Deleted chapter from The Canvas Thief: How Benjamin Black met Breas Montrose. This chapter got the axe during revision because it was what I call author indulgence. Basically, it amounts to a lot of useless backstory and worldbuilding, some of which–the allusion to Regan O’Connell–is totally pointless.
Benjamin traced the letter “M” in the dust of the Volvo’s dashboard, thinking he should wash his car before he took Maya anywhere in it again. Stalling, he added the next three letters of her name. He squinted through the windshield–also grubby–at the door to Breas’s apartment, wondering how many “favors” he could ask the vampire before the price got too high. He knew he should resent the vampire for demanding compensation for helping Maya, then again, the nonhuman races weren’t known for granting free favors.
Besides, if not for Breas Montrose, he’d still be living in a cheap motel, surviving by picking pockets and growing sicker at heart every day.
He hates being cold.
He’s pretty sure that’s the word to describe the sensation pummeling him, creeping deep under his skin and making his teeth chatter so hard it seems they might crack. Awash in new sensations since yesterday in the diner, he’s hard pressed to assign the correct words to everything he’s feeling.
He’s sure what he experienced last night with the waitress from the diner wasn’t “cold.” Remembering the amazing rush of joy warms him a bit. Unfortunately, it also leads to a painful erection, administering a lesson in the appropriate time and place for those kind of thoughts. Though not well versed on the intricacies of sexual decorum, what little knowledge he carries from NeoVerse tells him walking around in public with a boner will probably get him arrested faster than picking pockets. For a few heartbeats, he’s grateful for the cold rain that started about ten seconds after he walked out the waitress’s–Emma’s–apartment.
Which brings him to his next dilemma–money. Along with an eye-opening excursion into the land of naked fun, Emma had provided breakfast. Four hours and a million teeth-chattering shivers later, he is now cold, wet and hungry.
Before this insufferable cold, before the sex, there was NeoVerse. There’s no question he’s somewhere other than NeoVerse. He suspects that “somewhere” is the mysterious Real that some speak of in NeoVerse. The Real is the place where everyone in NeoVerse originated, but few will ever actually see it. In time, nearly every being in NeoVerse will Fade away into EverVerse, a locale as mysterious as the Real, but much more inevitable.
Benjamin, like everyone else in NeoVerse, had accepted this without much analysis. Content with navigating the peculiar constructs of a world designed by young human minds–if “content” can be applied to someone with no real emotions–he never pondered the vagaries of how life might differ in the three worlds.
He does know, however, that money is the only means of getting anything in the Real. The idea of money in NeoVerse is rather fluid, especially since some children literally think the stuff grows on trees. But he’s probably picked up a great deal about the Real from Maya Stephenson’s stories. Maya Stephenson. He knows the name, but doesn’t really understand what it means.
So he sits at a covered picnic table by San Diego’s Harbor, out of the rain but not the wind, shivers and watches tethered sailboats bob on the water. His jeans, T-shirt and long sleeve pullover, all black, are dripping wet and his black running shoes squish when he walks. A man hurries by, dressed in a dark blue suit and carrying an umbrella. The man’s jacket flaps in the breeze and Benjamin gets a view of a wallet in an inner pocket.
Benjamin lifts his right hand and studies it, eyes following paths up and down the long bones of his fingers and down to the wrist that juts from the black material of his sopping wet sleeve. In NeoVerse these nimble fingers could pick any lock. He can’t remember actually picking a pocket, but he’s certain the skill is in him.
The man continues down the walkway toward the Embarcadero and its shops. Benjamin’s stomach growls and he presses his fingers to his abdomen, surprised by the near pain of his hunger. He tries to ignore the needling of his empty stomach, waiting for some time–he has no watch–until the rain finally stops. Darting a glance in the direction the man went, he takes a corner of his shirt and tries to squeeze out some of the water. Maybe if he were dry, his hunger wouldn’t be so persistent. The correlation doesn’t make sense, but then, nothing makes sense to him at the moment.
After a while, the sun shoves through the clouds and soon more people start to emerge from whatever dry spot they had taken shelter in. Watching as they move about, up and down the path, to their boats or on to the shops by the shore, all charged with some sort of purpose, he feels envy for the first time. His stomach growls again.
Although there is something about the decision that bothers him, he rises and follows the course the man took. The rain has plastered his hair in his eyes and he slicks it back wondering at the color. Of course, it’s always been red, but he never noticed just how red.
