Chapter 19~20


Chapter Nineteen

Our Dead Homeys

The vampires sat side by side on the bare futon frame, watching as a five-legged bug limped up the big front window of the loft.

Tommy thought that the rhythm of the bug's steps made a for a danceable backbeat - thought he might be able to set music to it, if he knew how to write music. Suite for Angst and Limping Bug, he'd call it.

"Nice bug," Tommy said.

"Yeah," Jody said.

We should save it for Abby, Jody thought. She was feeling guilty about having bitten the girl - not so much because of the violation, because obviously the kid had been willing, but because she felt as if she really didn't have any choice. She had been injured and her predator nature told her to survive, whatever the cost, which is what bothered her. Was her humanity drifting away?

"The Animals are going to come for us now," Tommy said. He was feeling angry, betrayed by his old crew, but most of all he felt separate from them now. He felt separate from everyone. Tomorrow was Christmas and he didn't even want to call his parents because they were a different species now. What do you buy for an inferior species?

"It's just the Animals," Jody said. "We'll be safe."

"I'll bet that's what Elijah thought, too, and they got him."

"We should go get him," Jody said. She imagined Elijah Ben Sapir, standing in the full sun by the Ferry Building, tourists passing him, wondering why someone would put a statue there. Would the brass protect him?

Tommy checked his watch. "We'd never get there and back in time. I tried that yesterday."

"How could you do that to him, Tommy? He was one of us."

"One of us? He was going to kill us, if you remember. He kind of did kill us. I resent that. Besides, if you're covered in bronze, what does it matter if you're underwater? I was just trying to get him out of sight so we could think about our future without him being part of it."

"Right. Okay," Jody said. "Sorry." Future? She'd lived with a half-dozen guys, none had ever willingly talked about the future before. And she and Tommy had a supersized buttload of future ahead of them as long as someone didn't catch them sleeping. "Maybe we really should leave the City," she said. "No one would know about us in a new city."

"I was thinking we should get a Christmas tree," Tommy said.

Jody looked away from the bug. "That's a thought, or we could put some mistletoe up, put on Christmas carols, and stand outside waiting for Santa until the sun comes up and incinerates us. How's that sound?"

"Nobody appreciates your sarcasm, missy. I'm just trying to get a handle on normal. Three months ago I was stocking groceries in Indiana, looking at community college, driving around in my crappy car, wishing I had a girlfriend, and wishing that there was some potential for something to happen beyond getting a job with benefits and living the same life as my dad. Now I have a girlfriend, and superpowers, and a bunch of people want to kill me, and I don't know how to act. I don't know what to do next. And it's going to be that way forever. Forever! I'm going to be scared out of my mind forever! I can't deal with forever."

He'd been barking at her, but she resisted the urge to snap back. He was nineteen, not a hundred and fifty - he didn't even have the tools for being an adult, let alone being immortal. "I know," she said. "Tomorrow night, first thing, we'll hire a car, go get Elijah, and pick up a Christmas tree on the way back. How's that sound?"

"Hiring a car? That sounds exotic."

"It'll be like prom." Was she being too patronizing?

"You don't have to do that," he said. "I'm sorry I'm acting like a weenie."

"But you're my weenie," Jody said. "Take me to bed."

Still holding her hand, he stood, then pulled her up into his arms. "We'll be okay, right?"

She nodded and kissed him, feeling for just a second like a girl in love instead of a predator. She immediately felt a resurgence of shame over feeding on Abby.

The doorbell rang.

"Did you know we had a doorbell?"


"You can't beat a dead whore in the morning," said Nick Cavuto cheerfully, because apparently, everyone loves a dead hooker, despite what certain writer types might think. They were standing in the alley off Mission Street.

Dorothy Chin - short, pretty, and whip-smart - snorted a laugh and checked the thermometer probe she'd stuck in the deceased's liver like a meat thermometer into a roast. "She hasn't been dead four hours, guys."

Rivera rubbed his temples and felt his bookstore slipping away, along with his marriage. He'd known the marriage had been going for a while, but he was feeling a little brokenhearted about the bookstore. He figured he knew, but he asked anyway. "Cause of death?"

"Toothy blow job," Cavuto said.

"Yes, Alphonse," said Dorothy with a tad too much sincerity, "I'd have to concur with Detective Cavuto, she died of a toothy blow job."

"It just pisses some guys off," Cavuto added, "a professional without skills."

"Guy just snapped her neck and took his money back," said Dorothy with a big grin.

