Chapter 21~22

 

Chapter Twenty-one

Ladies and Gentlemen, Presenting the Disappointments

He was the best one-handed free-throw shooter in the Bay Area, and that Christmas night he had sunk sixty-four in a row in his driveway hoop, shooting the new leather Spauldingball his dad had left under the tree for him. Sixty-seven in a row, without ever setting down or spilling his beer. His record was seventy-two, and he would have broken it, had he not been dragged off into the bushes to be slaughtered.

Jeff Murray was not the smartest of the Animals, nor the most well-born, but when it came to squandering potential, he was the hands-down winner. Jeff had been a star power forward through his sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school, and he had been offered a full-boat ride to Cal, Berkeley - there had even been talk of his going pro after a couple of years in college, but Jeff had decided to impress his prom date by showing her he had enough vertical leap to clear a moving car.

It was a minor misjudgment, and he would have cleared the car had he not drunk most of a case of beer before the attempt, and had the car's height not been eight inches enhanced by the light bar on the roof. The light bar just caught Jeff's left sneaker, and somersaulted him four times in the air before he landed upright in a James Brown split on the tarmac. He was pretty sure that his knee wasn't supposed to bend that way, and a team of doctors would later agree. He'd wear a brace forever and he'd never play competitive basketball again. Although he was a smokin' one-handed H.O.R.S.E. player, and he might have even been a champion if it weren't for that slaughtered-in-the-bushes thing.

He liked the new leather ball, and he knew he shouldn't be using it on the asphalt, and especially this late at night, when the sound of his dribbling might disturb his neighbors.

He lived in a garage apartment in Cow Hollow, and the fog was blowing in damp streams up his street, making the basketball sound lonely and ominous, so no one complained. It was Christmas - if all some poor bastard had was some hoops, then you'd have to be a special kind of heartless to call the cops on him. A car turned at the end of the street; blue halogens swept through the fog like sabers, then went out. Jeff squinted into the fog, but couldn't make out what kind of car it was, only that it had stopped a couple of doors down and it was a dark color.

He turned to take his record-breaking shot, but distracted, he put a little too much backspin on the ball and it jumped out of the hoop. He ran it down at the junipers by the garage, but was only able to tip it, so that it went into the bushes. He set his beer down on the driveway and went in after it, and - well, you know...

Francis Evelyn Stroud answered the phone on the second ring, as she always did, as it was proper to do.

"Hello."

"Hi, Mom, It's Jody. Merry Christmas."

"And to you, darling. You're calling rather late."

"I know, Mom. I was going to call earlier, but had a thing." I was a thing, Jody thought.

"A thing? Of course. Did you get the package I sent?" It would be expensive and completely inappropriate, a cashmere business suit, or something in a houndstooth or a herringbone, something worn only by matronly academics or matronly spies with stout poison-dart shoes. And Mother Stroud would have sent it to the old address. "Yes, I got it. It's lovely. I can't wait to wear it."

"I sent a leather-bound set of the complete works of Wallace Stegner," Mother Stroud said.

Fuck! Jody kicked at Tommy for making her call. He skipped out of range, waving a scolding finger at her.

Of course. Stegner, the Stanford paragon. Mother was one of the first coeds to graduate from Stanford and she never missed an opportunity to point out that Jody hadn't gone there. Jody's father had also gone to Stanford. She was born to Stanford, and yet she had disgraced them by going to San Francisco State, and not finishing. "Yeah, those will be great, too. I guess they just haven't caught up with me yet."

"You've moved again?" Mrs. Stroud had lived in the same house in Carmel for thirty years. Carpet and draperies never survived more than two years, but she'd been in the same house.

"Yeah, we needed a little more space. Tommy's working at home now."

"We? Then you're still with that writer boy?"

Mom said «writer» like it was a fungus.

Jody scribbled on a Post-it at the counter: Note: Break Tommy's arms off. Beat him with them.

"Yes. I'm still with Tommy. He's been nominated for a Fulbright. So, did you have a nice Christmas?"

"It was fine. Your sister brought that man."

