Chapter 32

All for One, and... Well, You Know

They might have been the Magnificent Seven or the Seven Samurai. If each of them had been a trained professional, a gunfighter with a character flaw, or a broken warrior with a past  -  or if each had a secret reason for joining a suicide mission, an antihero's sense of justice, and a burning desire to put things right  -  they might have become an elite fighting unit whose resourcefulness and courage would lead them to victory over those who would oppose or oppress. But the fact was, they were a disorganized bunch of perpetual adolescents, untrained and unprepared for anything but throwing stock and having fun: the Animals.

They sat on the registers as Tommy paced before them telling them about the vampire, about Simon's death, and giving them the call to action while the Emperor stood by quoting passages from Henry the Fifth's speech at the Battle of Agincourt.

"The cops aren't going to believe it, and I can't do it alone," Tommy said.

The Emperor said, "'We few, we lucky few... "

"So who's with me?"

The Animals didn't say a word.

"Barry," Tommy said, "you're a scuba diver. You've got some balls, right? Sure, you're balding and going to fat, but this is a chance to make a difference."

Barry looked at this shoes.

Tommy jumped to Drew, who hung his head so that his greasy blond hair covered his face. "Drew, you have the most complete knowledge of chemistry of anyone I've ever met. It's time to use it."

"We've got a truck to unload," Drew said.

Tommy moved to Clint; stared into his thick glasses, ruffled his curly black hair. "Clint, God wants you to do this. This vampire is evil incarnate. Sure, you're a little burned out, but you can still strike a blow for righteousness."

"Blessed are the meek," said Clint.

"Jeff!" Tommy said. The big jock looked up, as if the key to the universe lay in the fluorescent lights. "Jeff, you're big, you're dumb, your knee is blown out, but hey, man, you look good. We might be able to use that."

Jeff began whistling.

Tommy moved on. "Lash, your people have been oppressed for hundreds of years. It's time to strike back. Look, you don't have your MBA yet  -  they haven't completely juiced you of your usefulness yet. Would Martin Luther King back down from this challenge? Malcolm X? James Brown? Don't you have a dream? Don't you feel good, like you knew that you would, now?"

Lash shook his head. "I have to study in the morning, man."

"Troy Lee? Samurai tradition? You're the only trained fighter here."

"I'm Chinese, not Japanese."

"Whatever. You're a kung-fu guy. You can reach into a guy's pocket and take his wallet before he knows it's gone. No one has reflexes like you."

"Okay," Troy said.

Tommy stopped on his way to the next man. "Really?"

"Sure, I'll help you. Simon was a good friend."

"Wow," Tommy said. He looked to Gustavo. "Well?"

Gustavo shook his head.

"Viva Zapata!" Tommy said.

"Leave him alone," Troy Lee said. "He's got a family."

"You're right," Tommy said. "Sorry, Gustavo."

Troy Lee got up and stood in front of the other Animals. "But you fuckers. You worthless bags of dog meat. If Simon could see you he'd shoot every one of you. This could be the best party we ever had."

Drew looked up. "Party?"

"Yeah," Troy Lee said, "party. We drink some brews, kick some ass, dismember some monsters  -  maybe pick up some babes. Christ, Drew, who knows what kind of shit we could get into. And you're going to miss it."

"I'm in," said Drew.

"Me too," said Barry.

Troy looked at Jeff and Clint. "Well?" They nodded.

"Lash, you in?"

"Okay," Lash said without conviction.

"Okay," Tommy said. "Let's throw the truck. We can't start until morning anyway. We'll figure out a plan and get some weapons then."

Troy Lee held up a finger. "One thing. How do we find the vampire?"

Tommy said, "Okay, let's get to work."

Morning found the Animals in the Safeway parking lot, drinking beer and discussing the strategy for finding and disposing of a monster.

"So, as far as you know, drugs don't affect them?" Drew asked.

"I don't think so," Tommy said.

"Well, no wonder he's pissed off," Drew said.

"What about guns?" Jeff asked. "I've got Simon's shotgun at my house."

Tommy thought for a moment before answering. "They can be hurt; I mean, damaged. But Jody heals incredibly fast  -  this guy might even be faster. Still, I'd rather have a twelve-gauge against him than nothing."

Barry said, "A stake through the heart always works in the movies."

