Noah’s Boy – Snippet 30

Then he thought that of course, the call had been that strong.  But she must be famished and half dead.  He was famished and half dead.  He needed protein to recover from his shift.  So would all of them.  He turned to look at the men.  Well, they’d have to get help from them.  And he supposed listening to them wouldn’t hurt either, since he wanted to know what had got him in this predicament, to figure out how to get out of it.  “Meat,” he said.  “We’ll need protein.  We all shifted.”

“Of course.  If you come to your apartments with your bride and your… assistant, we’ll provide food and clothes.”  He looked up and must have read Tom’s resistance to the whole bride thing in Tom’s eyes, because he said, “And we’ll explain why it is your duty to all dragons to do what you must do.”

* * *

“Tom,” Kyrie said, as she slammed the brakes on, and ran out of the car.  She was hugging him before she realized he was smeared in blood, and stepped back and said, “Ew” at the smears of blood on her clothes.  Tom looked whole, so the blood…

“Whose blood?” she asked.

Tom looked tired, so tired.  He turned to one of the older men in the group and said, “Would you see to the Liu brothers, and put them somewhere until they… recover.”

The man looked like he was going to say something, then sighed.  “The one who is… limbless will…”

“Take longer, yes.”  Now in addition to tired, Tom looked vaguely embarrassed.  “But I’m sure his brother will be back before that and can look after him.”

Again the man looked like he was going to speak, but only nodded.  And looked disapprovingly at Kyrie.  But Kyrie had possessed herself of Tom’s hand, and even though the man glared at their hands, together, he said nothing.

However, as Old Joe, whom Kyrie had decided to bring along, also shambled out of the car, and walked towards them, clacking his teeth, the man looked at him, and then at Tom and said, “That, no.”

Tom looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled, a tired smile at Old Joe.  “He’s a friend,” he told the man, his voice full of sudden hauteur and command.

“He can’t be a friend.  He is –”

“A friend,” Tom insisted.

The man looked like he as on his last nerve.  And how someone could look that disapproving while completely naked, and showing off a little middle-age belly and a lot of white chest hair, Kyrie didn’t know.  But he did.

“Very well.  It is always as the Great One wishes, of course.  Though we’re not used to that rapid a change in policy and without knowing all that lies behind it.”  He bowed to Tom and lead them into the restaurant.  It was closed of course.  It must be…

Kyrie could not remember, but she knew it was well past midnight.  The restaurant had that look the diner only had once a year, when they closed the day after New Year’s and things got really cleaned.  It always spooked Kyrie a little.  It was like entering in a place that had been alive and full of people and finding a silent tomb.

The Three Luck Dragon had the same empty feeling, like eye sockets devoid of eyes, like a house with all the curtains closed, and the rooms in dim lighting.  The dim lighting was true.  There were what appeared to be nightlights burning along the restaurant, here and there, enough to allow them to avoid tables and furniture while following Jao.

He took them to a small room across from the kitchen.  In it as a table, and two chairs, as though disposed for an interview.  He walked past it to the opposite wall, and lifted the picture on it — of several fat children playing on a dragon.  Behind the picture was a lever which he pulled.

The entire wall slid away, revealing it was a sliding door designed to look like wall board.

Beyond it.  Tom stopped just ahead of Kyrie and said “Whoa.”  Which was about what she was thinking.  It was something like what a Hotel Casino called The Forbidden City might look like, in the center of Vegas, or at least what its honeymoon suite might look like.

For one, there was entirely too much red.  Red dripped in tassels from elaborate chandeliers painted with more scenes of dragons and children — it made Kyrie wonder if it was a desire for fertility or a a meal setting — red draped the bed in the middle of the room, red was color of the silk carpet that covered the floor and the walls were lacquered red, gold and black, in a shiny, polished look.  Was it possible to sleep in this room and not dream of blood?  Was that a plus?