"So a broken neck?" said Rivera, mentally waving goodbye to a whole set of first-edition Raymond Chandlers, ten-to-six workdays, golfing on Mondays.

Cavuto snorted this time. "Her head's turned around the wrong way, Rivera. What did you think it was?"

"Seriously," Dorothy Chin said, "I have to do the autopsy to be sure, but offhand that's the obvious cause. I'd also say she's probably lucky to go that way. She's HIV positive and it looks like the disease had developed into full-blown AIDS."

"How do you know that?"

"See these sarcomas on her feet."

Chin had removed one of the hooker's shoes - she pointed to open sores on the corpse's foot and ankle.

Rivera sighed. He didn't want to ask, but he asked anyway, "What about blood loss?"

Dorothy Chin had done the autopsies on two of the previous victims and cringed a little. It was a pattern. They'd all been terminally ill, they'd all died of a broken neck, and they'd all shown evidence of extreme blood loss, but no external wounds - not even a needle mark.

"Can't tell out here."

Cavuto had lost his cheery manner now. "So we spend Christmas day canvassing dirtbags to see if anyone saw anything?"

At the end of the alley, uniforms were still talking to the grimy homeless man who had called in the murder. He was trying to get them to spring for a bottle of whiskey - because it was Christmas. Rivera didn't want to go home, but he didn't want to spend a day trying to find out what he already knew. He checked his watch.

"What time was sunrise this morning?" he asked.

"Oh, wait," Cavuto said, patting down his pockets, "I'll check my almanac."

Dorothy Chin snorted again, then started giggling.

"Dr. Chin," Rivera said, tightening down now, "could you be more precise about the time of death?"

Chin picked up on Rivera's tone and went full professional. "Sure. There's an algorithm for the cooling time of a body. Get me the weather from last night, let me get her back to the morgue and weigh her, and I'll get you a time within ten minutes."

"What?" Cavuto said to Chin. "What?" This time to Rivera.

"Winter solstice, Nick," Rivera said. "Christmas was originally set at the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. It's eleven-thirty now. I'm betting that four hours ago the sun was just coming up."

"Uh-huh," Cavuto said. "Prostitutes have shitty hours - is that what you're saying?"

Rivera raised an eyebrow. "Our guy didn't travel far after sunrise, is what I'm saying. He's going to be around here."

"I was afraid that's what you were saying," Cavuto said. "We're never going to get the bookstore open, are we?"

"Tell the uniforms to look anywhere it's dark: under Dumpsters, in crawl spaces, attics - anywhere."

"Getting warrants on Christmas day might be a problem."

"You won't need warrants if you get permission from the owners - we're not looking to bust anyone living here, we're looking for a murder suspect."

Cavuto pointed to the eight-story brick building that composed one wall of the alley. "This building has something like eight hundred ministorage units in it."

"Then you guys had better get started."

"Where're you going?"

"There was a missing person report on an old guy in North Beach a couple of days ago. I'm going to check it out."

"Because you don't want to go Dumpster diving for v - "

"Because," Rivera cut him off before he could say the V-word, "he had terminal cancer. His wife assumed he just wandered off and got lost. Now I'm not so sure. Call me if you find anything."

"Uh-huh." Cavuto turned to the three uniforms who were interviewing the bum. "Hey, guys, have I got a merry Christmas detail for you."

The Animals decided to hold a small memorial service for Blue in Chinatown. Troy Lee was already there, as was Lash, who wouldn't go home to his apartment until Blue's body was removed, and Barry, who was Jewish, would be coming there for dinner with his family, as was the tradition in his faith. Plus, the liquor stores in Chinatown were open on Christmas, and if you slipped some money under the counter, you could get firecrackers. The Animals were fairly sure that Blue would have wanted firecrackers at her funeral.

The Animals stood in a semicircle, beers in hand, on a playground off Grant Street. The deceased was being honored in absentia - in her place was a half-eaten pair of edible panties. From a distance, they looked like a bunch of wastrels mourning a Fruit Roll-Up.

"I'd like to start, if I may," said Drew. He wore a long overcoat and his hair was tied back with a black ribbon, revealing the target-shaped bruise on his forehead where Jody had hit him with the wine bottle. Out of his coat he pulled a bong the size of a tenor sax, and using a long lighter designed for lighting fireplaces, he sparked that magnificent mama-jama up and bubbled away like a scuba diver having an asthma attack. When he could hold no more, he raised the bong, poured some water on the ground, and croaked, "To Blue," which came out in a perfect smoke ring, the sight of which brought tears to everyone's eyes.

