Chapter 23

Mom and Terrapin Pie

"She's in town," Jody said. "She's coming over in a few minutes." Jody lowered the phone to its cradle.

Tommy appeared in the bedroom doorway, Scott still dangling from his sleeve. "You're kidding."

"You're missing a cufflink," Jody said.

"I don't think he's going to let go. Do we have any scissors?"

Jody took Tommy by the sleeve a few inches above where Scott was clamped. "You ready?"

Tommy nodded and she ripped his sleeve off at the shoulder. Scott skulked into the bedroom, the sleeve still clamped in his jaws.

"That was my best shirt," Tommy said, looking at his bare arm.

"Sorry, but we've got to clean this place up and get a story together."

"Where did she call from?"

"She was at the Fairmont Hotel. We've got maybe ten minutes."

"So she won't be staying with us."

"Are you kidding? My mother under the same roof where people are living in sin? Not in this lifetime, turtleboy."

Tommy took the turtleboy shot in stride. This was an emergency and there was no time for hurt feelings. "Does you mother use phrases like 'living in sin'?"

"I think she has it embroidered on a sampler over the telephone so she won't forget to use it every month when I call."

Tommy shook his head. "We're doomed. Why didn't you call her this month? She said you always call her."

Jody was pacing now, trying to think. "Because I didn't get my reminder."

"What reminder?"

"My period. I always call her when I get my period each month  -  just to get all the unpleasantness out of the way at one time."

"When was the last time you had a period?"

Jody thought for a minute. It was before she had turned. "I don't know, eight, nine weeks. I'm sorry, I can't believe I forgot."

Tommy went to the futon, sat down, and cradled his head in his hands. "What do we do now?"

Jody sat next to him. "I don't suppose we have time to redecorate."

In the next ten minutes, while they cleaned up the loft, Jody tried to prepare Tommy for what he was about to experience. "She doesn't like men. My father left her for a younger woman when I was twelve, and Mother thinks all men are snakes. And she doesn't really like women either, since she was betrayed by one. She was one of the first women to graduate from Stanford, so she's a bit of a snob about that. She says that I broke her heart when I didn't go to Stanford. It's been downhill since then. She doesn't like that I live in the City and she has never approved of any of my jobs, my boyfriends, or the way I dress."

Tommy stopped in the middle of scrubbing the kitchen sink. "So what should I talk about?"

"It would probably be best if you just sat quietly and looked repentant."

"That's how I always look."

Jody heard the stairwell door open. "She's here. Go change your shirt."

Tommy ran to the bedroom, stripping off his one-sleever as he went. I'm not ready for this, he thought. I have more work to do on myself before I'm ready for a presentation.

Jody opened the door catching her mother poised to knock.

"Mom!" Jody said, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. "You look great."

Frances Evelyn Stroud stood on the landing looking at her youngest daughter with restrained disapproval. She was a short, stout woman dressed in layers of wool and silk under an eggshell cashmere coat. Her hair was a woven gray-blond, flared and lacquered to expose a pair of pearl earrings roughly the size of Ping-Pong balls. Her eyebrows had been plucked away and painted back, her cheekbones were high and highlighted, her lips lined, filled, and clamped tight. She had the same striking green eyes as her daughter, flecked now with sparks of judgment. She had been pretty once but was now passing into the limbo-land of the menopausal woman known as handsome.

"May I come in," she said.

Jody, caught in the half-gesture of offering a hug, dropped her arms. "Of course," she said, stepping aside. "It's good to see you," she said, closing the door behind her mother.

Tommy bounded from the bedroom into the kitchen and slid to a stop on stocking feet. "Hi," he said.

Jody put her hand on her mother's back. Frances flinched, ever so slightly, at the touch. "Mother, this is Thomas Flood. He's a writer. Tommy, this is my mother, Frances Stroud."

Tommy approached Frances and offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you..."

She clutched her Gucci bag tightly, then forced herself to take his hand. "Mrs. Stroud," she said, trying to head off the unpleasantness of hearing her Christian name come out of Tommy's mouth.

Jody broke the moment of discomfort so they could pass into the next one. "So, Mom, can I take your coat? Would you like to sit down?"

Frances Stroud surrendered her coat to her daughter as if she were surrendering her credit cards to a mugger, as if she didn't want to know where it was going because she would never see it again. "Is this your couch?" she asked, nodding toward the futon.

"Have a seat, Mother; we'll get you something to drink. We have..." Jody realized that she had no idea what they had. "Tommy, what do we have?"

