An Excerpt from
"The Croquet Mallet Murders"
A Calafian Tale
Kevin Andrew Murphy
Kevin Andrew Murphy, All Rights Reserved
It was Friday, and I was running late. Some genius once said the dead travel quickly, but no one travels quickly in LA, and anyway, I'm not dead--I'm cursed. Big difference.
Not that there's anything wrong with being dead, mind you--some of my best friends are ghosts and zombies--but a vampire (or sangroid as we prefer to be called) isn't dead. Cursed, yeah. Allergic to sunlight? Fer sure. But dead? Hell no. At least not by the laws of the Island of California, or the pronouncements of Queen Calafia and Emperor Norton, and those were what mattered.
When you're a vampire, the worst damned thing about Los Angeles is the Ventura Freeway, or should I say the fucking El Camino Real. Father Serra and the rest of his merry monks warded the whole thing so that folk like me--ie. guys who the damn fucking wonderful Holy Mother Church decided were 'evil'--couldn't set foot on it until after midnight. Or fly over it, for that matter, unless you wanted to risk passing out. It's a fucking public nuisance, and I don't like my tax dollars going towards it, whether or not it's some damn historical landmark from the days when Father Serra and his Franciscan bastards ran around the island terrorizing the natives and staking people like me.
But I'm getting off the subject. I was running late, and I didn't have time to ask a griffin to fly me across the Ventura, or to wait for the Witching Hour to start, so I just got up to cruising velocity and slammed right across. Kinda dangerous, I'll admit, but it did the trick. Pop-in, pop-out.
By the way, I don't turn into a bat, if that's what you're wondering. One of the few perks of my strain of the curse is that I can fly, and in my own body too. No bats or wolves for this bloodsucker. And since that body weighs in at three-hundred plus, I can get a lot of force behind it. No trouble crossing the Ventura--used to be nose-tackle for USC. Of course, that's also why that bastard Martin put the bite on me, not that it did him much good. (I'm glad they staked him too. No one should have to live with this shit, and the only thing worse than being a vampire is being a servitor vampire. You have no idea how humiliating it is to have to grovel at the feet of the asshole who killed you and go "Yassa massa!" to everything he says.)
But anyway, I got to the roof of the Nikon Tower, turned into mist, and slipped on down the vent to The Outcast Club. That's where I work. Big, fancy bar, small restaurant and dance floor, large balcony and live music on weekends. If you know the LA scene, you know the type of place I'm talking about.
I'm the night bouncer, as I bet you could guess. No one messes with a guy my size, especially if he's got vampiric strength, not that there aren't people who might try it at the Outcast Club. We get all types, so long as they're cursed and not welcome at the other clubs: vampires, werewolves, fox spirits, phantoms. All types, and that means all types of trouble. And what I can't handle with sheer brute strength, I can usually manage by just by taking off my shades and letting 'em look into the ol' steely blues. The vampiric Fascination does the rest.
Don't usually like doing that--I remember how creepy it was getting hypnotized the first time I locked eyes with a vampire--but then again, it's better than dealing with a werewolf who's tied on one too many. That's the reason most of us vamps wear shades, by the way. It's not that the light's are too bright; it's just that "Yes, Master" gets really boring after the third time you hear it. Or at least it should, unless you're some kind of sicko.
The only guy tougher than me at the bar is my best bud and fellow bouncer, Carlos. He isn't really much to look at--tall, skinny, pretty-boy type, and most of that handsomeness is Glamour anyway. If you got a look at him in the mirror, you'd see he's going bald and has hair growing about everywhere else. But he isn't a werewolf, if that's what you're thinking. Nah, Carl's something a lot tougher--one of the Jaetatura, which means he has the Evil Eye. Only a pair of spellproof wraparounds keeps you safe from the power in his eyes, and if he takes the shades off--woah boy! Pure, unadulterated bad luck, and that packed more of a punch or a threat than I ever could. Last thing the damned wanted to deal with was another curse.
Carl was over by the mirror, this big Turn-of-the-Century affair in a carved-oak frame. The Club keeps it around 'cause it's a gate to the astral and makes it a lot easier for the ghosts and phantoms to come inside. I'd been told it had once belonged to Cecil B. De Mille, and legend had it that if you looked into it too long, you'd see your doom.
Not that that was much of an issue for me, since I couldn't see my reflection anyway. Carl, however, was looking his doom right in the face, his doom being Charlie, his fetch. Carl's doubly cursed, 'cause besides having the Evil Eye, he knows that one day Charlie's going to step out of the mirror and come for him.