"To Blue," everyone repeated as they placed one hand on the bong and tipped a bit out of their beers.

"To Broo, my nigga," said Troy Lee's grandma, who had insisted upon joining the ceremony once she realized there would be firecrackers.

"She will be avenged," said Lash.

"And we'll get our fucking money back," said Jeff, the big jock.

"Amen," the Animals said.

They had decided on a nondenominational ceremony, as Barry was a Jew, Troy Lee was a Buddhist, Clint was an Evangelical, Drew was a Rastafarian, Gustavo was a Catholic, and Lash and Jeff were heathen stoners. Gustavo had been called in to work that day because someone had to be in the store as long as the front was only boarded up with plywood, so in deference to his beliefs, they had bought some incense and holders and placed a picket fence of smoldering joss sticks around the edible panty. The incense also worked within Troy and Grandma's Buddhist tradition, and Lash pointed out during the ceremony that although they have their differences otherwise, all gods like a good-smellin' ho.

"Amen!" said the Animals again.

"And they're handy for lightin' firecrackers off of," added Jeff as he bent over an incense stick and set a string cracking.

"Hallelujah!" said the Animals.

Each offered to share some kind of memory of Blue, but all of their stories quickly degenerated to orifices and squishiness, and no one wanted to go there in front of Troy's grandma, so instead they threw firecrackers at Clint while he read from the Twenty-third Psalm.

Before they cracked the second case of beer, it was decided that after dark, three of them - Lash, Troy Lee, and Barry - would take Blue from Lash's apartment, load her into the back of Barry's station wagon, and take her out in the middle of the Bay in Barry's Zodiac. (Barry was the diver of the bunch, and had all the cool aquatic stuff. They'd used his spearguns to help take down the old vampire.)

Lash braced himself as he opened the apartment door, but to his surprise, there was no smell. He led Barry and Troy into the bedroom, and together they wrestled the rolled-up rug out of the closet.

"It's not heavy enough," Barry said.

"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," Troy said, trying furiously to unroll the rug.

Finally Lash reached down, grabbed the edge of the rug, and whipped it up over his head. There was a thudding sound against the far wall, followed by the jingle of metal, like coins settling.

The three Animals stood and stared.

"What are those?" Asked Barry.

"Earrings," answered Troy. Indeed, there were seven earrings settling on the hardwood floor.

"Not those. Those!" Barry nodded toward two clear, cantaloupe-sized, gelatinous lozenges that quivered on the floor like stranded jellyfish.

Lash shivered. "I've seen them before. My brother used to work in a plant in Santa Barbara that made them."

"What the fuck are they?" Said Troy, squinting through a drunken haze.

"Those are breast implants," Lash said.

"What are those wormy things?" asked Barry. There were two translucent sluglike blobs of something stuck to the rug near the edge.

"Looks like window caulk," said Lash. He noticed that there was a fine blue powder near the edge of the rug. He ran his hand over it, pinched some on his fingers, and sniffed it. Nothing.

"Where'd she go?" asked Barry.

"No idea," said Lash.

Chapter Twenty

It's a Wonderful Life

Gustavo Chavez had been born the seventh child of a brick maker in a small village in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. At eighteen he married a local girl, the daughter of a farmer, herself a seventh child, and at twenty, with his second child on the way, he crossed the border into the United States, where he lived with a cousin in Oakland, along with a score of other relatives, and worked grueling, twelve-hour days as a laborer, making enough to feed himself and send more money home to his family than he could possibly have made in his father's brickyard. He did this because it was the responsible and right thing to do, and because he had been raised a good Catholic man who, like his father, would provide for his family and no more than two or three mistresses. Each year, about a month before Christmas, he would sneak back across the border to celebrate Christmas with his family, meet any new children that might been born, and make love with his wife, Maria, until they were both so sore it hurt to walk. In fact, the vision of Maria's inviting thighs would often begin haunting him around Halloween and the hapless night porter would find himself in a state of semiarousal as he swung his soapy mop, to and fro, across fifteen thousand square feet of linoleum every night.

Tonight he was in the store alone, and he was feeling far from aroused, for it was Christmas night, and he could not go to mass or take Communion until he confessed. He was feeling deeply ashamed. Christmas night and he hadn't even called Maria - hadn't spoken to her for weeks, because like the rest of the Animals, he had gone to Las Vegas, and had given all his money to the blue whore.