Tommy wasn't expecting the questions to start so soon. "I'll look," he said, running to the kitchen and throwing open a cabinet. "We have coffee, regular and decaf." He dug behind the coffee, the sugar, the powdered creamer. "We have Ovaltine, and..." He threw open the refrigerator. "Beer, milk, cranberry juice, and beer  -  a lot of beer  -  I mean, not a lot, but plenty, and..." He opened the chest freezer. Peary stared up at him through a gap between frozen dinners. Tommy slammed the lid."... that's it. Nothing in there."

"Decaf, please," said Mother Stroud. She turned to Jody, who was returning from balling up her mother's cashmere coat and throwing it in the corner of the closet. "So, you've left your job at Transamerica. Are you working, dear?"

Jody sat in a wicker chair across the wicker coffee table from her mother. (Tommy had decided to decorate the loft in a Pier 1 Imports cheap-shit motif. As a result it was only a ceiling fan and a cockatoo away from looking like a Thai cathouse.)

Jody said, "I've taken a job in marketing." It sounded respectable. It sounded professional. It sounded like a lie.

"You might have told me and saved me the embarrassment of calling Transamerica only to find out that you had been let go."

"I quit, Mother. I wasn't let go."

Tommy, trying to will himself invisible, bowed his way between them to deliver the decaf, which he had arranged on a wicker tray with cream and sugar. "And you, Mr. Flood, you're a writer? What do you write?"

Tommy brightened. "I'm working on a short story about a little girl growing up in the South. Her father is on a chain gang."

"You're from the South, then?"

"No, Indiana."

"Oh," she said, as if he had just confessed to being raised by rats. "And where did you go to university?"

"I, um, I'm sort of self-educated. I think experience is the best teacher." Tommy realized that he was sweating.

"I see," she said. "And where might I read your work?"

"I'm not published yet." He squirmed. "I'm working on it, though," he added quickly.

"So you have another job. Are you in marketing as well?"

Jody intervened. She could see steam rising off Tommy. "He manages the Marina Safeway, Mother." It was a small lie, nothing compared to the tapestry of lies she had woven for her mother over the years.

Mother Stroud turned a scalpel gaze on her daughter. "You know, Jody, it's not too late to apply to Stanford. You'd be a bit older than the other freshmen, but I could pull a few strings."

How does she do this? Jody wondered. How does she come into my home and within minutes make me feel like dirt on a stick? Why does she do it?

"Mother, I think I'm beyond going back to school."

Mother Stroud picked up her cup as if to sip, then paused. "Of course, dear. You wouldn't want to neglect your career and family."

It was a verbal sucker punch delivered with polite, extended-pinky malice. Jody felt something drop inside her like cyanide pellets into acid. Her guilt dropped through the gallows' trap and jerked with broken-neck finality. She regretted only the ten thousand sentences she had started with, "I love my mother, but..." You do that so people don't judge you cold and inhuman, Jody thought. Too late now.

She said, "Perhaps you're right, Mother. Perhaps if I had gone to Stanford I would understand why I wasn't born with an innate knowledge of cooking and cleaning and child-rearing and managing a career and a relationship. I've always wondered if it's lack of education or genetic deficiency."

Mother Stroud was unshaken. "I can't speak for your father's genetic background, dear."

Tommy was grateful that Mother Stroud's attention had turned from him, but he could see Jody's gaze narrowing, going from hurt to anger. He wanted to come to her aid. He wanted to make peace. He wanted to hide in the corner. He wanted to wade in and kick ass. He weighed his polite upbringing against the anarchists, rebels, and iconoclasts who were his heroes. He could eat this woman alive. He was a writer and words were his weapons. She wouldn't have a chance. He'd destroy her.

And he would have. He was taking a deep breath to prepare to light into her when he saw a swath of denim disappearing slowly under the frame of the futon: his dismembered shirt sleeve. He held his breath and looked at Jody. She was smiling, saying nothing.

Mother Stroud said, "Your father was at Stanford on an athletic scholarship, you know. They would have never let him in otherwise."

"I'm sure you're right, Mother," Jody said. She smiled politely, listening not to her mother, but to the melodic scraping of turtle claws on carpet. She focused on the sound and could hear the slow, cold lugging of Scott's heart.

Mother Stroud sipped her decaf. Tommy waited. Jody said, "So how long will you be in the City?"