Tommy nodded. "It might work. We could try it. If we get that far, we can cut him up, too."

"Spearguns," Barry said. "I've got three of them. A CO2 model and two that use elastics. They won't shoot far, but they might pin him down while we cut him up."

"I've got a couple of short fighting swords," Troy Lee interjected. "Razor sharp."

"Good," Tommy said. "Bring 'em."

"I'll bring the Word," Glint said. He'd been shouting "Get thee behind me, Satan," all night, putting the Animals on edge.

"Why don't you just go home and pray," Lash said, giving Glint a push. "We need some action here." He turned from Glint and addressed the group. "Look, guys, spearguns and swords are great, but how do we find this guy? The cops have been looking for him for three months, and they obviously haven't had any luck. If he's really after Tommy, then the best thing we can do is ambush him at Tommy's apartment. And I'm not sure I want to face him when he's awake. Simon was my friend too, but he was also one of the quickest people I ever met and the vampire took him out like he was a baby. And the paper said that he was armed. I don't know..."

"He's right," Drew said. "We're fucked. Anyone want to catch the ferry to Sausalito and terrorize some yuppie artists? I've got mushrooms."

"Shrooms! Shrooms! Shrooms!" the Animals chanted.

Suddenly there was a staccato clanging, like someone banging on a garbage-can lid with a stick, which is pretty much what it was. The Emperor, who had been silent all night, stepped into the circle. "Before your spines go to jelly, men, take heart. I've been thinking."

"Oh, no!" someone shouted.

"I think I have a way to find the fiend and dispose of him before sundown."

"Right," Drew said sarcastically. "How?"

The Emperor picked up Bummer and held out the little dog as if he were displaying the Holy Grail. "Pound for pound, a better soldier never marched, and a better tracker never sniffed out a sewer rat. I've been so stupid."

"Beg your pardon, Your Majesty," Tommy said. "But what the fuck are you talking about?"

"Until last night I didn't know that the lovely young woman with whom you share your abode was a vampire. Yet every time we passed your building Bummer went into a frenzy. He's been the same each time we've encountered the fiend himself. I believe he has a special sensitivity for the smell of vampires."

They all stared at him, waiting.

"Gather your courage and your weapons, good fellows. We'll meet here in two hours and remove this evil from my city. And a little dog shall lead us."

The Animals looked at Tommy, who shrugged and nodded. They had a new leader now. "Two hours, guys," Tommy said. "The Emperor's in charge."

Cavuto watched the Animals disperse though his field glasses. He was sitting in the parking lot at Fort Mason, a hundred yards from the Safeway. He put down the binoculars and dialed Rivera's number on his cellular phone.

"Rivera."

"Anything happening there?" Cavuto asked.

"No, I don't think that anything will now that it's daylight. The lights stayed off after the kid left, but I could hear a vacuum cleaner running. The girl's up there but she didn't turn on the light."

"So she likes to clean in the dark."

"I think she can see in the dark."

"I don't want to talk about it," Cavuto said. "Anything else?"

"Not much. Some kids were dropping pebbles on me from the roof. The guys in the foundry below the kid's apartment are moving around now. A couple of bums are doing some close-order public urinating in the alley. What's happening there?"

"The kid worked all night, drank some beers with the crew; they just split up but the kid and the wacko are still here."

"Why don't you call in some relief?"

"I don't want this out of our hands until we know more. Stay by the phone."

"Anything from the coroner?"

"Yeah, just got off the phone with him. Massive blood loss from the guy in the truck. None from the guy in the morgue. Heart attack. They still haven't found the girl's body."

"That's because she was cleaning house all night."

"Gotta go," Cavuto said.

Tommy and the Emperor were waiting in the parking lot when the Animals returned in Troy Lee's Toyota and began unloading equipment.

"Stop, stop, stop," Tommy said. "We can't run all over the City with spearguns and swords."

"And shotguns," Jeff said proudly, jacking a shell into the chamber of Simon's shotgun.

"Put that back in the car."

"No problem," Drew said, holding up a roll of Christmas wrap. "Dallas, November 22, 1963."

"What?" Tommy said.

"Lee Harvey Oswald walks into the book depository with a Venetian blind. Minutes later Jackie's scooping brains off the trunk of a Lincoln. Anybody asks, we're all giving Venetian blinds to our moms for Christmas."