Makes for a weird life, Carl says, but Charlie--aside from being a damned fetch--is occasionally useful, and doesn't mind helping Carl out on rare occasions, so long as it fits with whatever agenda fetches follow. Don't ask me exactly what a fetch is supposed to do--that's a question for a necromancer, and I'm just an ordinary vamp--but it has something to do with Charlie knowing the day Carl is going to die, and Charlie teases him about it all the time, without out ever telling him when it is.
A vamp's ears are really sharp too, and once I'd resumed solid form, I could hear exactly what Carl was saying: "Psst, Charlie." Carl snuck a look at his reflection, which, as I said, looked nowhere near as good as he did in real life.
Charlie, I think, could follow Carl's thoughts, or at least mine: "Well at least you get to look like Mr. Handsome. I have to look like this all the time."
"Keep it down, Charlie," Carlos hissed.
"Why? So people won't talk?" Charlie took off his wraparounds and polished them with a bar cloth. The fetch did tricks like that all the time, and I'm not sure if seeing Charlie's eyes was giving Carl and me a whammy right then and there. "What can I do you for, partner?" Charlie put the glasses back on and smiled.
Carlos leaned close to his reflection, almost nose to nose with Charlie. "Is Jack over there?"
"Jack's a vampire, doofus," Charlie whispered back. "No reflection, no fetch. His fetch died the day he joined the undead."
"I meant is he dead."
I know Charlie saw me, but he didn't let on. Like I said, he liked giving Carl nasty surprises. "Nope," I said, putting my hands on Carl's shoulders.
Carl whirled, twisting out of my grip.
Hard to be as fast as a vampire, though. "Hiya, Carl." I pinned him to the mirror and grinned. "Talking to yourself?"
"Only in a manner of speaking."
I looked past him into the De Mille mirror. "Hiya, Charlie."
The fetch didn't respond, pretending he was just an ordinary reflection. Standard tricks for Charlie.
Carlos pulled me away from the mirror. "You're late."
I smiled, feeling my fangs slide out. "Hey, Carl, vampires are always late."
"That joke's been around longer than you've been dead, Jack. I'm serious."
"Hey, don't get all bent out of shape. You'll get the overtime." I punched him in the shoulder, lightly. "And I'm not dead--I'm cursed, no matter what your Pope says. And pardon me, but I'm starving." I pushed him aside and reached into the bar's refrigerator, pulling out a pint flask. "I hate drinking this stuff cold. . . ."
Carl, as I said, was my best bud, and knew what I needed. He reached into his jacket and took out an identical bottle, warmed by the heat of his body. "Don't drink that junk. Here." He held out the flask.
I put down the cold one and took the bottle from Carl. "Thanks." I bit off the neck, not minding where the glass cut my lips, and tossed it back.
You have no idea how good blood tastes when it's warm--it's the greatest stuff in the world, at least if you're a vampire. Of course, this was only alchemical sanguine, but it tasted just about as good, especially when you get as hungry as I do.
I drained the last of it and threw it in the wastebasket, mopping my face with a bar towel and spitting out the last few bits of glass. That always freaked Carl out, but he still picked up the bottle of cold sanguine and put it in his inner pocket. "I'll get this warmed up for you too."
"Thanks." Like I said, Carl was my best bud. Not many breathing folk who'd do that for a vampire, let alone Catholics who'd do it.
Carl, however, looked kind of upset, and there was that whole weird business with him talking to Charlie. He only brought Charlie into it if something was really eating him, not that he could keep anything from the fetch as it was.
I brushed my hair back and grinned, teeth back in line. "What's the problem? Am I messing up some hot date?"
He looked real serious, so I don't think that was it. "No," Carl said simply, "I was worried, that's all." He reached under the bar and pulled out the evening edition of The Trib. "The nutcase with the croquet mallet struck three more times."
What blood I had in me suddenly went cold. "Fu . . ." I took off my shades and unfolded the paper.
"That's just that the police know about," Carl said. "Those are just the registered vampires."
I looked at him. "We prefer the term sangroids, Catholic."
"Ease off, Jack, and put you shades back on." Carl picked them up and stuck them back on my face. His own shades had the added perk of keeping my Fascination out, the same as they kept his Evil Eye in, so I wasn't suddenly having to deal with him gaping like a dead fish and saying, "Master . . ."
His next line was about as far from that as you could get: "I don't know why you wear mirrorshades anyway. They don't reflect the bridge of your nose and it looks really silly. Anyway, if I was going for the whole Catholic bit, I'd be reciting 'Hail Mary's' at you right now."
I winced as he said the name.
"Sorry," Carl said quickly.
"Watch it with those names of power."
