Chapter Six

Do Animals Get the Blues?

Clint was the only one of the Animals still left at the Marina Safeway. He was tall, with a wild mop of dark hair and thick, horn-rimmed glasses that were held together with medical tape, and he had a look of deep panic on his face. He'd been trying to keep the store together for nearly a week with only a couple of stock boys from the day crew, and a porter from a temp service (even Gustavo, the Mexican porter with five kids, had taken off with the Animals), but now a huge order had come in on the truck and he knew he needed professionals. He dialed Tommy's number for the fifth time that night. It was four in the morning, but Tommy was their leader - and perhaps the best frozen-turkey bowler the world had ever known. He knew what it meant to be an Animal; he would be awake.

The machine beeped. Clint said, "Dude, they're all gone. I need your help. It's just me, some temps, and the Lord to-night." Clint had been recently reborn after five years in a drug-induced haze. He swore that the Lord would forever be on his night crew. "The guys took off for Vegas. Call me. No, just bring your box cutter and come to work. I'm buried."

Once they had been nine strong, the Animals. Nine men, all under the age of twenty-five, left alone in a grocery store for eight hours with only Tommy to supervise them. They'd been given their name by the day manager, who had come in one morning to find them drunk, hanging from the giant Safeway letters on the front of store, pelting one another with marshmallows. Tommy had recruited them to fight the old vampire. They'd found the vampire, sleeping inside a vault on his yacht, and they had also found his art collection. After selling it for ten cents on the dollar, each of them had netted a hundred thousand dollars. Tommy went home with Jody, Clint went home to pray for the vampire's soul. Simon had been killed. The rest of the Animals headed for Vegas.

Clint hung up the phone, then sat down hard in the manager's chair. It was too much responsibility. The weight of it would drive him over the edge. Even now he could hear dogs barking in his head.

"Front door," the temp night porter called over the half wall of the office.

Clint stood up to see the Emperor and his dogs at the double electric doors. He grabbed the keys, disarmed the alarm, and opened the door. The Boston terrier shot by him, heading for the beef-jerky display.

"Your Majesty," Clint said. "You're out of breath."

The big man held his chest as he panted. "Gather the troops, young man. C. Thomas Flood has been turned to a bloodsucking fiend. Gather your weapons, we must charge again into the breach."

"It's just me and noobs," Clint said. "Did you say that Tommy's a vampire?"

"Indeed. I saw him not two hours ago. As pale as death."

"Well, that's not good."

"Your talent for stating the obvious is unprecedented, young man."

"Come in." Clint stepped away from the door. "We are going to need to pray on this."

"Well, there's a start," said the Emperor.

"Then I need to call Tommy and tell him to never mind about coming to work," Clint said.

"Splendid," said the Emperor, without a hint of sarcasm. "I believe we've achieved a new level of doomed."

"You've always been good to me," Jody said.

"Well, I try," Tommy said.

He was going up the narrow stairway to their loft. She was slung over his shoulder, her forehead bounced off his belt with every step. She seemed so light. Tommy was still amazed at his newfound strength. He'd carried her ten blocks already and he wasn't even feeling it. Well, he was a little tired of listening to her, but physically he wasn't fatigued at all.

"I can be such a bitch sometimes."

"That's not true," Tommy said. Yes, it was.

"Yes it is, yes it is. Yes I am. I am a total bitch sometimes."

Tommy stopped at the top of the steps and dug in his pocket for his keys.

"Well, maybe a little, but - "

"So I am a bitch? You're saying I'm a bitch?"

"Oh my God, is the sun never going to come up?"

"Listen, you're lucky to have me, you wuss."

"Yes I am," Tommy said.

"You are?"

He swung her over to her feet, then caught her before she went over backwards into the wall. She had a big goofy smile on her face. Sometime during the evening, blood had dripped down the front of her blouse and there was some smeared on her lip. She looked a little like she'd been punched out. Tommy tried to rub away the blood with his thumb. The cloud of alcohol breath she let go on him made him wince.

"I love you, Tommy." She fell into his arms.

"Right back at you, Jody."

"I'm sorry I gave you noogies. I'm still learning to harness my powers, you know."

"That's okay."

"And called you a wuss."

"No problem."

She licked the side of his neck, nipped at him. "Let's make love before the sun comes up."

Tommy looked over her shoulder at the destruction they had wrought on the loft the last time they'd done it, and he said something he never thought he would hear coming out of his own mouth. "I think I've had enough for tonight. Maybe we should just lock down."