"Oh," Tommy said. "Okay."

Clint climbed out of the Toyota wearing a choir robe, a half dozen crosses hung around his neck. He held a Baggie full of crackers in one hand, a squirt gun in the other. "I'm ready," he said to Tommy and the Emperor.

"Snacks," Tommy said, nodding to the Baggie. "Good thinking."

"The Heavenly Host," Clint said. He brandished the squirt gun. "Loaded with holy water."

"That stuff doesn't work, Clint."

"O ye of little faith," Clint said.

Bummer and Lazarus had left the Emperor's side and were nosing up to Clint. "See, they know the power of the Spirit."

Just then Bummer jumped and snatched the Baggie, then took off around the corner of the store, followed closely by Lazarus, Clint, and the Emperor.

"Stop him," Clint shouted at an old man coming out of the store. "He's taken the body of Christ."

"Don't hurt him," the Emperor shouted. "He's the only hope for saving the City."

Tommy took off after them. As he passed the bewildered old man, Tommy said, "Last week they were playing cards with Elvis.What can I say?"

The old man seemed to accept this and hurried off.

Tommy caught up with them behind the store, where the Emperor was holding Bummer in one hand and fending off Clint with his wooden sword with the other, while Lazarus licked the last few crumbs out of the torn plastic bag.

"He ate the blessed Savior!" Clint wailed. "He ate the blessed Savior!"

Tommy caught Clint around the waist and pulled him away. "It's okay, Clint. Bummer's a Christian."

Jeff rounded the corner, his size-fourteen Reeboks clomping like a quarter horse. He looked at the empty Baggie. "Oh, I get it. They freeze-dried him, right?"

Drew came around the corner, followed by Lash and Troy Lee.

"Do we have a partying platoon, or what?" Drew said.

Jeff said, "I never knew that they freeze-dried Jesus, did you?"

Lash checked his watch. "We've got less than six hours before it gets dark. Maybe we should get started."

Tommy released Clint and the Emperor lowered his sword.

"We need something to give Bummer the scent," the Emperor said. "Something that the fiend has touched."

Tommy dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out one of the hundreds that Jody had given him. "I'm pretty sure that he touched this, but it's been a while."

The Emperor took the hundred and held it to Bummer's nose. "It shouldn't matter. His senses are keen and his heart is righteous." To Bummer he said, "This is the scent, little one. Find this scent."

He put Bummer down and the little dog was off with a yap and a snort. The vampire hunters followed, losing sight of Bummer as he rounded the store. When they came around to the front of the store, the manager was coming out, holding a snarling Bummer in his arms.

"Flood, is this your dog?"

"He's his own man," the Emperor said.

"Well, he just ran in and blew snot all over the cash in register eight. You train him to find money?"

The Emperor looked down to the hundred-dollar bill in his hand, then at Tommy. "Perhaps we should find something else to put him on the scent."

"Where was the last place you saw the vampire?" Tommy asked.

The gate guard at the Saint Francis Yacht Club wasn't buying a word of it.

"Really," Tommy said. "We're here to decorate for the Christmas party." The Animals waved their gaily wrapped weapons to illustrate the point. "And the Archbishop has come along to perform midnight mass." Tommy pointed to Clint, who grinned and winked through his thick glasses.

"Deus ex machina," Clint said, exhausting his Latin. "Shalom," he added for good measure.

The guard tapped his clipboard. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, I can't let you through without a membership or a guest pass."

The Emperor cleared his throat royally. "Good man, each moment you delay may be paid for with human suffering."

The guard thought that he might have just been threatened, hoped, in fact, that he had, so he could pull his gun, and was just letting his hand drop to his gun belt when the phone in the gate booth rang.

"Stay here," he instructed the vampire hunters. He answered the phone and nodded at it, then looked across Marina Boulevard to where a brown Dodge was parked. He hung up the phone and came out of the booth.

"Go on in," he said, obviously not happy about it. He pushed a button, the gate rose, and the Animals went in, headed for the East Harbor. Two minutes later the brown Dodge pulled up and stopped by the gate. Cavuto rolled down the window and flashed his badge.

"Thanks," he said to the guard. "I'll keep an eye on them for you."

"No problem," said the guard. "You ever get to shoot anyone?"