"I just came up to do some shopping. I'm sponsoring a benefit for the Monterey Symphony and I wanted a new gown. Of course I could have found something in Carmel, but everyone would have seen it already. The bane of living in a small community."

Jody nodded as if she understood. She had no connection to this woman, not anymore. Frances Evelyn Stroud was a stranger, an unpleasant stranger. Jody felt more of a connection with the turtle under the futon.

Under the futon, Scott spotted a pattern of scales on Mother Stroud's shoes. He'd never seen Italian faux-alligator pumps, but he knew scales. When you are lying peacefully buried in the muck at the bottom of a pond and you see scales, it means food. You bite.

Frances Stroud shrieked and leaped to her feet, pulling her right foot free of her shoe as she fell into the wicker coffee table. Jody caught her mother by the shoulders and set her on her feet. Frances pushed her away and backed across the room as she watched the snapping turtle emerge from under the futon merrily chomping on the pump.

"What is that? What is that thing? That thing is eating my shoe. Stop it! Kill it!"

Tommy hurdled the futon and dived for the turtle, catching the heel of the shoe before it disappeared. Scott dug his claws into the carpet and backed off. Tommy came up with heel in hand.

"I got part of it."

Jody went to her mother's side. "I meant to call the exterminator, Mother. If I'd had more notice..."

Mother Stroud was breathing in outraged yips. "How can you live like this?"

Tommy held the heel out to her.

"I don't want that. Call me a cab."

Tommy paused, considered the opportunity, then let it pass and went to the phone.

"You can't go out without shoes, Mother. I'll get you something to wear." Jody went to the bedroom and came back with her rattiest pair of sneakers. "Here, Mom, these will get you back to the hotel."

Mother Stroud, afraid to sit down anywhere, leaned against the door and stepped into the sneakers. Jody tied them for her and slipped the uneaten pump into her mother's bag. "There you go." She stepped back. "Now, what are we going to do for the holidays?"

Mother Stroud, her gaze trained on Scott, just shook her head. The turtle had wedged himself between the legs of the coffee table and was dragging it around the loft.

A cab pulled up outside and beeped the horn. Mother Stroud tore her gaze away from the turtle and looked at her daughter. "I'll be in Europe for the holidays. I have to go now." She opened the door and backed out through it.

"'Bye, Mom," Jody said.

"Nice meeting you, Mrs. Stroud," Tommy called after her.

When the cab pulled away, Tommy turned to Jody and said, "Well, that went pretty well, didn't it? I think she likes me."

Jody was leaning against the door, staring at the floor. She looked up and began to giggle silently. Soon she was doubled over laughing.

"What?" Tommy said.

Jody looked up at him, tears streaming her face. "I think I'm ready to meet your folks, don't you?"

"I don't know. They might be sort of upset that you're not a Methodist."

Chapter 24

The Return of Breakfast

The Emperor lay spread-eagle on the end of a dock in the Saint Francis Yacht Club Marina, watching clouds pass over the bay. Bummer and Lazarus lay beside him, their feet in the air, dozing. The three might have been crucified there, if the dogs hadn't been smiling.

"Men," the Emperor said, "it seems to me now that there is, indeed, a point to that Otis Redding song about sitting on the dock of the bay. After a long night of vampire hunting, this is a most pleasant way to spend the day. Bummer, I believe a commendation is in order. When you led us down here, I thought you were wasting our time."

Bummer did not answer. He was dreaming of a park full of large trees and bite-sized mailmen. His legs twitched and he let out a sleepy ruff each time he crunched one of their tiny heads. In dreams, mailmen taste like chicken.

The Emperor said, "But pleasant as this is, it tastes of guilt, of responsibility. Two months tracking this fiend, and we are no closer to finding him than when we started. Yet here we lay, enjoying the day. I can see the faces of the victims in these clouds."

Lazarus rolled over and licked the Emperor's hand.

"You're right, Lazarus, without sleep we will not be fit for battle. Perhaps, in leading us here, Bummer was wiser than we thought."

The Emperor closed his eyes and let the sound of waves lapping against the piers lull him to sleep.

Lying at anchor, a hundred yards away, was a hundred-foot motor yacht registered in the Netherlands. Belowdecks, in a watertight stainless steel vault, the vampire slept through the day.

Tommy had been asleep for an hour when pounding on the door downstairs woke him. In the darkness of the bedroom he nudged Jody, but she was out for the day. He checked his watch: 7:30 A.M.