"You think I'm fat, don't you?"

"No, you're perfect."

"It's because I'm fat." She pushed him away and stumbled into the bedroom, then tripped and tumbled face-first into the shredded remains of their bed. "And old," she added, although it was only through his acute vampire hearing that Tommy understood this, since she was speaking directly into the mattress. "Fat and old," she said.

"You're going to get whiplash from those mood swings, Red," Tommy said quietly as he climbed into bed with his clothes on.

Then he lay there beside her thinking about all that they had to do, about how they were going to have to find a place and move without going out during the day, and beyond that, just exactly how were they going to survive and stay hidden? The Emperor could tell. Tommy could tell he could tell. And as much as he liked the Emperor, it wasn't a good sign. And so even as he worried, and listened to his girlfriend yell at him, C. Thomas Flood became the first vampire in history to actually pray for the sun to come up.

A few minutes later, his prayers were answered, and the two of them went out.

Since becoming a vampire, Jody had always hated the way consciousness came on at dusk like the streetlights coming on. There was no groggy twilight between sleep and wakefulness, just "bam, welcome to the night, here's your to-do list." Not tonight. Tonight she got her twilight, her grogginess, and a headache as well. She sat upright in bed so fast she nearly somersaulted off the end, then, when her head didn't seem to follow her, she lay back down with such force that her pillow exploded, sending out a snowstorm of feathers to whirl around the room. She moaned and Tommy came bounding into the room.

"Hey," he said.

"Ouch," Jody said, grabbing her forehead with both hands as if to hold her brains in.

"That's new, huh? Vampire hangover?" Tommy waved some feathers out of the air in front of him.

"I feel like death warmed over," Jody said.

"Cute. I'll bet you're missing coffee right now."

"And aspirin. I've fed off of you when you'd been drinking. Why did it affect me now?"

"I think maybe the huge cat guy had a little more in his blood than I did. Anyway, I have a theory about that. We can test it later, when you feel better, but right now we have a ton of stuff we have to do. We've got to figure out the move. Clint called me from the store last night. Wanting me to work. Then he called back all freaked out, saying I shouldn't come in."

Tommy played the message for her. Twice.

"He knows," Jody said.

"Yeah, but how does he know?"

"Doesn't matter. He knows."

"Fuck!"

"Little bit softer now," Jody said, holding her hair like it was hurting her.

"Too loud?"

Jody nodded. "You know, for your notebook, Tommy. Vampire senses when you're hungover? Not so good."

"Really? That bad?"

"Your breath is nauseating me from across the room."

"Yeah, we need toothpaste."

"There's someone at the door?" Jody covered her ears. She could hear sneakers scraping the sidewalk from all the way downstairs.

"There is?"

The door buzzer sounded.

"Yep," she said.

Tommy ran to the front windows and looked down to the street.

"There's a Humvee limo out there that's about a block long."

"You'd better answer it," Jody said.

"Maybe we should just hide. Pretend we re not home."

"No, you need to get it," Jody said. She could hear the shuffling at the door, the rock and roll playing in the limo, the bong bubbling, lines being chopped on a CD case, and a male voice repeating the phrase "sweet blue titties" over and over like a mantra. She grabbed the pillow from Tommy's side of the bed and pulled it over her head. "Answer it, Tommy. It's the fucking Animals."

"Dude," said Lash Jefferson, a wiry black man with a newly shaved scalp, wearing mirror shades. He pulled Tommy out of his doorway and hugged him furiously - crazed, back-slamming, good-to-see-you guy hugs. "We are so fucked, dude," Lash continued.

Tommy pushed away, trying to reconcile that he was glad to see his friend with the fact that Lash smelled like a beer-bar urinal filled with mackerel.

"I thought you guys went to Vegas," Tommy said.

"Yeah. Yeah. We did. Everyone's in the limo. It's just that I need to talk to you. Can we go inside?"

"No." Tommy almost said that Jody was sleeping, which had been his excuse for keeping the Animals out of his loft in the past, but Jody was supposed to have left town. "Step in the stairway, I've got something happening upstairs."

Lash nodded and looked over the top of his shades and bounced his eyebrows. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed over. Tommy could hear his heart racing. Coke or fear, he guessed. Both maybe.

"Look, dude," Lash said. "First thing, we need to borrow some money."

"What? You guys have over a hundred grand each from the art we sold."

"Yeah, we did. We had a big weekend."

Tommy figured in his head. "You guys blew over six hundred grand in what - four days?"