"Not today." Cavuto said. He drove though the gate, staying just out of sight of the Animals.

At the end of the dock the Animals and the Emperor stared forlornly at the big white motor yacht moored a hundred yards out into the harbor. Bummer was in the midst of a yapping fit.

"You see," said the Emperor, "he knows that the fiend is aboard."

"You're sure that's the boat that he came off of?"

"Most definitely. It chills my spine to think of it  -  the mist forming into a monster."

"That's great," Tommy said, "but how do we get aboard?" He turned to Barry, who was applying sunscreen to his bald spot. "Can you swim it?"

"We could all swim it," Barry said. "But how do we keep the gun dry? I could go get my Zodiac and take us all out there, but it'll take a while."

"How long?"

"Maybe an hour."

"We've got four, maybe five hours until sunset," Lash said.

"Go," Tommy said. "Get it."

"No, wait," said Drew, looking at the rows of yachts in the nearby slips. "Jeff, can you swim?"

The big power forward shook his head. "Nope."

"Good," Drew said. He took the Christmas-paper-wrapped shotgun from Jeff, then grabbed him by the arm and threw him into the water. "Man overboard! Man overboard! We need a boat."

The few owners and crew members who were performing maintenance on the nearby boats looked up. Drew spotted a good-sized life raft on the stern of a sixty-footer. "There, you guys, get that."

The Animals scrambled after the raft. The yacht's crew helped them get it over the side into the water.

Jeff, flailing in the water, had slapped his way back to the dock. Drew pushed him away with the shotgun. "Not yet, big guy." Over his shoulder he shouted, "Hurry, you guys! He's drowning!"

Tommy, Barry, and Lash were paddling the rubber raft for all they were worth. The yachtsmen and the Emperor shouted instructions, while Drew and Troy Lee watched their friend trying not to drown.

"He's doing really well for a non-swimmer," Drew said calmly.

"Doesn't want to get his hair wet," said Troy with Taoist simplicity.

"Yeah, can't waste that two hours of blow-drying."

Tommy moved to the front of the raft and held his paddle out to Jeff. "Grab it."

Jeff flailed and thrashed, but didn't grab the paddle.

"If he stops paddling his head will go under," Troy called. "You'll have to grab him."

Tommy whacked Jeff on the head with the plastic paddle. "Grab it!" The power forward slipped under for a second and bobbed to the surface again.

"That's one!" Drew called.

"Now grab it," Tommy yelled. He raised the paddle as if to strike again. Jeff shook his head violently and reached for the paddle as he went under again.

"That's two!"

Tommy pulled the paddle up with Jeff on the end while Barry and Lash wrestled the big man into the boat.

"Well done, men," the Emperor said.

The yachtsmen stood at the end of the dock, watching in amazement. Drew turned to them. "We're going to need that raft for a while, okay?"

One of the crewmen started to protest and Drew jacked a shell into the shotgun, ripping the wrapping paper. "Big shark hunt. We need the raft."

The crewman nodded and backed away. "Sure, as long as you need it."

"Okay," Tommy called. "Everybody in the raft."

Drew and Troy Lee helped the Emperor get into the raft, then handed over Bummer and Lazarus and climbed in themselves. The Emperor stood at the front of the raft as they made their way across the harbor to the Sanguine II.

Twenty yards from the yacht Bummer began barking and bouncing around the raft. "The fiend is definitely on board," the Emperor said. He picked up Bummer and shoved him into his pocket. "Well done, little one."

It took five minutes to get everyone on board and the life raft secured to the stern. "How we doing on time, Lash?" Tommy asked.

"We're looking at four, maybe four and a half hours of daylight. Will he wake up at sunset or dark?"

"Jody usually wakes up right at sunset. So let's say four."

"Okay, everybody," Tommy said, "let's spread out and find the vampire."

"I don't know if that's a good idea," said Jeff. He was dripping and his lips had gone blue with the cold. The Animals looked at him. He was embarrassed by the attention. "Well, in all of the horror movies, the people split up and the monster picks them off one by one."

"Good point," Tommy said. "Everybody stay together; find this fucker and get it over with." He raised a gift-wrapped spear-gun in salute. "For Simon!"

"For Simon!" the Animals shouted as they followed Tommy below.
 

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