He had called, of course, after they'd first taken the vampire's art and sold it for so much money, but since then, his life had been a fog of tequila and marijuana and the evil attentions of the blue one. He, a good man, who cared for his family, had never hit his wife, had only cheated with a second cousin and never with a white woman, had been undone by the curse of the blue devil's pussy. La maldici��n de la cocha del diablo azul.

This is the saddest, loneliest Christmas ever, thought Gustavo as he dragged his mop past the canvas doors leading into the produce-department cooler. I am like the poor cabr��n in that book The Pearl, where by simply trying to take advantage of some good fortune, I have lost all that I care about. Okay, I did get drunk for a week and my pearl was a blue whore who fucked the chimichangas out of me, but still, pretty sad. He thought these things in Spanish, so they sounded infinitely more tragic and romantic.

Then there came a noise from the cooler, and he was startled for a second. He wrung out his mop, so as to be ready for anything. He didn't like being in the store by himself, but with the front windows broken out, someone had to be here, and because he was far from home, had nowhere else to go, and the union would see that he was paid double time, Gustavo had volunteered. Perhaps if he sent home a little extra, Maria might forget the hundred thousand dollars he'd promised.

There, something was moving behind the plastic doors of the cooler, which were waving slightly. The stout Mexican crossed himself and backed out of the produce department, swinging his mop now in quick swaths, leaving barely a hint of dampness on the linoleum. He was by the dairy case now, and a stack of yogurts fell over inside the glass doors, as if someone had shoved them out of the way to look through.

Gustavo dropped the mop and ran to the back of the store, saying a Hail Mary peppered with swearwords as he went, wondering if those were footsteps he heard behind him, or the echoes of his own footfalls resounding through the deserted store.

Out the front door and away, he chanted in his head. Out the front door and away. He nearly fell rounding the turn at the meat case, his shoes still wet from the mop water. He caught himself on one hand and came up like a sprinter, while reaching back on his belt for his keys as he went.

There were footfalls behind him - light, slapping - bare feet on linoleum, but fast, and close. He couldn't stop to unlock the door when he got there, he couldn't look back, he couldn't turn to look - a second of hesitation and he would be lost. He exhaled a long wail and ran right through a rack of candy and gum by the registers. He tumbled over the first register in an avalanche of candy bars and magazines, many of which displayed headlines like I MARRIED BIGFOOT, or SPACE ALIEN CULT TAKES OVER HOLLYWOOD, or vampires hunt our streets, and other such nonsense.

Gustavo scrambled out of the pile and was crawling on his belly like a desert lizard scrambling to get across hot sand, when a heavy weight came down on his back, knocking the air out of him. He gasped, trying to get his breath, but something grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head backwards. He heard crackling noises in his ear, smelled something like rotten meat, and gagged. He saw the fluorescent lights, some canned hams, and a very happy cardboard elf making cookies as he was dragged down the aisle and through the doors into the dark back room of the deli like so much lunch meat.

Feliz navidad.

"Our first Christmas together," Jody said, kissing him on the cheek - giving his butt a little squeeze through his pj bottoms. "Did you get me something cute?"

"Hi, Mom," Tommy said into the phone. "It's Tommy."

"Tommy. Sweetheart. We've been calling all day. It just rang and rang. I thought you were going to come home for Christmas."

"Well, you know, Mom, I'm in management at the store now. Responsibilities."

"Are you working hard enough?"

"Oh yeah, Mom. I'm working ten - sixteen hours a day sometimes. Exhausted."

"Well good. And you have insurance?"

"The best, Mom. The best. I'm nearly bulletproof."

"Well, I suppose that's good. You're not still working that horrible night shift, are you?"

"Well, sort of. In the grocery business, that's where the money is."

"You need to get on the day shift. You're never going to meet a nice girl working those hours, son."

It was at this point, having heard Mother Flood's admonition, that Jody lifted her shirt and rubbed her bare breasts against him while batting her eyelashes coquettishly.

"But I have met a nice girl, Mom. Her name is Jody. She's studying to be a nun - er, teacher. She helps the poor."

It was then that Jody pantsed him, then ran into the bedroom giggling. He caught himself on the counter to keep from tumbling over.


"What, son? What's the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing, Mom. I just had a little eggnog with the guys and started to feel it."

"You're not on the drugs, are you, honey?"

"No, no, no, nothing like that."

"Because your father has rehab benefits on you until you're twenty-one. We can have one of those interventions if you can find a cheap flight home. I know that Aunt Esther would love to see you, even if you are strung out on the crack."

"And I her, and I her, Mom. Look, I just called to say Merry Christmas, I'll let you - "

"Wait, honey, your father wants to say hi."