"No," Lash said. "No, not all of it. We're not completely broke."

"Then why do you need to borrow money?"

"Just twenty grand or so, to get us through to tomorrow," Lash said. "Luckily I almost have my MBA and have mad business skills. Otherwise we'd have been broke yesterday."

Tommy nodded. Twenty grand was about six months' salary for him at the Safeway. He'd been a little intimidated by Lash's almost-MBA up until now. Now he was just worried that Lash would be able to tell he had changed. He said, "So, like you were saying, you're fucked."

"We were doing fine, only down like ten grand each, until we met Blue." Lash looked at the ceiling wistfully, like it was a distant memory he was trying to conjure, instead of something that had happened a couple of nights ago.

"Blue?"

"You know that group they have in Vegas? The Blue Men?"

"Yeah, the guys who paint themselves blue and pound on pipes and stuff?" Tommy was lost.

"Yeah," Lash said. "Well, it turns out there are blue women, too. Or at least there's one. And dude, she's sucking us dry."

In the back seat of the limo, Blue held Barry's face between her boobs, snugly enough to keep him under control, but not so snug that he couldn't breathe. While the other Animals had drunk, smoked, and fucked themselves into a zombielike stupor - and now lay sprawled about the glittery interior of the limo - Barry had opted to do two hits of XTC, a line of coke, and a bong load of sticky skunk weed, which had put his brain into some sort of redundant tribal loop that had him kneeling naked before her, chanting "sweet blue titties" for the last twenty minutes. She just couldn't take it anymore, so she had grabbed his curl-fringed bald head and pulled his face into her cleavage just to shut him up. Mercifully, he had gone quiet, because she really didn't want to suffocate him as long as he still had money.

It takes a meandering road of wrong turns to take a girl from being the milky-skinned Cheddar princess of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to a blue-dyed call girl turning tricks at downtown casinos in Vegas, but Blue would be damned if she'd add yet another wrong turn by smothering a golden goose between her proportionally improbable silicon joy orbs. The Animals were her way out, and if she had to stay in character as an Alien Pleasure Unit or a blueberry muffin to keep them on the hook, she would.

Blue was a method hooker. Early in her adventures, after she'd left cocktailing due to a propensity for spilling drinks, and before she'd begun stripping, where her lack of balance was mitigated by the presence of a sturdy pole, she had a short career acting in low-budget porn. She befriended a promising actress named Lotta Vulva, who gave her a book on the Stanislavski Method. "If you can find your sense memory," Lotta said, "it will keep you from barfing on the actors. Directors hate that." The «Method» had served Blue well since then, as it allowed her to calculate betting odds or figure her checkbook while her character was performing acts that she herself would have found unpleasant or outright disgusting. (How much better to reside in her sense memory of the budding Cheddar princess, coaxing the hearty, whole-milk goodness from the udders of a Holstein, than to face the harshly lit reality of her actions?)

After six months Blue was driven out of the film business by a «defect» one director called "not enough tits to fill a shot glass," which no amount of Method was able to remedy. She returned to cocktailing, albeit at a strip club, where she seldom had to carry more than one ten-dollar beer at a time, until she saved enough money for breast-augmentation surgery and made her way to the pole. She danced her way through her twenties, before she was driven off the stage by younger, more gravity-resistant girls, and because she had skipped personal typing class in high school and had therefore besmirched her permanent record, she landed in the employ of an outcall escort service.

"I feel like I'm doing Domino's delivery blow jobs," Blue told her roommate. "Satisfaction in twenty minutes or less or your money back. And the agency is taking most of the money. I'll never get out of this business at this rate."

"You need a gimmick" said her roommate, a cocktail waitress at the Venetian. "Like those Blue Men guys in the show. I swear they'd just be a bunch of frat boys beating on garbage cans if they weren't painted blue."

And so it began. The fallen Cheddar princess of Fond du Lac found some semipermanent skin dye, opened credit-card deposit accounts, had some pictures taken, placed ads in all the free sleaze rags around the city, and Blue was born. It wasn't as if she wouldn't have been able to make a living without the gimmick - most guys will shag a snake if you hold it steady for them. But it turned out they would pay a lot for the exotica of a blue woman.

