Powers for Good
The Emperor was sitting on a black marble bench just around the corner from the great opera house, feeling small and ashamed, when he saw the striking redhead in jeans coming toward him. Bummer lapsed into a barking fit and the Emperor snatched the Boston terrier up by the scruff of the neck and stuffed him into the oversized pocket of his coat to quiet him.
"Brave Bummer," said the old man. "Would that I could still hold that kind of passion, even if it were fear. But my fear is weak and damp, I've barely the spine for a dignified surrender."
He'd felt like this since he'd seen Jody outside the secondhand store, where she'd warned him away from the owner. Yes, now he knew her to be one of the undead, a bloodsucking fiend - but then, not so much a fiend. She had been a friend, a good one, even after he had betrayed Tommy Iff to the Animals. He could feel the City's eye on him, could feel her disappointment in him. What does a man have, if not character? What is character, if not a man's measure of himself against his friends and enemies? The great city of San Francisco shook her head at him, ashamed. Her bridges slumped in the fog with disappointment.
He remembered a house somewhere and that same look on the face of a dark-haired woman, but mercifully, in an instant that memory was a ghost, and Jody was bending to scratch behind the ears of the steadfast Lazarus, who had never been agitated by her like his bug-eyed brother, who even now squirmed furiously in the woolen pocket.
"Your Majesty," Jody said. "How are you?"
"Worthless and weak," said the Emperor. She really was a lovely girl. He'd never known her to hurt a soul. What a cad he was.
"I'm sorry to hear that. You have plenty to eat? Staying warm?"
"The men and I have this very hour vanquished a corned beef on a sourdough roll the size of a healthy infant, thank you."
"Tommy's Joynt?" Jody said with a smile.
"Indeed. We are not worthy, yet my people provide."
"Don't be silly, you're worthy. Look, Emperor, have you seen William?"
"William of the huge and recently shaven cat?"
"That's the one."
"Why yes, we crossed his path not long ago. He was at the liquor store at Geary and Taylor. He seemed very enthusiastic about purchasing some scotch. More energetic than I've seen him in many years."
"That was how long ago?" She stopped petting Lazarus and stood.
"Little more than an hour ago."
"Thank you, Your Majesty. You don't know where he was going?"
"I should think to find a safe place to drink his dinner. Although I can't claim to know him well, I don't think William passes the evening in the Tenderloin often."
Jody patted the Emperor's shoulder, and he took her hand.
"I'm so sorry, dear."
"Sorry? About what?"
"When I saw you and Thomas the other night, I noticed. It's true, isn't it? Thomas has changed."
"No, he's still a doofus."
"I mean he is one of your kind now?"
"Yes." She looked up the street. "I was alone," she said.
The Emperor knew exactly how she felt. "I told one of his crew from the Safeway, Jody. I'm sorry, I was frightened."
"You told the Animals?"
"The born-again one, yes."
"And how did he react?"
"He was worried for Thomas's soul."
"Yeah, that would be Clint's reaction. You don't know if he told the other Animals?"
"I would guess yes, by now."
"Okay, don't worry, then, Your Highness. It's okay. Just don't tell anyone else. Tommy and I are leaving the City just like we promised those police detectives. We just have to get things in order."
"And the other - the old vampire?"
"Yes. Him, too."
She turned and strode away, heading into the Tenderloin, her boot heels clacking on the sidewalk as she kept her pace just below a run.
The Emperor shook his head and rubbed Lazarus behind the ears. "I should have told her about the detectives. I know that, old friend." There was only so much weakness he could confess to at one time - that, too, a fault. The Emperor resolved to sleep somewhere cold and damp tonight, perhaps in the park by the Maritime Museum, as penance for his weakness.
There was no way she was going to remember his new mobile number. It was five in the morning before Tommy had finished moving all of the furniture, books, and clothes. Now the new loft looked almost exactly like the old loft had looked, except that it didn't have a working phone line. So Tommy sat on the counter of the old loft, looking at the three bronze statues and waiting for Jody to call.
Just the three statues left to move: Jody, the old vampire, and the turtle. The old vampire looked fairly natural.
He'd been unconscious when he'd been bronzed, but Tommy had the biker sculptors downstairs pose him as if he was in midstep, out for a stroll. Jody was posed with her hand on her hip, her head thrown back as if she'd just tossed her long hair over her shoulder, smiling.