"Her husband, Bob, you mean?" Mother Stroud did not care for men since Jody's father had left her for a younger woman.

"Well, whatever his name is."

"It's Bob, Mom. He went to school with us. You've known him since he was nine."

"Well, I had a smoked turkey delivered, and a lovely foie-gras-and-wild-mushroom appetizer."

"You had Christmas catered?"

"Of course."

"Of course." Of course. Of course. It would never occur to her that by having Christmas dinner catered, she was making other people work on Christmas. "Well, I put my present in the mail, Mom. I'd better go. Tommy's being honored at a dinner tonight because of his massive intellect."

"On Christmas?"

Oh, what the fuck. "He's Jewish."

She could hear the intake of breath on the other end of the phone. This is the light version, Mom, imagine how scandalized you be if I told you he was dead and that I killed him.

"You didn't tell me that."

"Sure I did. You must be losing details. Gotta go, Mom. I gotta help Tommy get his penis piercing in before the dinner. Bye." She hung up.

Tommy had been dancing naked in front of her for most of the phone call. When she hung up he stopped. "Did I mention that I worry about your ethical equilibrium?"

"Said the guy who was just playing buff the scrotum with my red scarf while I was making the merry Christmas call to my mother?"

"Admit it. You're a little turned on."

Dr. Drew - Drew McComber, the Ohm-budsman, the resident pharmacist and medical adviser to the Animals, was afraid of the dark. The fear had crept up on him, like a hash brownie, and coldcocked him with an inescapable paranoia after four years on the night crew at the Marina Safeway. Thing was, he awoke in the evening, to the pervasive grow lights in his garage apartment in the Marina, then drove four blocks under the streetlights to the brightly lit Safeway, then got off work in the morning when the sun was well off the horizon, to return to his grow-lit apartment, to sleep with a satin mask in place. He encountered darkness so infrequently that it seemed like a menacing stranger when he did.

On Christmas night, round midnight, Drew sat among a jungle of five-foot-tall pot plants in his living room, wearing sunglasses and watching a movie on cable about the special relationship between the lady of an English manor and her chimney sweep. (Because of his work schedule, and the constant demand to stay wasted, Drew found it difficult to keep a girlfriend. Until the Animals found Blue, his sex life had been a largely solitary affair, and (sigh) apparently had become so once again.) Each time the chimney sweep's sooty hand smacked the powdered bottom of the lady of the manor, Drew grieved a little - that dusky handprint on alabaster flank falling like a shadow on his erotic soul. There was arousal, but no joy. Sad and lonely wood did tent his hemp-fiber cargo pants.

Then, as if scripted by Erecto, the Generously Endowed Pizza Delivery God of Improbable Trysts, there was a knock at Drew's door. Rather than answer the door directly, Drew adjusted himself and ambled through the ganja forest to a small video screen in his kitchenette - a video peephole. He'd installed it in the days before his doctor had given him the prescription that made him a quasilegal medical marijuana grower (patient complains that reality harshes his mellow - prescribe 2 grams cannabis every three hours by inhalation, ingestion, or suppository).

Sure enough, as if he had called in an order, the video screen revealed a pale but pretty blonde standing on his doorstep in a conservative blue cocktail dress and heels. She might have just come from a party or a dinner out - her hair was pinned up with tiny blue bows. She might have shown up to audition for the role of the lady of the manor.

Drew keyed the intercom. "Hi. Are you sure you have the right house?"

"I think so," said the girl. "I'm looking for Drew." She smiled into the camera. Perfect teeth.

"Jeez," Drew said, then realizing that he had said it allowed, he cleared his throat and said, "I'll be right there."

He smoothed his erection down, pushed his hair behind his ears, and in five long strides he was through the forest and at the front door. At the last second he remembered the sunglasses, pushed them up on his head, smiled broadly, and threw open the door, releasing a wide beam of ultraviolet light into the night fog.

The pretty blonde dropped her smile, then screamed as she burst into flames and leapt out of the light. Drew ran out into the dark to save her.

