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IBPA Member

Fluid: Channeling Morpheus 8

Beautiful and Deadly

Fluid by Jordan Castillo Price

Series: Channeling Morpheus 8
Second Electronic Edition
Length: Novelette - 19700 words - 68 page PDF
Cover artist: Jordan Castillo Price - see larger cover
ISBN: 978-1-935540-50-2

$2.99
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Summary

It's been a couple of decades since Wild Bill has been able to savor the bite of an ice-cold, freshly tapped keg. Twenty-odd years since the shivery pucker of a cheap, boxed wine has assaulted his palate. But that doesn't mean Bill's forgotten how to party.

Wild Bill and Michael have holed up in a week-to-week hotel in an iffy Milwaukee neighborhood, and even though it's been a year or two, the fringe art happenings are just as edgy as Bill remembers.

There's a girl covered in frosting in the middle of the hors d'ouvres table, and she's begging them to dip. And the host of the party wants to lure them into the range of his mechanical eye. It's all fun and games, until a tryst turns deadly.

 

Excerpt

The old loft had been a factory once upon a time. Maybe a place where six-year-olds earned two cents a day drilling holes in buttons. Or maybe a place where Bohunk women fresh off the boat stitched together brand new ready-made stuff for the generations who’d been here longer, middle-class matrons who spoke English.

It wasn’t hard to imagine humanity teeming through the place. They wouldn’t have been wearing PVC and fishnet back then, of course. But bodies is bodies.

Unless you count the body on the table. “What’s that?” I asked her.

Her eyes met mine. “Cream cheese frosting.”

What was she, twenty-five? If that. And splayed out on a table in nothing but a thin white coating of frosting, surrounded by sliced fruit. She’d bleached her buzz-cut to match the frosting—that night, or maybe the night before, judging by the faint note of peroxide I detected over the warring scents of kiwi, pear, apple and grape. “Very creative. You’re the artist?”

She shook her head. The cream cheese stopped at her collarbone, so she could do that much without disturbing the setup. “I’m modeling for Ivan.”

Ivan. He was the flavor du jour, judging by the snips and snatches of conversation floating around every trendy watering hole on the south side of Milwaukee.

“What’s your name?”

“Wild Bill.”

“Suzanne. Listen, will you do me a favor? Dip something on me and eat it. Everyone’s avoiding me like the plague. Maybe you could get it started.”

Twenty-odd years ago, I woulda been all over her like stink on a wino. But even though I thought she was cute—because, come on, how can a pixie-faced chick covered in frosting not be cute—I felt like this wasn’t my world anymore, and I had no business butting in.

“Please?” she begged me. “This was supposed to be fun.”

What can I say? I felt sorry for the kid. It was ballsy of her to be pressed into service as a centerpiece for someone named Ivan. It had probably seemed like a great idea at the time, in a performance art sorta way. Who could’ve predicted how weird it would be to walk up to the hors d’oeuvre table and find a chick on it? I really did want to help her out. And while I couldn’t eat—not fruit, anyway—I could at least dip.

I almost took an apple slice. My hand hovered over a fan of them. Twitched. But then I scented the pear, September-hard, and I took a wedge of that instead. “Anyplace in particular you want me to start?”

She blushed. Zing. The smell of it went straight to my nuts like an invisible, fondling hand.

“My arm, or, uh…my leg.”

I’d been staring at her tits. No barrier whatsoever between her and the cream cheese. Oh my. I locked eyes with her again, gave her my most reassuring smile, fangs covered, and glanced at her wrist. A pair of handcuffs surrounded her skinny girl-arm, both cuffs on the same wrist.

“Don’t ask. I’ve been on the lookout for someone with a master key. The locksmith wants a hundred bucks to pop it.”

“Just act like it’s a fashion statement, and no one’ll be any the wiser.” I judiciously ignored the hard, cold metal and the titillating story that undoubtedly went with it, and dragged the stiff edge of the pear down Suzanne’s thigh. The frosting parted. I imagine that’s how it would’ve felt to press cuneiform letters into a clay tablet. The pear was a good choice. It made a beautiful line.

I drew a spiral first. Her thigh was firm as a boy’s, and had just the right amount of give. I traced an accent line around the spiral. The two lines, side by side, created a sort of negative space, a pinstripe of frosting. Another stroke. Even better.

I felt eyes on me, that prickle that’s not quite hot or cold but maybe a little of both, and I glanced up and saw a dark-eyed kid with a mohawk and a pierced eyebrow giving me bedroom eyes. A year ago, I would’ve made good on that invitation—’cos he was sweet on the outside, but better than that, I could tell just by looking at him that he was bitter on the inside—and that’s the siren song that makes even the mustiest of dried-up vamps dash themselves to death on the rocky shore of wanting.