Tommy turned his head to the side, getting perspective. She didn't look skanky. What made Abby say the statue was skanky? Sexy, well yes. Jody had been wearing some very low-cut jeans and a crop top when he'd posed her for the electroplating, and the bikers had insisted upon exposing more of her cleavage than was probably decorous, but what could you expect from a couple of guys who specialized in making high-end garden gnomes acting out the Kama Sutra?
Okay, she looked a little skanky, but he didn't see how that was a bad thing. He had actually been delighted when she came streaming out of the ear holes to materialize, stark naked, in front of him. If she hadn't killed him, it would have been the fulfillment of a sexual fantasy he'd nurtured for a long time. (There had been this old TV show he'd watched as a kid, about a beautiful genie who lived in a bottle - well, Tommy had done some serious bottle polishing over that one.)
So the Jody statue stayed. But the old vampire, Elijah, that was a different story. There was a real creature in there. A real scary creature. Whatever bizarre events had brought them to this spot had been set off by Elijah Ben Sapir. He was a reminder that neither he - Tommy - nor Jody had chosen to be vampires. Neither had chosen to live out the rest of their days in the night. Elijah had taken their choices away from them, and replaced them with a whole new set of scarier, bigger choices. The first of which was how the hell do you deal with the fact that you have imprisoned a sentient, feeling being in a shell of bronze, even if he is an evil dick-weed from the Dark Ages? But they couldn't let him out. He'd kill them for sure if they did. Really kill them, too, a complete death, the kind with no nooky.
Suddenly Tommy was angry. He'd had a future. He might have been a writer, a Nobel Prize winner, an adventurer, a spy. Now he was just a foul dead thing, and the furthest his ambition would reach was his next victim. Okay, that wasn't really true, but still, he was pissed off. So what if Elijah was trapped in bronze shell forever. He'd trapped them in these monstrous bodies. Maybe it was time to do something monstrous.
Tommy picked up Jody's statue and threw it over his shoulder and, despite his great vampire strength, followed it over backward as it clanged against the floor. Okay, it had taken the two bikers and a refrigerator dolly to get the statues up here, maybe a little planning was in order.
It turned out he could move the statue pretty efficiently if he slung it over his back and let one of her feet drag, and so he did, down the steps, half a block down the sidewalk, and back up the steps of the new loft. Bronze Jody looked happy in the new place, he thought. The turtle took half as long. She, too, looked pleased with the surroundings.
As for Elijah, Tommy figured what was the point of being in a city on a peninsula if you didn't take advantage of the water now and then. And Elijah evidently liked the ocean, since he'd come to the City on his yacht, which Tommy and the Animals had managed to blow to smithereens.
The vampire statue was even heavier that Jody's, but Tommy felt energized by the idea of getting rid of it. Just a short twelve blocks to the sea and that would be that.
"From the sea ye came, and to the sea ye shall return," Tommy said, thinking that he might be quoting Coleridge, or maybe a Godzilla movie.
As Tommy dragged the bronzed vampire down Mission Street, he considered his future. What would he do? He had a lot of time to fill, and after a while, figuring out new ways to jump Jody would only fill up a part of his nights. He was going to have to find a purpose. They had money - cash the vampire had given Jody when he turned her - and what was left of the money from the sale of Elijah's art, but eventually that would run out. Maybe he should get a job. Or become a crime fighter.
That's it, he would use his powers for good. Maybe get an outfit.
After a few blocks Tommy noticed that Elijah's toe, the one that was dragging on the sidewalk, was starting to wear away. The bikers had warned Tommy that the bronze shell was pretty thin. It wouldn't do to unleash a claustrophobic and hungry ancient vampire when you were the guy who had imprisoned him, so Tommy stood the vampire on the corner for a minute while he dug through a trash bin until he found some heavy-duty plastic Big Gulp cups, which he fitted on the vampire's dragging foot as skid protection.
"Ha!" Tommy said. "Thought you had me."
A couple of guys in hip-hop wear walked by as Tommy was fitting the cups on the vampire's feet. Tommy made the mistake of making eye contact and they paused.
"Stole it from a building on Fourth," Tommy said.
The two nodded, as if they were saying, Of course, we were just wondering, and proceeded to move down the sidewalk.