The loft rocked with the pounding. He crawled out of bed and stumbled to the door in his underwear. The morning light spilling though the loft's windows temporarily blinded him and he barked his shin on the corner of the freezer on his way through the kitchen.

"I'm coming," he yelled. It sounded as if they were using a hammer on the door.

He did a Quasimodo step and slid down the stairs, holding his damaged shin in one hand, and cracked the downstairs door. Simon peeked through the crack. Tommy could see a ball-peen hammer in his hand, poised for another pound.

Simon said, "Pardner, we need to have us a sit-down."

"I'm sleeping, Sime. Jody's sleeping."

"Well, you're up now. Wake up the little woman, we need breakfast."

Tommy opened the door a little wider and saw Drew dazzling a stoned and goofy grin behind Simon. "Fearless Leader!"

All the Animals were there, holding grocery bags, waiting.

Tommy thought, This is how Anne Frank felt when the Gestapo came to the door.

Simon pushed through the door, causing Tommy to hop back a step to avoid having his toes skinned. "Hey."

Simon looked at Tommy's erection-stretched jockey shorts. "That just a morning wood, or you in the middle of something?"

"I told you, I was sleeping."

"You're young, it could still grow some. Don't feel bad."

Tommy looked down at his insulted member as Simon breezed past him up the stairs, followed by the rest of the Animals. Glint and Lash stopped and helped Tommy to his feet.

"I was sleeping," Tommy said pathetically. "It's my day off."

Lash patted Tommy's shoulder. "I'm cutting class today. We thought you needed moral support."

"For what? I'm fine."

"Cops came by the store last night looking for you. We wouldn't give them your address or anything."

"Cops?" Tommy was waking up now. He could hear beers being popped open in the loft. "What did the cops want with me?"

"They wanted to see your time cards. They wanted to see if you were working on a bunch of nights. They wouldn't say why. Simon tried to distract them by accusing me of leading a black terrorist group."

"That was nice of him."

"Yeah, he's a sweetheart. He told that new cashier, Mara, that you were in love with her but were too shy to tell her."

"Forgive him," Clint said piously. "He knows not what he does."

Simon popped out onto the landing. "Flood, did you drug this bitch? She won't wake up."

"Stay out of the bedroom!" Tommy shook off Lash and Clint and ran up the stairs.

Cavuto chewed an unlit cigar. "I say we go to the kid's house and lean on him."

Rivera looked up from a stack of green-striped computer printout. "Why? He was working when all the murders happened."

"Because he's all we've got. What about the prints on the book; any thing?"

"There were half a dozen good prints on the cover. Nothing the computer could match. Interesting thing is, none of the prints were the victim's. He never touched it."

"What about the kid; a match?"

"No way to tell, he's never been printed. Let it go, Nick. That kid didn't kill these people."

Cavuto ran his hand over his bald head as if looking for a bump that would hold an answer. "Let's arrest him and print him."

"On what charges?"

"We'll ask him. You know what the Chinese say, 'Beat a kid every day; if you don't know why, the kid will. »

"You ever think about adopting, Nick?" Rivera flipped the last page of the printout and threw it into the wastebasket by his desk. "Justice doesn't have shit. All the unsolved murders with massive blood loss involve mutilation. No vampires here."

For two months they had avoided using the word. Now, here it was. Cavuto took out a wooden match, scraped it against the bottom of his shoe, and moved it around the tip of his cigar. "Rivera, we will not refer to this perp by the V-word again. You don't remember the Night Stalker. This fucking Whiplash Killer thing the press has picked up is bad enough."

"You shouldn't smoke in here," said Rivera. "The sprout eaters will file a grievance."

"Fuck 'em. I can't think without smoking. Let's run sex offenders. Look for priors of rapes and assaults with blood draining. This guy might have just graduated to killing. Then let's run it with cross-dressers."


"Yeah, I want to put this thing with the redhead to bed. Having a lead is ruining our perfect record."

She woke to a miasma of smells that hit her like a sockful of sand: burned eggs, bacon grease, beer, maple syrup, stale pot smoke, whiskey, vomit and male sweat. The smells carried memories from before the change  -  memories of high school keggers and drunken surfers face-down in puddles of puke. Hangover memories. Coming as they did, right after a visit from her mother, they carried shame and loathing and the urge to fall back into bed and hide under the covers.

She thought, I guess there's a few things about being human that I don't miss.