I’d paused mid-swoop, eye-locked with Prettyboy for a split second, with that cream cheese-covered pear wedge clutched between thumb and forefinger.

Michael stepped between the vamp bait and me, and I felt like my soul, which had been trying to float out through my eyes, had slammed back into me, and I was myself again. I don’t think he’d noticed the current of Mesmerism that he’d just short-circuited. “What are you doing?” Michael said, genuinely curious—about the pear, not the mohawk boy. I finished out the whorl of the line I’d been drawing, and then turned to face him.

He had a red plastic cup of beer in one hand, full to the brim, and a handful of chips in the other. Everything else was black. Black leather jacket. Black T-shirt, black jeans. Filmy black scarf. Raven black Clairol hair. Thick black eyeliner. And tragically pretty, with insides all red and raw as if his best gal-pal had been sucked dry just yesterday. I brought the frosting-covered pear wedge up to his face and painted a thin line of white across his lower lip. “Dipping,” I told him. And I slid the pear into his mouth. His tongue grazed my finger as he took it.

“That is so hot,” Suzanne said.

Vamp-bait had been watching, too. I waited to see if he could be lured into a three-way, but the “take me” look I’d spotted before had evaporated, and now he was just watching.

That was probably for the best. If I fucked him, and it turned out I actually liked him, things would get exponentially more complicated than they already were. I turned back to the girlie on the table. “Suzanne, this is Michael. He keeps me out of trouble.”

Michael quirked an eyebrow at me, like he couldn’t figure out if I actually meant what I’d said, or maybe the opposite. But then, he hadn’t gotten a load of Vamp Bait. Michael looked down at Suzanne, and took in the setup, from one end of the table to the other. “Wow. Is this, uh…something you usually…do?”

“First time. And last. I’m freezing.”

I took Michael’s beer from him to free up his hand, and even allowed myself a little sip. My stomach told me I’d better not make it a habit. “Help her out. No one’s dipping.”

Suzanne looked pointedly at me, as if two people dipping would clearly be better than one.

“Diabetic,” I said.

“Oh. Shit. I’m so sorry….”

“No big deal. I live vicariously through my boyfriend.”

Well, that little revelation cascaded out before I could temper it, but apparently, for once, something had slipped by Michael. He was busy staring at Suzanne’s leg. “Bill, did you do this design on her thigh?”

I looked down at the tribal pinstripes. They were holding up pretty good, despite Suzanne’s body heat. I shrugged.

“Let me see,” Suzanne said. She craned her neck and struggled to get a look at it without making creases in the frosting beneath her boobs.

“Bend your leg a little,” Michael told her.

She did, and her eyes widened when she got a look at the doodle. “Oh, wow. That’s awesome.” She raised her head even more. That was gonna leave a mark in the cream cheese. “You’re an artist?”

“Nah, just a bum with idle hands.”

“I would totally have that inked,” she said, just as the lull of a changing CD left the room momentarily quiet.

The music started up again, and here and there, a few of the cool kids craned their necks to see what had momentarily punctured the ennui of our little corner of the room, and a couple of them drifted over, beer in hand, trying not to look too interested. Not Vamp Bait, though. He’d moved on.

Hands stacked with silver rings and decked out in henna or tattoos began to paw through the fruit, sneaky at first, as if the produce needed to be taken by surprise. Motions grew bolder, then, as more people crowded close to Suzanne. Someone touched a grape to her ankle, and someone else dragged a kiwi slice across her stomach.

Michael eased out of the crowd, and I trailed along. He finished his beer while we waited in line, gave the keg a few pumps, and filled his cup again. Beside the beer, a big jug of rotgut vodka and a gallon of faux orange drink floated in a bucket of slushy water for anyone who was in the mood for an homage to a screwdriver.

“Bill, that design you did was really cool.”

I wished I’d had the foresight to tuck a pint of Jack into my pocket. I was out of practice at doing parties, and everyone else was carrying a drink. And drinking it. I could pour myself a beer, or maybe a shot. But if I carried a drink around, even for show, sooner or later I’d try to drink it. And then I wouldn’t be a very fun date.

“Did you see the paintings in the other room?” Michael asked. He sipped his new beer, licked the foam off his upper lip, sipped again. I followed the motion of his tongue, and suddenly, I was starving. Maybe not physically. But emotionally, psychically, spiritually—which gnawed at my guts even worse. “Some of ’em were cool. But some of ’em….” He shrugged. “I dunno. I liked some more than others.”