They must sense my superior strength and speed, Tommy thought, so they wouldn't dare mess with me. In fact, the two had confirmed that the white boy in the ghost makeup was crazy - and what would they do with a four-hundred-pound statue anyway?
Tommy figured he'd drag the statue to the Embarcadero and toss it off the pier by the Ferry Building. If there was anyone around, he'd just stand at the rail like he was there with his gay lover, then shove the statue in when no one was looking. He felt enormously sophisticated about the plan. No one would ever think a guy from Indiana was pretending to be gay. That kind of thing just wasn't done. Tommy had known a kid once in high school who had gone up to Chicago to see the musical Rent and was never heard from again. Tommy reckoned he'd been disappeared by the local Kiwanis Club.
When he got to the Embarcadero, which ran all along the waterfront, Tommy was tempted to just chuck Elijah in the Bay right there and call it a night, but he had a plan, so he dragged the vampire that last two blocks to the promenade at the end of Market Street, where the antique streetcars, the cable cars, and the cross-bay ferries all converged in a big paved park and sculpture garden. Here, away from the buildings, the night seemed to open up to his vampire senses, take on a new light. Tommy stopped for moment, stood Elijah by a fountain, and watched heat streaming out of some grates by the streetcar turnaround. Perfect. There was absolutely no one around.
Then the beeping started. Tommy looked at his watch. Sunrise in ten minutes. The night hadn't opened up to him, it had been shutting him down. Ten minutes, and the loft was a good twenty blocks away.
Jody was quickstepping along the alleyway that came out in front of their old loft. She still had twenty minutes until sunrise, but she could see the sky lightening, and twenty minutes was cutting it too close. Tommy would be freaked. She should have taken the cell phone with her. She shouldn't have left him alone with the new minion.
She'd finally found William, passed out in a doorway in Chinatown, with Chet the huge cat sleeping on his chest. They'd have to remember not to leave William with any money from now on, if he was going to be their food source. Otherwise he'd go elsewhere for his alcohol, and that wasn't going to work. He was making his staggering way home on his own. Maybe she'd let him take a shower at the old loft - they weren't going to get their deposit back anyway.
There was still a light on in the loft. Great, Tommy was home. She'd forgotten to get a key for the new place. She was about to step out of the alley when she smelled cigar smoke and heard a man's voice. She stopped and peeked around the corner.
There was a brown Ford sedan parked across the street from their old loft, and in it sat two middle-aged men. Cavuto and Rivera, the homicide detectives that she'd made a deal with the night they'd blown up Elijah's yacht. They'd moved just in time, but then, maybe not quite. She couldn't get to the new place either. It was only a half a block away, and she'd have to cross in the open. And even then, what if it was locked?
She jumped four feet straight up when the alarm on her watch went off.
It was toward the end of their second shift after returning to the Safeway that the Animals sobered up. Lash was sitting by himself in the wide backseat of the Hummer limo, his head cradled in his hands, hoping desperately that the despair and self-loathing he was feeling was only the effect of a hangover, instead of what it really was, which was a big flaming enema of reality. The reality was, they had spent more than a half a million dollars on a blue hooker. He let the hugeness of it roll around in his head, and looked up at the other Animals, who were sitting around the perimeter of the limo, similarly posed, trying not to make eye contact with one another. They'd had nearly two semi trucks of stock to put up that night, and they'd known it was coming because they'd ordered it to make up for the time they'd been away and Clint had let the shelves get low. So they'd sobered up, put their heads down, and thrown stock like the Animals that they were. Now it was getting close to dawn and it was dawning on all of them that they might have severely fucked up.
Lash risked a sideways glance at Blue, who was sitting between Barry and Troy Lee. She'd taken Lash's apartment on Northpoint, and made him sleep on the couch at Troy Lee's, where there were about seven hundred Chinese family members, including Troy's grandmother, who, every time she passed through the room during the day, when Lash was trying to sleep, would screech, "What's up, my nigga!" and try to get him to wake up and give her a pound or a high five.
Lash had been explaining to her that it's impolite to refer to an African American as a nigga, unless one was another African-American, when Troy Lee came in and said, "She only speaks Cantonese."
"She does not. She keeps coming in and saying, 'What's up, my nigga? "
"Oh yeah. She does that to me, too. Did you give her a pound?"
