enough quid to justify the space. It wasn't that she was cruel, she was simply being practical. Another girl could take my room and bring in three times the money. Again she offered me a choice-leave and face the streets, or stay and service the customers. Yet she added a kindness. There were a few highborn women she was acquainted with that she'd described me to, and they were interested. I could choose to sell myself to women rather than men. And so that is what I did.

"The girls at the house trained me first, of course, and it turned out I had a knack for the work. Lucille kept me in high demand and soon I had quite a few regulars among the blue bloods. One of them ended up saving my life.

"I was still picking pockets, you see. One unlucky day, I pulled the purse off a toff right in front of a bobby. Next thing I knew, I was in chains and up before one of the meanest hanging judges in London. One of my clients heard of my predicament and took pity on me. She persuaded the judge through carnal means that sending me to the new penal colonies would be just the thing. Three weeks later they shipped me and sixty-two other unlucky buggers to South Wales."

His eyes clouded, and he ran a hand through his hair reflectively.

"I won't tell you about the voyage except to say it went beyond any misery man should ever have to endure. Once we were at the colony, they worked us literally unto death. There were three men I became mates with-Timothy, Charles, and Ian. After a few months, Ian managed to escape. Then, almost a year later, he came back."

"Why would he come back?" I wondered. "Wouldn't he have been punished for running away?"

Bones grunted. "Indeed he would have, but Ian wasn't afraid of that anymore. We were in the fields slaughtering cattle for beef jerky and the hides when we were set upon by the natives. They killed the guards and the rest of the prisoners except Timothy, Charles, and me. That's when Ian appeared among them, but he was different. You can guess how. He was a vampire, and he changed me that night. Charles and Timothy were changed as well by two other vampires. Though three of us were changed, only one of us asked for it. Timothy wanted what Ian offered. Charles and I didn't. Ian changed us anyway because he thought we would thank him later. We stayed with the natives for a few years and vowed to return to England. It took us nearly twenty years to finally get there."

He stopped and closed his eyes. At some point in his story I'd uncurled myself from my ball and sat staring at him in amazement. He was absolutely right, it wasn't a pretty story, and I hadn't had any idea what he'd been through.

"Your turn." His eyes opened to stare right into mine. "Tell me what happened with that sod who hurt you."

"God, Bones, I don't want to talk about that." I hunched defensively at the memory. "It's humiliating."

That dark gaze didn't waver. "I just told you that I used to be a thief, a beggar, and a whore. Is it really fair for you to cry foul over my question?"

Put like that, he had a point. With a shrug to hide my continued pain, I summarized it briskly.

"It's a common story. Boy meets girl, girl is na?ve and stupid, boy uses girl and then hits the road."

He just arched his brow and waited.

I threw up my hands. "Fine! You want details? I thought he really cared for me. He told me he did, and I fell for his lies completely. We went out twice, and then the third time he said he had to stop by his apartment to get something before we'd go to this club. When we got there, he started kissing me, telling me all this crap about how special I was to him..." My fingers clenched. "I told him it was too soon. That we should wait to get to know each other better, that it was my first time. He disagreed. I-I should have hit him, or thrown him off me. I could have, I was stronger than he was. But..." I dropped my eyes. "I wanted to make him happy. I really liked him. So when he didn't stop, I just stayed still and tried not to move. It didn't hurt as much if I didn't move..."

God, I was going to cry. I blinked rapidly and took in an uneven breath, pushing back the recollection. "That's about it. One miserable time and then he didn't call me anymore. I was worried at first-I thought something bad might have happened to him." Bitter laugh. "The next weekend I found him making out with another girl at the same club where we were supposed to go. He told me then that he'd never really liked me and to run along because it was past my bedtime. That same night, I killed my first vampire. In a way I owe it to being used. I was so upset I wanted to either die or murder someone. At least having some creature try to rip out my throat guaranteed me one or the other."

Bones didn't make any of his usual mocking quips. When I dared to meet his eyes again, he was simply staring at me, no scorn or judgment on his face. The silence stretched, seconds into minutes. It filled with something unexplainable as we kept looking in each other's eyes.

The sudden jostling of the trailer broke the trance as the vehicle ground to a stop. With a slight shake, Bones leapt down from his perch and headed to the rear of the car.

"We're nearly at the place, and there's still work to be done. Hold open that bag for me, Kitten."

His normal jaunty tone was back. Perplexed by the earlier moment, I joined him at the rear of the trailer.

Bones unwrapped Sergio from his plastic shroud as cheerily as a child ripping through wrapping paper on Christmas. I was holding a kitchen-sized garbage bag and wondering what he was up to.

It didn't take long to find out. With his hands, he twisted Sergio's head off as cleanly as if it were the top on a soda bottle. There was a sickening crunch, and then the withering cranium was unceremoniously dumped into the bag.

"Yuck." I thrust the bag back into his hands. "You take it."

"Squeamish? That lump of rotting skull is worth fifty thousand dollars. Sure you don't want to cradle it a bit?" He smiled his familiar mocking smile, the old Bones again.

"No, thanks." Some things money just couldn't buy, and my spending more time with that head was one of them.

The rear of the trailer opened with a creak and Ted appeared in the artificial light.

"We're here, bud. Hope you both had a smooth ride." His eyes twinkled as he looked back and forth between the two of us.

Instantly I was defensive. "We were talking."

Ted grinned, and I saw Bones hide a smile as he turned to face his friend.

"Come on, mate. We've been driving for, what...fifty minutes? Not nearly enough time."

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