She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and one of Tommy's shirts and opened the bedroom door. It looked as if the good ship International Pancakes had run aground in the kitchen. Every horizontal surface was covered with breakfast jetsam. She stepped through the debris, careful not to kick any of the plates, frying pans, coffee cups, or beer cans that littered the floor. Beyond the freezer and the counter she spotted the shipwreck survivor.

Tommy lay on the futon, limbs akimbo, an empty Bushmill's bottle by his head, snoring.

She stood there for a moment running her options over in her head. On one hand, she wanted to fly into a rage; wake Tommy up and scream at him for violating the sanctity of their home. A justifiable tantrum was strongly tempting. On the other hand, until now Tommy had always been considerate. And he would clean everything up. Plus, the hangover he was about to experience would be more punishment than she could dole out in a week. Besides, she wasn't really that angry. It didn't seem to matter. It was just a mess. It was a tough decision.

She thought, Oh heck, no harm, no foul. I'll just make him coffee and give him that "I'm-so-disappointed-in-you" look.

"Tommy," she said. She sat down on the edge of the futon and jostled him gently. "Sweetheart, wake up; you've destroyed the house and I need you to suffer for it."

Tommy opened one bloodshot eye and groaned. "Sick," he said.

Jody heard a convulsive sloshing in Tommy's stomach and before she could think about it she had caught him under the armpits and was dragging him across the room to the kitchen sink.

"Oh my God!" Tommy cried, and if he was going to say anything else it was drowned out by the sound of his stomach emptying into the sink. Jody held him up, smiling to herself with the satisfaction of the self-righteously sober.

After a few seconds of retching, he gasped and looked up at her. Tears streamed down his face. His nose dripped threads of slime.

Cheerfully, Jody said, "Can I fix you a drink?"

"Oh my God!" His head went back into the sink and the body-wrenching heaves began anew. Jody patted his back and said "Poor baby" until he came up for air again.

"How about some breakfast?" she asked.

He dived into the sink once again.

After five minutes the heaves subsided and Tommy hung on the edge of the sink. Jody turned on the faucet and used the dish sprayer to hose off his face. "I guess you and the guys had a little party this morning, huh?"

Tommy nodded, not looking up. "I tried to keep them out. I'm sorry. I'm scum."

"Yes, you are, sweetheart." She ruffed his hair.

"I'll clean it up."

"Yes, you will," she said.

"I'm really sorry."

"Yes, you are. Do we want to go back to the futon and sit down?"

"Water," Tommy said.

She ran him a glass of water and steadied him while he drank, then aimed him into the sink when the water came back up.

"Are you finished now?" she asked.

He nodded.

She dragged him into the bathroom and washed his face, rubbing a little too hard, like an angry mother administering an abrasive spit-bath to a chocolate-covered toddler. "Now you go sit down and I'll make you some coffee."

Tommy staggered back to the living room and fell onto the futon. Jody found the coffee filters in the cupboard and began to make the coffee. She opened the cupboard to look for a cup but the Animals had used them all. They were strewn around the loft, tipped over or half full of whisky diluted by melted ice.



He groaned and grabbed his head. "Don't yell."

"Tommy, did you guys use the ice from the freezer?"

"I don't know. Simon was bartending."

Jody brushed the dishes and pans from the lid of the chest freezer and threw it open. The ice trays, the ones Tommy had bought for the drowning experiment, were empty and scattered around the inside of the freezer. Peary's frosty face stared up at her. She slammed the lid shut and stormed across the room to Tommy.

"Dammit, Tommy, how could you be so careless?"

"Don't yell. Please don't yell. I'll clean it up."

"Clean it up my ass. Someone was in the freezer. Someone saw the body."

"I think I'm going to be sick."

"Did they come into the bedroom while I was sleeping? Did they see me?"

Tommy cradled his head as if it would crack at any moment and spill his brains onto the floor. "They had to get to the bathroom. It's okay; I covered you up so the light wouldn't get to you."

"You idiot!" She snatched up a coffee cup and prepared to throw it at him, then caught herself. She had to get out of here before she hurt him. She shook as she set the cup on the counter.

"I'm going out, Tommy. Clean up this mess." She turned and went to the bedroom to change.

When she emerged, still shaking with anger, Tommy was standing in the kitchen looking repentant.

"Will you be home before I leave for work?"

She glared at him. "I don't know. I don't know when I'll be back. Why didn't you just put a sign on the door, 'See the Vampire'? This is my life you're playing with, Tommy."

He didn't answer. She turned and walked out, slamming the door.

"I'll feed your turtles for you," he called after her.


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