Chapter Twenty-two

Being the Chronicles of Abby Normal:

Pathetic Nosferatu Noobsicle

Well, except for the murder, Christmas was like a slow drag over broken glass - I now truly know the ennui of passing eternity in total boredom - eating and hurling to-furky all day, stuck with Ronnie and Mom until like six, when Jared came over. His father has a fresh family with little crumb-snatcher stepsisters, so they like forget about him as soon as the squealing and presents start in the morning. He spent the whole day rewatching The Nightmare Before Christmas disc in his room and smoking cloves. His room is totally sacrosanct since he told his 'rents that he couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't be masturbating to gay porn if anyone came in. (He's so lucky sometimes - I could stand on my head and flick the bean right there at the dinner table and my mom would be all, "Honey, Christmas is family time, we should be together" and make me finish in front of everyone.)

So, we like watched The Nightmare Before Christmas disc with Mom and Ronnie until they fell asleep on the couch - then Jared and I drew some really cool tribal tattoos on Ronnie's shaved head with Magic Marker, but only like in red and black, so they look real.

Then he was all, "We should go get some coffee - my aunt gave me a hundred-dollar Starbucks gift card for Christmas."

And I hate it when people brag about their Christmas presents, because it's completely shallow and materialistic. So, I was all, "Yeah, well, I'd love to, but I am now one of the chosen, so I have duties."

And he was all, "No way, you're Jewish?"

And I was all, "No, I am nosferatu."

And he was all, "You are not."

And I was all, "Remember that sexylicious guy from Walgreens. It was him. Well, actually it's the Countess who brought me into the sacred circle of sanguinity."

And he was all, "You didn't even call me?"

"I'm sorry, Jared, but you are of an inferior species now."

So he goes, "I know, I totally suck."

And I know he's going to go all tragico-emo on me. So I say, "Buy me a Mochaccino and I'll reveal to you our dark ways and stuff."

We leave a note saying that Jared has impregnated me and we're running off together to join a satanic cult, so my mother won't panic when she wakes up, because she's totalitarian about leaving notes. Then we head to the SOMA.

But apparently, the entire fucking country shuts down on Christmas, slammed under the oppressive iron fist of the baby Jesus, so out of nine Starbucks we try, all are closed.

And Jared is all, "Take me to meet them. I want to be in the dark fold, too."

And I was all, "No way, loser, your hair is totally flat." Which it was. He only had the one spike in front, and his sculpting gel had like failed hours ago, so in his PVC raincoat, he kinda looked like a black lacquer coatrack like you see in Chinatown, but that wasn't why I couldn't take him to see the Countess and my Dark Lord. I just couldn't. I knew the Countess would freak out if she saw I was exploiting her exquisite gift to show off for a friend, so I was all, "It's very secret." But Jared started to pout and brood at the same time, which he can totally pull off because he practices, so I started to feel like a malodorous soupçon of mashed assholes, as Lautr��amont so aptly put it. (Shut up, Lily says it sounds more romantic in French.)

So I let him come, but I told him he had to say outside across the street. But when we came around the corner of the Dark Lord's block, there was a guy in a yellow tracksuit standing in the middle of the street. Just standing there, with his hood up and his head down, looking like he was going to stand there forever. And he turned really slow in our direction.

Jared was all, "Wanksta rappa," in my ear, and he giggled that high-pitched little-girl giggle he does sometimes that's like violence catnip to other guys. (Which is why Jared has to carry a foot-long double-edged dagger in his boot, which he calls his Wolf-fang. Fortunately it doesn't give him any false confidence and he is still a total puss, but he likes the attention he gets when doormen take it away from him at clubs.)

Anyway, I think my vampyre senses were, like, on edge, because I could just tell that this wasn't your normal hip-hop guy standing in the middle of a deserted street in a three-hundred-dollar tracksuit at midnight on Christmas night, so I grabbed Jared's arm and pulled him back around the corner.

And I'm all, "Dude. Shields up. Creep. Stealth. Lowest profile."