I sparked up a cigarette and we threaded back through the crowd. It was late, by the reckoning of everyone but hardcore drunks and vampires, and a few of the kiddies were starting to feel their booze.

Michael led me to another room, twice the size of the one in which Suzanne was spread out in her shroud of cream cheese frosting. The walls there were even higher, twenty-five feet or so, gray with dust up top where they met the stamped tin ceiling. A fucking gorgeous place to show—a real place, without any of the sterile white walls and cool lighting of a shi-shi gallery. A place with character.

Michael stood beside me and looked up at the spot where the wall met the ceiling to try and see whatever it was I was seeing. But how could he? I was busy poring over the waste of my misspent youth.

“You must be hungry.”

I cut my eyes to Michael. Beer foam and eyeliner. Jesus.

He pressed his wicked mouth to my ear. “Did you like Suzanne? She’d let us bleed her.”

I glanced through the tall archway that led back to Suzanne’s room. More of the crowd had shifted toward her table. “Too high-profile. She’s got the spotlight on ’er now.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll find someone good.”

“It’s fine, kiddo. I’m not wasting away.” I sucked down the rest of my cigarette, ground it out on the floor, and pulled my pack out for a chaser. It was empty.

I stared at it. There’d been two more in there, I was sure of it. They’d probably fallen out over by the keg. Nothing but beer-soaked tobacco mush now. God damn it.

“These photos are pretty cool,” Michael was saying. I followed him automatically, like there was an invisible line that tethered me to him, but I was too dismayed at my lack of whiskey and my shortage of cigarettes to give a damn about a few snapshots.

Some other guy saved me from having to answer. “They’d be better if the artist had actually cared enough to print them on photo paper.”

I glanced up from my empty pack. A forty-ish longhaired guy with a goatee was looking at us while Michael looked at the art and I looked like an asshole. The guy had some Mexican in him, or maybe Italian, and he carried himself like he knew he was good-looking but found that fact hardly worth noticing. He tapped a soft-pack of smokes on his wrist, and one cancer stick slid a quarter of the way out. He aimed it at me. “Smoke?”

I reached across Michael and took the cigarette. “Thanks.”

While I tried to figure out what to do with my empty pack, he got his well-oiled Zippo flicked out and lit. His lighter was nearly as old as mine. I leaned in. So did he. Michael stood stock still and breathed very carefully. And so the age-old mating ritual began.

Michael slipped a hand between us and surreptitiously squeezed my hip. He practically telegraphed, “Let’s bleed him,” to me.

The guy clicked his lighter shut, but straightened back up slowly, as if that invisible cord that held us together had snapped up and caught him around the throat. “I haven’t seen the two of you before. Live around here?”

“Just passing through,” I said. And esoterically speaking, it was probably true. We’re all transient, in the grand scheme of things. But it’d been nearly a month since we rolled into Milwaukee. Michael had a part time job at an all-night emergency vet clinic, and we spent our days in a room at a fleabag hotel with a microwave as old as Michael and a week-to-week lease.

“Where’d you hear about my gallery? I don’t exactly advertise.”

The last guy we’d bled had written the address on Michael’s stomach in black lipstick. “Word of mouth. I take it you’re Ivan. Unless you named the place after your parakeet or your favorite Tsar.” I said it to get a rise out of him—I knew he hadn’t. Because all the trendy hipsters talked about Ivan like they wanted to get in his pants. But none of the ones we’d talked to had actually succeeded.

“That’s my name,” he said. “Honest.”

“I’m Michael. That’s Wild Bill.”

Ivan gave me the “Oh, really?” look that people give me when they’d be willing to go for a spin. “Do the two of you ever do any modeling?”

 

Series

Channeling Morpheus Ebook Novelettes

Payback
Vertigo
Manikin
Tainted
Rebirth
Brazen
Snare
Fluid
Swarm
Elixir

Channeling Morpheus Shorts
Heaven Sent - takes place after Manikin
Jackpot - takes place after Elixir

Channeling Morpheus Paperbacks

Channeling Morpheus for Scary Mary (Channeling Morpheus Series 1) featuring novelettes 1-5
A Bitter Taste of Sweet Oblivion (Channeling Morpheus Series 2) featuring novelettes 6-10

Channeling Morpheus for Scary Mary Paperback A Bitter Taste of Sweet Oblivion Paperback

Reviews

"The great thing about this series, besides Bill and Michael, is that every story really has something unique to offer. That’s what makes this series so great as a first time read, and work so well as a series of short stories." - Brief Encounters Reviews

"There is never a dull moment to with Michael's no fear approach and Bill's humor. I love how the characters aren't stagnant. They continue to grow as a couple and individually." - Fallen Angel Reviews

 

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