Two young people, teens probably, walked toward him, arms around each other. A couple, he thinks, although the concept has a new context in light of his previous night with Emma. The young woman gives him a quick look and he is suddenly conscious of his appearance–wet, bedraggled, unshaven.
He moves through the growing crowd of Saturday shoppers, mostly tourists, along the shore past the quaint little shops made to look like an English village and down to the wharf past Anthony’s Restaurant where the smell of fried fish sets his stomach rumbling. In one pass he has taken six wallets and he’s done it with none of the crudity of the typical pickpocket, no bumping or accidental collisions and stammered apologies.
A short bus ride later, he sits on a bench in Balboa Park and counts his haul. Along with the cash, credit cards, identification and other evidence of six people’s lives, he has acquired a new feeling–guilt.
In the weeks that follow, the guilt grows exponentially with every wallet he lifts. Even though he steers clear of using the stolen credit cards, the cash he steals is enough for a room in a cheap hotel. He buys a jacket and a second set of clothes at a thrift store. He launders the first set of clothes. The majority of his meals are peanut butter sandwiches because they’re cheap and he doesn’t have a refrigerator.
One evening, while going through the checkout at the grocery store, he asks the cashier how to apply for a job. The cashier, a sullen young woman with a constellation of pimples on her left cheek, points to the customer service window. He waits in line while a pear shaped woman demands a refund because her plums aren’t purple enough. Finally, he is given an application. Taking it back to his hotel, he finds that the only thing he can fill out on the sheet is his name. Social Security numbers, references and employment history. He can read the words, but they make no sense to him.
His ability to read is the one bright spot. He finds the public library on his third day in the Real–he’s decided he must be in the Real. A library card is out of the question, again because he has none of the things that build an identity in this world, so he spends most of his days at the library, reading anything that might tell him more about the world he now inhabits.
A month passes and he’s gone a week without picking pockets. Today, he dodged the greasy-haired attendant at the hotel’s front desk because he hasn’t got the money for rent. It’s a warm Friday evening, and a jazz festival is going on downtown. He cruises down the crowded sidewalks, largely unnoticed. Earnest faced, young men–white men–don’t provoke the conscious and subconscious tendencies to clutch purses closer and check wallets.
But after ten minutes in the crowd, he still hasn’t lifted a wallet. The smell of restaurant food cuts through other city smells, engine exhaust, garbage and the tang of the docks, and hunger impels him to focus on the task at hand. Fighting off a surge of guilt, he scans the crowd.
A dowdy woman in a Barry Manilow tee, pink shorts and flip flops smiles at him and he smiles back, his attention moving away from the voluminous purse she carries unconcerned over her shoulder. Already, he finds that he can’t hit a mark once they make eye contact.
His eyes find a tall, blond, young man who stands in the shadow of an office building, also watching the crowd. The man’s clothes are ordinary, blue jeans, running shoes and a long-sleeve knit top, but something about him suggests money. The blond turns slightly showing Benjamin a boyishly handsome profile. There is something else too, a suggestion of predator in the blonde’s dark eyes, but Benjamin pushes the concern away.
He waits until the young man moves out of the shadows and into the mass of people. Feet moving with the easy stealth of a cat, Benjamin follows as the man wends his way down the sidewalk, stopping behind the man at an intersection. Closing distance so that he is just a few inches away from the man’s back, he moves for his wallet.
And then the wallet is in his hand, free of the man’s back pocket and he is moving away. Except he is stopped dead in his tracks by an icy grip on his wrist. Stunned, his eyes follow a line over the pale hand, up the arm, over shoulders and finally to the cold eyes of the man whose wallet he stole.
“You have something of mine,” says the man. “And with hair like that, you’re far too memorable to make a career out of filching wallets.”
The hand around his wrist tightens and Benjamin feels his bones giving way under the dreadful grip. “I’m sorry. Tuh-take it back. Please.” Something snaps in his wrist and he yelps as his fingers go slack and the wallet drops toward the ground.
The blond smirks and snatches the wallet from the air with his other hand. He jerks Benjamin by the wrist, eliciting a strangled scream, and drags him away from the intersection and into the shadow of a nearby building. A few people turn, curious, but as the man lifts his impassive face to them, they turn away.
This is fear, thinks Benjamin as a frigid tightness grips his bowels. Pain drives the blood from his head and his knees wobble. “Are you a cop?” he says.