Kyrie blinked at it.  Fortunately the light was somewhat dimmed to mood lighting.  Then again perhaps that was not fortunate.  The bed was large enough to accommodate ten people, and they didn’t need to be really close friends, either.  What had the Great Sky Dragon done for amusement?  She glared at the pictures of happy dragons and happy children, one of which was in a mural, occupying most of the wall.

“Cozy,” Tom said, in a definitely dry tone.

Jao didn’t seem to catch the irony.  Instead, he said, “It is, of course, not your primary residence, but only the place where you — Where he — Where Himself stayed when he was in town.  Lately that was, of course, often, because he wished –” He gave a look towards Tom and another at Bea and seemed to run out of steam.  In rather less a fluent way, he led Tom to the closet and showed him clothes, in his size.

Kyrie noted most of them were exactly the sort of thing Tom wore most of the time: t-shirts, jeans, though there appeared to be a tux at the back, and there was definitely a suit.  But on the extreme right of the closet were what appeared to be traditional Chinese attire from before the revolution.  The sort of thing one expected to see in movies about China in the nineteenth century.  She quirked her mouth slightly, wondering what Tom would look like in those, and knowing there was no chance in hell of ever finding out.

When Jao opened a door to the side of the closet, which like everything else around here seemed to be a trick door, hidden in paneling, she could barely glimpse a bathroom within.  But Tom turned around and said, “Bea, if you wish to wash first?”

Jao gave Tom a wounded look.  “Sire,” he said.  Then turned to Bea, “I’ll show the lady her bathing room.”  Which apparently came with a closet of its own, filled with rather a greater variety of clothes than Tom’s side.

How nice, Kyrie thought.  His and hers.  And felt rather dizzy and a bit nauseated.  She had an impression that the expectations of the triad would be more difficult to defeat than she expected.

Servers swarmed in, setting up little tables with bowls of food on them.  It did not improve her mood.

* * *

Tom leaned back under the water, feeling it soothe him, deriving great comfort from its immediacy, its warmth.  He didn’t look down until he was reasonably sure no blood would be running down.

He should be used to blood by now.  It wasn’t the first time he’d got covered in blood.  Many times, it had even been his.  But he wasn’t used to it.  Didn’t want to be used to it.  He wanted blood to remain something alien, as it was to most people.  As it hadn’t been to him since the night he’d been kicked out of the house.  He still remembered the blood-stains on the sidewalk, blood sprays staining the walls and the elderly orangutan-shifter telling him that, really, he didn’t want to know.  He still had nightmares about that sometimes, but whatever had happened remained locked in his memory and inaccessible.

When he was sure that the water would be running clear, he washed his hair and body.  They had exactly what he used, including Mane and Tail shampoo, and he thought that it was impossible the Great Sky Dragon had used the same products he had.  So they must have stocked for him, and they knew him far better than he was comfortable with.

He came out of the shower, still not sure what to do.  He had a strong feeling that he should — if he wanted to keep power in the triad — have to marry Bea.  But he didn’t want power in the triad.  Of course, the question was if he could give up power in the triad and stay alive.  As in despotic government systems, the alternative to being the heir to the throne was not being allowed to go your merry way — it was being dead, so that whoever took the throne didn’t feel threatened by you.

There was a white terry robe behind the door to the bathroom, and he could have wrapped himself in it, but that seemed a little too intimate.  He was going to have to go out there and have a conversation with all those people, including Jao and Old Joe.  Any gathering in which Old Joe seemed to be the sanest non-involved participant was enough to give a man cold sweats.

So, instead, he dried himself, then dressed in the clothes he’d brought in with him: jeans, a clean t-shirt that he only realized afterwards had the saying Dragons are fiery lovers.  He wondered who’d picked it.  In normal life, it was the sort of sly humor that might have appealed to him, but just now it didn’t seem nearly as funny.

He tied his hair back with a ribbon provided, and made a face at himself in the mirror.  Where had those dark circles come from?  He suspected Kyrie had thought he was having a stroke in the storage room.  Perhaps he’d had one.  Perhaps he was now lying in a comma and all this was an hallucination.  It made more sense than anything else.