"I said I was sorry, Jack. You're my housemate for Chri-- For someone-who's-name-I-shouldn't-take-in-vain-especially-around-vampires' sake," Carlos quickly corrected himself. "Or 'sangroids' sake' if you want that."
I shoved the paper at him. "Have you read this?"
"Hell yeah," Carlos said. "Why do you think I was so worried?"
"But just listen to this:" I folded the paper. "'Three more known vampires were found staked this afternoon, the latest in a series of impalings centering in the Los Angeles basin. The bodies were found beheaded--'" I gritted my fangs. "Why doesn't it say, 'Three more Los Angeles County residents were found brutally murdered and mutilated'? Huh, why not? Why's it so damn important to mention they're vampires so it'll seem okay? So people can say, `Oh, it was just a vampire, no need to fear for our lives or do anything about it.' Huh, why?"
"Because there ain't no justice and the press is almost as biased as the police, that's why." Carlos looked away, staring at the wall. "You think I don't know that, Jack? I'm cursed too, remember, and people like Jaetatura even less than they like vampires. And there's less of us than there are of you."
"Trade you," I said. "Trade you right now."
"And I'd trade both of you, except it's impossible." We both looked: It was Jim, the werewolf lawyer. Jim was this fancy, uptown guy, but played it cool and didn't hide what he was. He was always decked out to the nines too, silvered hair slicked back to show off his widow's peak, and wolf-grey Italian suits set off with gold--never silver--cuff links and tie tacks. You had to give it to him; the man had class.
"You'd be out of a job, Jim," I said. "You couldn't swear on the B-- on that Christian book."
"Then I'd take the Mahabharata." Jim grinned, wolfish. "Equality of Religious Oaths Act, 1926." He tossed his briefcase on an empty table. "So who's on duty anyway?"
Carl thumbed to me.
"Better stand by the door and look imposing then." Jim raised a clawed finger, leaning over slightly. "Sylvia! Bloody Mary please."
I set the paper on top of his briefcase and pointed to the article. "Read this."
Jim scanned it. "Fun case for the D.A.'s office if they ever catch the bastard," he concluded.
"Is that all you can say?" You have no idea how pissed I was. Some nutcase was running around turning my people into lawn ornaments and all he could say was "fun case."
"Simmer down, Jack. You can have some of my tranquilizer philtre." The werewolf pushed the newspaper aside with one hairy pentacle-palmed hand, then took the Bloody Mary as the waitress came by. "Thanks, Sylvia." He took a sip. "Jack, all I meant was that it will be a hard case to prosecute if they even catch the person responsible."
"Hard case? It's coldblooded, premeditated murder." I leaned forward, squeezing the back of one of the chairs to keep from throttling him.
Jim twiddled his celery stalk. "By the laws of the Island of California. Not by the laws of Mexico, or the Catholic church, which recently has been getting more powerful." He sucked the tomato juice off the celery stalk, then crunched it contemplatively.
"I don't give a shit about Mexico or the damn church!" The chair made splintering noises under my fingers. "It's murder."
"I'm not disputing that. However, the alleged murderer is probably someone who's had some family member killed by a vampire--and who's probably a devout Catholic--" He gave a pointed look to Carlos. "--and unless there's a very talented prosecution--which I doubt--they'll get off with some form of temporary insanity and be spellbound or sent to a mental hospital for a couple years. I'm not being cold, Jack, just practical, and I don't like the situation any more than you do."
The chair disintegrated under my hands. "Fuck that! If I go temporarily insane from hunger and kill someone, I get put to death. Same thing with you, Jim. And if someone's trying to murder me and I kill them, I still get put to death!"
Jim raised a claw. "Only if they're killed vampirically or lycanthropically. The law is very explicit. If someone with a Van Helsing complex comes after you, and you, say, blow them away with a wand, that's self defense and you're home free."
"How many times has that happened?"
The lawyer reflected. "Three," he said finally. "Two acquitted, one unstaked after appeal after execution, the Seabright Case, which is what defined the law in the first place."
"Oh that's fucking lovely," I said. "Just what we need. Fangs are illegal and wands aren't. You can assault people with deadly weapons so long as they aren't your own body."
"Jack, we both know why the laws were passed."
I glared at the werewolf. "Yeah, I guess we do. Doesn't that make us all so fucking happy."
"Better than Mexico, my friend."
I took up my position by the door, picking the splinters out my hands with my fangs. They hurt the way only miniature wooden stakes could. "Only in some ways, Jim. Only in some ways."
And as Sheherezayd said, "Yet that is not the end of my tale...."
(Check out the rest of the story and the anthology, available at Brentano's and Waldenbooks.)