Recognition flashed in Phillips eyes. He must remember their brief meeting—passing, really—on the street the other day. That was a good sign—that Albert had made enough of an impression on Phillip to be remembered.
Phillip also halted. “Sure is.” He added a light, wry smile. The man should have been in the prime of his life but was instead going through the motions of his final weeks, and he knew it. There wasn’t much for him to truly smile about, and it said a lot that he was trying to find reasons to.
Albert moved to the bench and raised a brow in what he hoped was a welcoming fashion, silently inviting Phillip to join him. This was the first hurdle that needed to be passed. If Phillip declined to even sit…well, they had alternative plans, but those weren’t as likely to work.
Getting Phillip to join him here was critical, and not coming across as an edgy creeper with an ulterior motive was essential to making that happen. Phillip shrugged, and some of the heaviness lifted off Albert’s shoulders.
“My name’s Albert.” He held out a hand, and Phillip shook it.
Phillip’s hand was warm and dry. “Phillip.” He didn’t elaborate, but Albert didn’t expect him to.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Phillip.” Albert paused. He hadn’t forgotten what he’d planned to say, of course. Or rather, the long list of options that varied depending upon the situation, or the personality of the person he was facing. But, part of what made it fairly easy to come across as natural during these discussions was the fact that much of the conversation did end up being customized on the fly while reading the expressions on his companion’s face.
“Likewise.” Phillip once again kept his reply simple. His countenance indicated he’d perceived there was a purpose to Albert’s waylaying him, but he proceeded to the bench seeming curious but unconcerned.
Which was basically perfect. Small talk wouldn’t be necessary here, and would, in fact, likely make Phillip uneasy.
So, Albert looked directly into Phillip’s eyes with a steady gaze and cut to the chase. “Phillip, I want to show you something, and I ask that you keep an open mind and hear me out before reacting.”
Phillip sat back and was easy to read. Albert had certainly caught his attention, but he still gave off no airs of anxiety. People at that stage of their life usually didn’t. What did he have to lose by hearing what Albert had to say, or watching what he had to demonstrate? Worst case scenario, a couple weeks of his life, but the nearby reader, Frisbee players, and bird watchers would likely put him at ease.
“I think we can help each other,” Albert continued.
“I’m dying,” Phillip said. Which, of course, was obvious, but Albert could certainly see how his statement might lead Phillip to think he didn’t realize that. “Whatever you have in mind, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make a deal with you.”
“Please, hear me out.” Albert held out an arm. Best to regain Phillip’s attention with a visual and tactile demonstration. If Phillip was feeling any pull at all due to the possibly impending blood-mate connection, his illness was weakening his ability to recognize it, or maybe to care about it, figuring it was pointless. “This seems like an unusual request, I know, but I’d like you to examine my arm. Go ahead and touch it. I want you to assure yourself that it is, indeed, my real arm and not any kind of advanced prosthetic or makeup designed to create a special effect.”
Phillip’s eyes widened, but not, thankfully, with alarm. With curiosity. Possibly the best diversion he’d had in a while, dealing with his illness.
Albert left his arm hanging in the air while Phillip briefly paused before putting both hands on Albert’s forearm. As expected, based upon the vampires’ background check, Phillip was thorough in his exploration. He would trust his senses, but he would be systematic and meticulous to make sure his senses weren’t being tricked as if by a professional street magician.
Phillip felt for a pulse and found one. It took nerves of steel not to react as Phillip ran a hand over the hairs on Albert’s arm, watching them move appropriately. He manipulated Albert’s arm and fingers, carefully observing the play of muscle and the movement of tendons at the inside of his wrist. He even pinched Albert’s skin.
When Phillip withdrew his hands, Albert lowered his arm. “Are you satisfied that this is indeed my natural arm?”
“Yes.” Phillip eyed him warily.
“Remember, keep an open mind and maintain your composure. Give me the opportunity to explain what you’re about to see.”
Phillip narrowed his eyes, but they still conveyed a mood of curiosity rather than concern. “All right.”
Albert took a quick glance around, then quickly checked himself. Damn his nerves. He shouldn’t have given Phillip that visual clue, because the man was too smart not to pick up on it.
Nobody was in sight other than his own people. He hadn’t expected to see anyone else, because he would have received an audible alert if anyone was heading down the path. But, at least the coast was clear to proceed. Thankfully, because at this point a delay in the action could have seriously disrupted Phillips acquiescent mood. Either nobody was about, or his team members at the split were successfully diverting anyone who appeared to want to come this way.
Moving quickly, before Phillip could react, he pulled a small razor blade out of his pocket and slowly drew the blade across the arm Phillip had just examined, gritting his teeth against the pain as the blade cut deeply enough for the tissue to separate and blood—black blood—to appear. Due to Albert’s advanced age, the gash closed up within seconds as the razor dragged up the length of his forearm. There was no way to interpret this demonstration for anything other than what it was.
“What the hell.” Phillip gasped and seemed to be fighting to keep his respiration steady as he turned to stare at Albert’s face.
To Be Continued…