"No, I didn't give her a pound, motherfucker. She called me a nigga."
"Well, she's not going to quit unless you give her a pound. It's just the way she rolls."
"That's some bullshit, Troy."
"It's her couch."
Lash, exhausted and already hungover, gave the wizened old woman a pound.
Granny turned to Troy Lee. "What's up, my nigga!" She offered and received a pound from her grandson.
"That shit is not the same!" Lash said.
"Get some sleep. We have a big load tonight."
Now half a million dollars was gone. His apartment was gone. The limo was costing them a thousand dollars a day. Lash looked out the blackout windows at the moving patchwork of shadows thrown by the streetlights, then turned to Blue.
"Blue," he said. "We have to get rid of the limo."
Everyone looked up, shocked. No one had said anything to her since they'd finished stocking. They'd brought her coffee and juice, but no one had said anything.
Blue looked at him. "Get me what I want." Not a hint of malice, not even a demand, really, just a statement of fact. "Okay," Lash said. Then to the driver he said, "Take a right up here. Head back to that building where we went last night."
Lash crawled over the divider into the front passenger seat. He couldn't see shit out the blackened windows. They'd only gone about three blocks into the SOMA district when he saw someone running. Running way, way too fast for a jogger. Running - like he was on fire - running.
"Pull up alongside of that guy."
The driver nodded.
"Hey, guys, is that Flood?"
"Yeah, it is," Barry, the bald one, said.
Lash rolled down the window. "Tommy, you need a ride, man?"
Tommy, still running, nodded like a bobble-head on crack.
Barry threw open the back door, and before the limo could even slow down, Tommy leapt in, landing across Drew and Gustavo's laps.
"Man, am I glad you guys came along," Tommy said. "In about a minute, I'm going to - "
He passed out in their laps as the sun washed over the hills of San Francisco.
Inspector Alphonse Rivera watched the broken clown girl - black-and-white-striped stockings and green sneakers - come out of Jody Stroud's apartment and head up the street, then turn and look back at their brown, unmarked sedan.
"We're made," said Nick Cavuto, Rivera's partner, a broad-shouldered bear of a man, who longed for the days of Dashiell Hammett, when cops talked tough and there were very few problems that couldn't be solved with your fists or a smack from a lead sap.
"We're not made. She's just looking. Two middle-aged guys sitting in the car on the city street - it's unusual."
If Cavuto was a bear, then Rivera was a raven - a sharp-featured, lean Hispanic, with just a touch of gray at the temples. Lately he'd taken to wearing expensive Italian suits, in raw silk or linen when he could find them. His partner was in rumpled Men's Wearhouse. Rivera often wondered if Nick Cavuto might not be the only gay man on the planet who had no fashion sense whatsoever.
The knock-kneed kid with the raccoon eye makeup was making her way across the street toward them.
"Roll up your window," Cavuto said. "Roll up your window. Pretend like you don't see her."
"I'm not going to hide from her," Rivera said. "She's just a kid."
"Exactly. You can't hit her."
"Jesus, Nick. She's just a creepy kid. What's wrong with you?"
Cavuto had been on edge since they'd pulled up an hour ago. They both had, really, since the guy named Clint, one of the night crew from the Marina Safeway, had left a message on Rivera's voice mail that Jody Stroud, the redheaded vampire, had not left town as she had promised, and that her boyfriend, Tommy Flood, was now also a vampire. It was a very bad turn of events for the two cops, both of whom had taken a share of the money from the old vampire's art collection in return for letting them all go. It had seemed like the only option, really. Neither of the cops wanted to explain how the serial killer they'd been chasing had been an ancient vampire, and how he'd been tracked down by a bunch of stoners from the Safeway. And when the Animals blew up the vampire's yacht - well, the case was solved, and if the vampires had left, it would have all been good. The cops had planned to retire early and open a rare-book store. Rivera thought he might learn to golf.
Now he was feeling it all float away on an evil breeze. A cop for twenty years, without ever so much as fixing a traffic ticket, then the one time you take a hundred thousand dollars and let a vampire go, the whole world turns on you like you're some kind of bad guy. Rivera was raised a Catholic, but he was starting to believe in karma.
"Pull out. Pull out," Cavuto said. "Go around the block until she goes away."