So we peek around the corner, totally cloaked this time, and the tracksuit guy is like over by the door of the loft, and someone is coming out. It's the crusty old drunk guy with the huge shaved cat, and he has his unit out, like he's going to take a leak, which I could have gone another sixteen years without seeing. And Tracksuit grabs him like he's a rag doll and pulls his head back by the hair, and bites him on the neck. And when he does, I can see that it's not a hip-hop guy at all, but some crusty white vampyre, his fangs were like visible from space. So the huge cat guy is thrashing and screaming and spraying whiz all over the place and I can hear the huge cat hissing behind the door, and Jared grabs me by my messenger bag and starts pulling me away, down the street. So that's all I saw.

And Jared was all, "Whoa."

And I was all, "Yeah."

And as soon as we got a few blocks away, I pulled out my cell and called the Countess's cell, but it went right to voice mail. So now we're at a special midnight showing of The Nightmare Before Christmas at the Metreon, drinking a huge Diet Coke to calm our nerves while we wait for a return call from my vampyre coven. (Jared forgot his inhaler and has been gasping since we saw the attack. It's so embarrassing. People are like looking, and I've moved a couple of seats over so they won't think I'm giving him a hand job or something.) I am totally overcome with dread and foreboding, and the time passes like a seeping infection on a bad eyebrow piercing. So we wait. I wish we had some pot. More later.

Oh yeah, and Mom got me a green Care Bear for Christmas! I totally love it.

"You're sure this is where you left it?" Jody was looking up and down the Embarcadero. There were no people out on the street - the performers and hustlers were long gone. She could hear the Bay Bridge humming in the distance, a foghorn started to low over in Alameda. A BART train burped out of a tunnel onto the street a block away, headed toward the ballpark, empty. A police cruiser turning out of Market Street strafed them with its headlights before heading past the Ferry Building toward Fisherman's Wharf. Tommy waved to the cops.

"Yeah. I was right here and my watch went off. He weighed a ton. It would have taken a bunch of guys to move him."

Jody saw something shining on the bricks near her feet and crouched down to touch the source. Metal filings of some sort. She licked her finger and came up with a coating of yellowish metallic particles on her fingertip. "Unless someone cut it up."

"Who would do that? Who would cut a statue up and steal the pieces?"

"Doesn't matter. Maybe thieves, maybe city workers. If someone cut that bronze shell, one of two things happened. If it was daytime, Elijah fried out here in the sun. If it was dark, he's free."

"It wasn't light, was it?"

Jody shook her head. "I'm guessing no." She saw a light pattern among the bricks a few steps away and crouched down again. There was a fine, grayish powder between the bricks. She pinched some between her fingers and shook her head. "For sure no."

"What? What is that?"

She brushed her finger off on her jeans and dug into her jacket pocket. "Tommy, remember I told you that you didn't drink the whore dry because she wouldn't have been there if you had?"

"Yeah."

"Well, that's because when a vampire drains someone - when we drain someone, they turn to a fine gray powder. I can't explain why, but it looks like that. Feels like that." She pointed to the mortar lines between the bricks.

Tommy knelt down and touched the powder, looked up. "How do you know that?"

"You know how I know that?"

"You've killed people."

She shrugged. "Just a couple. And they were sick. Terminal. They were asking for it, sort of."

"So that's why you weren't upset about the hooker?"

She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket, then held it behind her back and twisted back and forth looking at her feet, like a little girl being interrogated about how Mommy's lamp got broken. "Are you mad?"

"I'm a little disappointed."

"Really? I'm really sorry. You would have done the same thing if you'd been there."

"I'm just disappointed that you didn't feel that you could trust me."

"You were having a hard time with your change. I didn't want to bother you."

"But it wasn't sexual or anything, right?"

"Absolutely not. Purely nutritional." She didn't think it necessary to tell him about kissing the old man. It would just confuse things.

"Well, I guess it's okay, then. I guess if you had to."

He stood and she ran to him and kissed him. "I can't tell you how glad I am to have that off my chest."

"Yeah, well..."

"Hang on." She held up a finger and hit the power button on her phone.

"Calling your mom to tell her she was right about your being a tramp?"