“No, but I can find one.” The strange man abruptly lets go of his wrist. “Would you like that?”
“No.” He tries not to cry out from the agony in his wrist, and slides a glance at the street, mapping out an escape.
“Don’t even think about it, Red.” As the man speaks, Benjamin feels a current of vibrant energy wash over him.
“What do you want with me?” asks Benjamin, still sneaking furtive glances at his escape route. He wonders what’s wrong with his wrist. He’s never felt this much pain before.
One eyebrow arched, the man gives him a measuring look. “A strong innate. Interesting.” He steps away and gestures with a tilt of his head. “Come with me.”
“Because I can break more than your wrist.” Without another word, the man turns and heads up the street.
“Broken? You broke my wrist?” Clutching his injured wrist to his chest, he follows the man. “Who are you?” he asks.
“I think the better question is, ‘What are you?”
“Yeah. That too.”
“Vampire.” He turns and a passing car’s headlights reveal that his eyes are dark gray. There is a challenge in the man’s dark eyes, as though he expects Benjamin to refute his statement.
Instead Benjamin says, “What’s that?”
The man stops, surprise looking very odd on his face. He sniffs and then says, “You really don’t know?”
“I think I’ve heard the word, but I’m not sure what it means.”
“Where you from? Someplace, cold, bland and sanitized like the Midwest?”
“No. I don’t know. I mean I think I’m from here.”
“Amnesia?” The man seems to be asking himself the question.
“That’s when somebody loses their memory because of a head injury, right?” Benjamin brightens. He read a story about an amnesiac just today. He shakes his head. “I don’t think so. I haven’t been hit on the head.”
“You sound like your brain’s been scrambled.” The man continues on again assuming that Benjamin will follow. “What’s your name?”
“Benjamin. Benjamin Black.”
They stop a few feet away from a small restaurant’s door. Before Benjamin can even react, the man, the vampire has his wrist in a ferocious grip again. He speaks a string of strange words and pain shoots up Benjamin’s arm from his wrist. He collapses back against the wall, clutching his wrist, which is free of the vampire’s grip. Just as abruptly as the horrific pain began, it’s gone–entirely.
“You look like you need something to eat.” With another “follow me” gesture, the vampire enters the restaurant, a stunned Benjamin following.
He orders a cheeseburger because eating anything more than peanut butter sandwiches is a luxury he is usually loathed to indulge. Eating more expensive food means picking more pockets. The vampire orders nothing but a beer.
“I’m on a liquid diet,” he says, answering Benjamin’s unspoken question. “So do you want a job?”
Benjamin, who in between bites of the burger, has been studying the livid purple bruises on his previously broken wrist, looks at the vampire in surprise. “Yes. That would be good.” Anything that wasn’t picking pockets.
Then a worrisome thought crossed his mind. “But I won’t have to fill out a job application, will I?”
Breas was on the phone when Benjamin entered the apartment. The vampire paced the living room, one hand shoved in his jeans front pocket, the other holding the phone. “Well, yeah, dragons will do that. It’s common knowledge.” Benjamin couldn’t hear the caller’s words, but the voice sounded female and indignant.
“Books are so much more than doorstops, darlin’. Open one for a change.” More indignant noises followed. Breas smirked and said, “I don’t think that physically possible, but I’m willing to try if you are. What are you wearing? Nothing, I hope.”
Benjamin heard the loud click of the caller hanging up. “Who was that?” he asked.
“My arch enemy,” said Breas. “What do you want?”
“An arch enemy?” Curiosity piqued, Benjamin said, “So what would Breas Montrose’s arch enemy be like? Female, it sounds like and–”
“–the destroyer of my happy, undead life as I knew it,” Breas finished. “What do you want? It’s yours if you promise to drop this conversation, now and forever.”
Benjamin gulped. This was too easy. “An Elvish/English dictionary.”
Breas turned and went into his bedroom, emerging minutes later with a red, leather bound book. Benjamin took the book, noting the slight smell of ozone. The Santa Fe apartment wasn’t more than a temporary residence. The vampire probably kept anything valuable stored on a demon Plane or the Fey Plane, and used his ability to fold space to pull his property onto Earth Plane.
“Get out,” said the vampire with such a forceful blast of Mesmer, Benjamin felt his defenses shake.
Knowing better than to stick around when Breas was in one of those moods, Benjamin fled the apartment.
Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved, Patricia Kirby