While attending an academic conference in New Orleans, graduate student James Caldwell stumbles upon a party unlike any other he's ever attended. He's relieved when one of the guests, Malcolm, takes him under his wing and seems to take a romantic interest in him as well. Then he realizes that the vampire costumes the partygoers are wearing aren’t really costumes at all -- and neither is Malcolm’s.
“We meet again,” the man said. James didn’t have to turn to know that he was smiling. “You see now that I was right. Our friend did get away from the cops, didn’t he?”
“Yes. I don’t quite know how he did it, but somehow he gave them the slip.”
“They’ve after him for years. Decades, even. They might as well give up, though. Some of them know why, but they’re not about to tell the others. So the merry chase continues…night after night.”
“I see.” Slowly, James began to turn. He didn’t want to move quickly, lest the man disappear into thin air the way he had last time—or the way the guy being arrested had. Instead, he angled his head gently, trying to catch a glimpse of his unusual new acquaintance. As soon as he did, though, the man casually slid to one side. James was left with a vague impression of an attractive man about his own age, with dark hair and eyes and skin that glowed almost white in the streetlights.
“Name?” the man asked.
This time he continued looking straight ahead, not wanting to scare his new friend off. “James. Uh…I don’t like to be called Jim.”
“Glad to hear it. I’m not fond of nicknames myself. I’m Malcolm. Don’t like Mal.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“I know you will.” Malcolm laughed. “You’re new to our city?”
“Yep. In town for a conference. I’m a graduate student. Literature.”
“Ah. A rich and rewarding field to be sure. But since there is no literature to be found on this street, you must be on your way to Duke’s party. Leastways, I hope you are.”
James wasn’t sure what to say. Though he didn’t feel comfortable lying, he had to admit he was intrigued by the idea of crashing the mysterious Duke’s gathering. Blending in with the locals for an evening might be kind of fun, and a few free drinks before bedtime couldn’t hurt. If Malcolm was typical of the sort of guests who attended, he suspected he would enjoy himself there. “Uh…yeah. Guess I lost my way.”
“Lucky thing I found you, then.” Malcolm’s shirt sleeve brushed lightly against James’ chest as he raised his arm and motioned for James to follow him. “C’mon. The shortcut’s this way. Sounds like things are already swinging.”
James couldn’t hear anything, so he wasn’t sure what Malcolm was referring to, but he soon realized that he hadn’t used the expression figuratively. The moment they stepped onto what James assumed was Duke’s veranda, he saw a tangle of silhouetted figures through the window of the big Victorian house. Inside, bodies were writhing to the beat of hyped-up modern jazz. James could see the outlines of people making out, and possibly doing more. The strange shapes of their outfits suggested he was heading for some sort of costume party.
And sure enough, just as he had hoped, they were all guys.
“Ready?” Touching his arm, Malcolm started guiding him up the stairs toward the front door.
“I don’t have a costume,” he said, biting his lip as Malcolm urged him forward.
“That won’t be a problem. Come on.”
They stepped inside, where an older man with thick gray hair and piercing blue eyes immediately came forward to greet them. He seemed to know Malcolm by sight and offered him nothing more than a brief nod of acknowledgement. On James, however, he lavished considerably more attention. Grasping James’ hand in his own, he stroked his left knuckles and wrist and even paused as if taking a pulse. His touch felt as cool and soft as the silk suit he wore.
“Yes. He will do nicely. Good work, Malcolm.”