She worked as much as she could handle, and her savings had climbed to the point where she could actually see the possibility of an exit. But about that same time, she realized that by going blue, she had opted out of the pipe dream of every hooker, stripper, and telemarketer: the rich guy who would take her away from it all. The whale who would drop a fortune on her to become his personal pet. There would be no big score for the blue chick, or so she thought, until the Animals called her in for a combination strip show and fuckfest. Where they got the money didn't matter. What mattered was that they had a lot of it, and it appeared that they would keep giving it to her until it was all gone. She had nearly half a million dollars in her makeup case, and Blue - the character Blue - could put up with a lot of attention from the Animals while she hid in the back of her mind and formulated an investment strategy. The tall, skinny one, Drew, had opened the hotel-room door and said, "Hi. We discussed it and agreed that when we were kids, we all really wanted to bone a Smurf."

"I get that a lot," said Blue.

"We just wanted to bone a Smurf," Lash said.

"Understandably," said Tommy.

"She's really nice," Lash said.

"Important quality in a ho," said Tommy.

"But now we can't seem to quit."

"So you want me to do what - hold an intervention?"

"No, you're our leader. We look to you for other things. So we want you to give us money so we can keep partying, and pay our rents and stuff."

"And when all of my money is gone, then I can intervene."

"Sure, if you feel you have to," said Lash. "How's your credit?"

"Lash, are you high?"

"Of course."

"Right. Of course. What was I thinking?" Tommy was relaxing now about Lash noticing that he was a vampire. Clearly the former stewards of Safeway night stock, in addition to being wasted, had gone collectively out of their minds. "Lash, I don't almost have an MBA like you, but isn't there sort of some business principle that you're violating? I mean, isn't there a class about not spending your rent money on hookers or something?"

"Step off, Flood," Lash said. "You hooked up with a vampire."

"She was cute," Tommy said.

"An important quality in a vampire," Lash said, looking over the top of his shades.

"She had sex with me," Tommy countered. He wanted to say that she was nice, but Lash had already used «nice» for his blue hooker.

"I think I've made my point," Lash said. "Give me your money."

"You haven't made your point. You completely haven't made your point." Tommy reared back as if to punch Lash in the chest, as the Animals did to one another all the time, but remembered that now he might crush some of the Animals' ribs. Instead, he said, "Don't make me cave in your skinny chest, bee-yotch."

"Your redheaded vampire kung fu is no match for the fearsome blue booty kung fu." Lash made a howling chicken noise and waved his hands around as he fell back into a fighting stance, then went right back onto his ass on the steps. He laughed until he choked, then coughed and said, "Seriously, dude, if you don't give us money, we're going to be totally broke in about six hours. I did the math."

"You could go back to work," Tommy said. "Clint called here last night. They're buried at the store. They need night stockers."

"No?" Lash said, pulling down his sunglasses.

"Yes," Tommy said.

"Then we're not fired?"

"Evidently not," Tommy said.

"That's it. We could go back to work. That's what we'll tell her. We have to go back to work."

"Why didn't you just tell her to go away before she did you all the way here from Vegas."

"We didn't want to be rude."

"Oh, right. Well then, off you go."

Lash pushed to his feet and steadied himself on the banister long enough to look Tommy in the eye. "You okay? You look pale."

"I'm heartbroken and shit," Tommy said. He hated it, but Lash's bloodshot eyes peering over the sunglasses had actually given him a twinge of hunger.

"Right." Lash went through the security door.

Tommy watched him as he paused at the rear door of the limo and turned back.

"You need some blue nooky to cheer you up?" Lash asked. "Our treat."

"No, I'm good," Tommy said.

"All for one, and whatnot," Lash said.

"Appreciate it." Tommy shrugged. "Heartbroken."

"Okay." Lash threw open the limo's door and two of the Animals, Drew and Troy Lee, rolled out onto the pavement, followed by a great storm cloud of pot smoke.

"Fuck, dude. Did you know there was a door there?" said Drew, the scruffy thin one.

"Look," said Troy Lee, the Asian guy who actually did know kung fu. "Hey, look, it's fearless leader."

"Go to work," Tommy said. "It's only seven. You guys can get sobered up and be completely ready for your shift at eleven." Not a chance, Tommy thought.

"Yeah, we can do it," Lash said, peeking into the limo. "Hey, Barry, climb off, motherfucker, I'm up next, then it's Jeff's turn. I put it on the board. Blue, don't let him do that to your ear, baby, you won't hear for a month."

Tommy closed the security door and sat down hard on the steps, hiding his face in his hands to try to make it all go away. The Animals had been his friends, his crew. They had taken him in when he was alone in the city, made him their leader, and if he got the tone of Clint's second message right, in about four hours, when they got to the store, they were going to turn on him.
  

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