"I'm calling the kid."

"Abby?"

"Yeah. I need to tell her to stay away from our place. Elijah is going to start messing with us like before."

Jody watched as the little icons on her phone showed that it was searching for a signal. "But she said she wasn't coming by tonight. It's Christmas."

"I know she said that, but I think she may come by anyway."

"Why?"

"Well, she has a thing for me, I think. I bit her last night."

"You bit Abby?"

"Yeah. I told you, I was hurt. I needed - "

"God, you're such a blood slut."

"I knew you'd be mad."

"Well, it's Abby, for fuck's sake. I'm her dark lord."

"Look, a voice mail."

Elijah Ben Sapir cast the twitching, pee-spraying alcoholic across the street, where he bounced off the metal garage door of the foundry and back out to the curb, where his head knocked the side mirror off an illegally parked Mazda.

Then the vampire walked with exaggerated steps, his arms held out from his sides like a bad stage monster to try to keep the urine-sotted velour fabric of his tracksuit from contacting his skin. Although he had experienced all manner of filth and gore in his eight hundred years, and had, in fact, spent whole days hiding naked under loamy soil to escape the sun, he didn't remember being quite so put off as he was at being pissed on by his lunch. Perhaps it was that he only had one set of clothes now, and there was no luxurious yacht with a full wardrobe to retire to, or perhaps it was that he had spent the day between two urine-stained mattresses under an unconscious junkie while police searched the hotel around him. He'd just hit his limit, that's all.

He'd known the desk clerk would give him up to the police, so as soon as he had gone to his room, the vampire had hidden his tracksuit in the corner of the closet, gone to mist, then slipped under the door into the next room and in between the mattress and box springs of a semiconscious junkie. He'd gone back to solid just as sunrise put him out for the day.

At sundown, he was surprised at how elated he was to find the tracksuit still in the closet, after he fed off the junkie (just a sip) and snapped his neck. (Leaving more or less a greeting card to the homicide inspectors who had attacked him with the others at the yacht club.) Now his precious tracksuit was all covered in whiz and he was furious.

He stalked over to where he'd thrown the bum and snatched him up by the ankle. Elijah was not tall by modern standards, but he found that if he held the bum's ankle high above his head, he could shake him sufficiently to get the job done.

"You're not even her minion, are you?" Elijah banged the bum's head against the sidewalk to punctuate his question.

"Please," said the bum. "My huge cat - "

Thud, thud, thud on the sidewalk. A little shake. Change, a few bills, a lighter, and a bottle of Johnny Walker rained out of the bum's pockets.

"You're just her little moo cow, aren't you? I tasted her on you."

"There's a kid," said the moo cow. "A spooky little girl. She takes care of them."

"Them?"

Elijah flung the bum against the garage and proceeded to pick up the change and the bills on the sidewalk. The steel door next to the garage door opened and a burly bald man in overalls stepped out on the sidewalk, smacking a lead-tipped tire thumper on his palm. "You motherfuckers making enough noise out here?"

Elijah bared his fangs and hissed at the biker, then leapt to the wall over the garage door and clung there, facedown, above the biker's head.

The biker looked up at the vampire, down at the prostrate bum, then at the damaged Mazda. "Well, okay then," he said. "I can see you fellas still have some shit to work out." He slipped back into the foundry and slammed the door.

Elijah dropped to his feet and headed up the street, not even bothering to stop to snap the moo cow's neck. How could he have been so stupid? He wasn't going to terrorize her by killing a food source. He needed to threaten her minion, just as he had with the boy. How could he have known that she'd actually betray him and choose the boy? Turn the boy? It wouldn't happen again.

Amid all the anger, the hunger, and the excitement at having a purpose, Elijah Ben Sapir felt a twinge of heartache. He had begun this adventure thinking himself the puppet master; now he was all entangled in the strings. Making mistakes.

No worry. He cocked his head and focused. Past the rasping breath of the moo cow, the buildings settling, the Bay Bridge humming, and a thousand hearts beating in the lofts around him, he could hear the retreating steps of the little girl and her friend.

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