" -  go."

"Hey, Skeeter. Frisco turned you into an ass bandit yet?"

"Hi, Dad. Merry Christmas."

"Glad you finally called. Your mother was worried sick about you."

"Well, you know, the grocery business."

"You working hard enough?"

"Trying. They're cutting back on our OT - union will only let us work sixty hours a week."

"Well, as long as you're trying. How's that old Volvo running?"

"Great. Like a top." The Volvo had burned to the wheels his first day in the City.

"Swiss sure can build some cars, can't they? Can't say much for those little red pocketknives they make, but sonsabitches can build a car."


"Yeah, well, I love the little meatballs too. Look, kid, your mother's got me deep-frying a turkey out in the driveway. It's starting to smoke a little. I probably oughta should go check on it. Took an hour to get the oil up to speed - it's only about ten degrees here today."

"Yeah, it's a little chilly here, too."

"Looks like it's starting to catch the carport on fire a little. Better go."

"Okay. Love you, Dad."

"Call your mother more often, she worries. Holy cats, there goes the Oldsmobile. Bye, son."

A half hour later they were sipping coffee laced with William's blood when the doorbell rang again. "This is getting irritating," Jody said.

"Call your mom," Tommy said. "I'll get it."

"We should get some sleeping pills - knock him out so he doesn't have to drink all that booze before we bleed him."

The doorbell rang again.

"We just need to get him a key." Tommy went to the console by the door and pushed the button. There was a buzz and the click of the lock at street level. The door opened - William coming in to settle on the stairs for the night. "I don't know how he sleeps on those steps."

"He doesn't sleep. He passes out," said the undead redhead. "Do you think if we gave him peppermint schnapps the coffee would have a minty holiday flavor?"

Tommy shrugged. He went to the door, threw it open, and called down. "William, you like peppermint schnapps?"

William raised a grimy eyebrow, looking suspicious. "You got something against scotch?"

"No, no, I don't want to mess up your discipline. I was just thinking of a more balanced diet. Food groups, you know."

"I had some soup and some beer today," William said.

"Okay then."

"Schnapps gives me mint farts. They scare the hell out of Chet."

Tommy turned to Jody and shook his head. "Sorry, no way, minty farts." Then to William again: "Okay then, William. I gotta get back to the little woman. You need anything? Food, blanket, toothbrush, a damp towelette to freshen up?"

"Nah, I'm good," William said. He held up a fifth of Johnny Walker Black.

"How's Chet doing?"

"Stressed. We just found out our friend Sammy got murdered in the hotel on Eleventh." Chet looked up the stairwell with sad kitty eyes, which he sort of always seemed to have since he'd been shaved.

"Sorry to hear that," Tommy said.

"Yeah, on Christmas, too," William said. "Hooker got killed across the street last night, same way. Neck was snapped. Sammy has been sick for a while, so he splurged on a room for the holiday. Fuckers killed him right there in bed. Just goes to show you."

Tommy had no idea what it went to show you. "Sad," Tommy said. "So how come Chet's stressed but you're not?"

"Chet doesn't drink."

"Of course. Well then, Merry Christmas to you guys."

"You, too," said William, toasting with his bottle. "Any chance of a Christmas bonus, now that I'm a full-time employee?"

"What'd you have in mind?"

"I'd sure like a gander at Red's bare knockers."

Tommy turned to Jody, who was shaking her head, looking pretty determined.

"Sorry," Tommy said. "How about a new sweater for Chet?"

William scowled. "You just can't bargain with The Man." He took a drink from his bottle and turned away from Tommy as if he had something important to discuss with his huge shaved cat and couldn't be bothered with management.

"Okay then," Tommy said. He closed the door and returned to the counter. "I'm The Man," he said with a big grin.

"Your mom would be so proud," Jody said. "We need to go see about Elijah."

"Not until you call your mom. Besides, he's waited this long, it's not like he's going anywhere."

Jody got up and came around the breakfast bar and took Tommy's hand. "Sweetie, I need you to play what William just said back in your mind, really slowly."

"I know, I'm The Man!"

"No, the part about his friend being killed by a broken neck, and how he has been sick, and how someone else was killed the night before, also by broken neck. I'll bet she was sick, too. Sound like a pattern you've heard before?"

"Oh my God," Tommy said.

"Uh-huh," Jody said. She held his hand to her lips and kissed his knuckles. "I'll get my jacket while you fluff up your little brain for traveling, 'kay?"

"Oh my God, you'll do anything to get out of calling your mom."


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