"Hey," said the broken clown girl. "You guys cops?"
Cavuto hit the window button on his door but the ignition was off, so the window didn't budge. "Go away, kid. Why aren't you in school? Do we need to take you in?"
"Winter break, brain trust," said the kid.
Rivera couldn't hold the laugh in and he snorted a little trying to.
"Move along, kid. Go wash that shit off your face. You look like you fell asleep with a Magic Marker in your mouth."
"Yeah," said the kid, examining a black fingernail, "well, you look like someone pumped about three hundred pounds of cat barf into a cheap suit and gave it a bad haircut."
Rivera slid down in his seat and turned his face toward the door. He couldn't look at his partner. He was sure that if it was possible for steam to come out of someone's ears, that might be happening to Cavuto, and if he looked, he'd lose it.
"If you were a guy," Cavuto said, "I'd have you in handcuffs already, kid."
"Oh God," Rivera said under his breath.
"If I were a guy, I'll bet you would. And I'll bet I'd have to send you to the S and M ATM, because the kinky shit is extra." The kid leaned down so she was eye level with Cavuto, and winked.
That was it. Rivera started giggling like a little girl - tears were creeping out the corners of his eyes.
"You're a big fucking help," Cavuto said. He reached over, flipped the ignition key to "accessory," then rolled up his window.
The kid came over to Rivera's side of the car.
"So, have you seen Flood?" she asked. "Cop?" She added «cop» with a high pop on the p, like it was punctuation mark, not a profession.
"You just came out of his apartment," Rivera said, trying to shake off the giggles. "You tell me."
"Place is empty. The douche nozzle owes me money," said the kid.
"Stuff I did for him."
"Be specific, sweetheart. Unlike my partner, I don't threaten." It was a threat, of course, but he thought he might have hit pay dirt, the kid's eyes opened wide enough to see light.
"I helped him and that redheaded hag load their stuff into a truck."
Rivera looked her up and down. She couldn't have weighed ninety pounds. "He hired you to help him move?"
"Just little crap. Lamps and stuff. They were like, in a hurry. I was walking by, he flagged me down. Said he'd give me a hundred bucks."
"But he didn't?"
"He gave me eighty. He said it was all he had on him. To come back this morning for the rest."
"Did either of them say where they were going?"
"Just that they were going to leave the City this morning, as soon as they paid me."
"You notice anything unusual about either of them - Flood or the redhead?"
"Just day dwellers, like you. Bourgeois four-oh-fours."
"Clueless - Pottery Barn fucktards."
"Of course," Rivera said. He could hear his partner snickering now.
"So you haven't seen them?" the kid said.
"They're not coming, kid."
"How do you know that?"
"I know that. You're out twenty dollars. Cheap lesson. Go away and don't come back here, and if either of them contact you, or you see them, call me."
Rivera handed the kid a business card. "What's your name?"
"My day-slave name?"
"Sure, let's try that one."
"Allison. Allison Green. But on the street I'm known as Abby Normal."
"On the street?"
"Shut up, I have street cred." Then she added, "Cop!" like the chirp of a car alarm arming.
"Good. Take your street cred and run along, Allison."
She shuffled off, trying to swivel nearly nonexistent hips as she went.
"You think they left the City?" Cavuto asked.
"I want to own a bookstore, Nick. I want to sell old books and learn to golf."
"So that would be no?"
"Let's go talk to the born-again Safeway guy."
Four robots and one statue guy worked the Embarcadero by the Ferry Building. Not every day. Some days, when it was slow, there were only two robots and a statue guy, or on rainy days, none of them worked, because the silver or gold makeup they used to color their skin didn't hold up well in the rain, but as a rule, it was four robots and one statue guy. Monet was the statue guy - the ONLY statue guy. He'd staked his territory three years ago, and if some poseur ever showed up, he had to meet Monet on the field of stillness, where they would clash in the motion-free battle of doing absolutely nothing. Monet had always prevailed, but this guy - this new guy - was really good.
The challenger had been there when Monet arrived in the late morning, and he hadn't even blinked for two hours. The guy's makeup was perfect, too. He looked as if he had really been bronzed, so it was beyond Monet why he would choose to get his collections in Big Gulp cups that he'd jammed his feet into. Monet carried a small portfolio case, with a hole cut in it where tourists could stuff their bills. He had primed his money hole with a five today, just to show the challenger that he wasn't intimidated, but the truth was, after two hours, he hadn't made half of what he saw the newcomer take in, and he was intimidated. And his nose itched.
His nose itched and the new statue guy was kicking his ass. Normally Monet would change positions every half hour or so, then stand motionless while the tourists taunted him and tried to make him flinch, but with the new competition, he had to stay still as long as it took.
The robots on the promenade had all assumed poses from which they could watch. They only had to hold still until someone dropped cash into their cup, then they would do the robot dance. It was boring work, but the hours were good and you were outside. It looked like Monet was going down.
He felt like his ass was on fire.
Tommy came to to the sound of a riding crop being smacked against his bare butt and the rough bark of a woman's voice.
"Say it! Say it! Say it!"
He tried to pull away from the pain but couldn't move his arms or legs. He was having trouble focusing his vision - waves of light and heat were rocketing around his brain and all he could really see was a bright red spot with waves of heat coming off of it and a figure moving around the edges. It was like staring into the sun through a red filter. He could feel the heat on his face.
"Ouch!" Tommy said. "Dammit!" He pulled against his bonds and heard a metallic rattling, but nothing gave.
The red hot light went away and was replaced by the blurry form of a female face, a blue face, just inches away from his own. "Say it," she whispered harshly, spitting a little on the "it."
"Say it, vampire!" she said. She whipped the riding crop across his stomach and he howled.
Tommy squirmed against his bonds and heard the rattling again. With the spotlight moved away, he could see that he was suspended by very professional-looking nylon restraints to a brass, four-poster bed frame that had been stood on end. He was completely naked and evidently the blue woman, who was dressed in a black vinyl bustier, boots, and nothing else, had been whaling on him for some time. He could see welts across his stomach and thighs, and well, his ass felt like it was on fire.
She wound up to smack him again.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa," Tommy said, trying not to screech. He only realized then that his fangs were extended and he'd bitten his own lips.
The blue woman held up. "Say it."
Tommy tried to keep his voice calm. "I know you've been doing this for a while now, but I've only been awake for about a minute of it, so I have no idea what you are asking me. If you slow down and repeat the whole question, I'll be happy to tell you whatever I know."
"Your safety word," said the blue woman.
"Which is?" Tommy said. He noticed for the first time that she had enormous boobs spilling out of that bustier and it occurred to him that he had never seen big blue boobs before. They were kind of mesmerizing. He wouldn't have been able to look away even if he weren't strapped down.
"I told you," she said, letting the riding crop fall to her side.
"You told me what a safety word is?"
"I just told you what it is."
"So you know it, then?"
"Yes," she said.
"Then why are you asking?"
"To see if you're at your breaking point." She seemed to be pouting a little now. "Don't be a dick, this isn't my specialty."
"Where am I?" Tommy asked. "You're Lash's Smurf, aren't you? Are we at Lash's?"
"I'm asking the questions here." She snapped the riding crop against his thigh.
"Ouch! Fuck! Stop that. You have issues, lady."
"What is it? I was asleep when you told me, you stupid bitch!" He was wrong, he was able to look away from the blue boobs. He snarled at her, something coming up from deep inside him that he didn't even recognize - something that felt wild and on the verge of out of control - like when he first made love with Jody as a vampire, only this felt - well, lethal.
"Cheddar? Like the cheese?" He was getting beating because of cheese?
"So I said it. Now what?"
"'Kay," Tommy said, straining against the heavy nylon straps, understanding now what he was feeling. He was going to kill her. He didn't know how yet, but he was as certain of it as of anything he had ever known. Grass was green, water was wet, and this bitch was dead.
"So now you have to turn me," she said.
"Turn you?" he said. His fangs ached, like they were going to leap out of his mouth.
"Make me like you," she said.
"You want to be orange? Is this another Cheddar thing? Because - "
"Not orange, you nitwit, a vampire!" she said, and she snapped the riding crop across his chest.
He bit his lips again and felt the blood running down his chin. "So for that you needed all the hitting?" He said. "Come over here."
She leaned up and kissed him, then pushed away hard and came away with his blood on her mouth. "I guess I'm going to have to get used to this," she said, licking her lips.
"Closer," Tommy said.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com