The music pounded at a decibel level deemed to be appropriate for inducing audio stupor. A person’s equilibrium seemed to collapse when mixed with improper sound levels and the right mixture of alcohol accompanied by languid stares from vampires. Demetri sat in his booth sipping absinthe and smoking hash. He tried to remember when it was that the hash worked the way it was supposed to. He needed it to be working right now. He was quite pissed.
Bruner was infatuated with Jackie Payton, whom Demetri knew to be an agent. Shavonne told him everything after he bit her the second time, believing the information was somehow in exchange for his loyalty or her immortality. They always think being Queen of the Underworld is some kind of romantic gift. Shavonne didn’t quite possess the qualities he was looking for in a “Queen.” She would be an excellent Baroness, in her own city, when she got over the shock of it all.
He let the flame suck up through the pipe so it burned the back of his throat. He let it burn in his chest, the smoke that should have produced oblivion and didn’t. Nothing did. The nothingness he longed for, that had been so easily achieved in life, had mercilessly eluded him through five centuries of death. They used whatever they needed to make the idea of being a vampire tolerable until they could accept it. After that, it was about whatever they could find to figure out how to ease the pain of living with what they had become. Demetri smiled, letting the smoke roll out of his mouth like the breath of a dream coming from the mouth of a dragon.
“It hurts to be alive. It hurts so much more to be alive when you’re dead.” He said to his empty table.
A petite brunette was putting on a show for him, a bump and grind, her spandex dress riding up an inch with each rotation of her hips. Her skin was sallow. Her eyes were hollow with the vapid expression of the void behind them. He didn’t feel like it tonight. He looked at Moreacker who quickly shooed the girl away from the table. Demetri felt like going for a walk. He smiled as he slipped from the booth into the shadows of the room like every slippery shade of dark air ever described by anyone who had ever gotten away.
Gretchen, the teenaged witch, had caught sight of him at the scene of the accident. Some of her friends had seen him. They didn’t know what they were seeing, of course. Demetri knew Gretchen felt his presence prior to that night. He stood in the shadows of her bedroom listening to her breathe, contemplating how much work it would be to turn her into something useful. It was so tiresome a process. By the time any of them ever managed to amass enough education or experience to carry on an intelligent conversation or to have at least become interesting, he’d become bored with them. His “projects” they were. He laughed at himself. He had become a pretentious, arrogant, old snob, all from right out of the straw in a hayloft in France.
He turned the collar of his coat up against the cold air. It still seemed odd to him to pretend the cold air had any effect on him during his late evening strolls, but one must do what must do to blend in with the locals. He saw her at the second corner. There was something about the way she was rummaging through her purse, looking for a lighter, trying to hail a taxi at the same time. She looked intelligently annoyed. He was standing next to her faster than she could process that it hadn’t been a breeze that had caressed her cheek. He smiled. Said nothing. Waited for the light to change so she could cross the street. When she did, he followed. At the next corner, she asked him if she knew him from somewhere.
“Only from your dreams.” He said.
“No. I’m sure I know you. I was on my way to that bar, Calimere. Do you know it? It’s in the other direction but I saw you and I…I am so sorry. How rude of me to follow you. How stupid. I was just so sure that I knew you.”
“I do know Calimere. I’m sure you will have a lovely evening there.” He continued to smile. He’d done this so many times with the distracted ones. They were easier to guide, a slight touch was all it took.
“It isn’t my kind of place. The crowd there is a bit on the young side for me. I’m meeting some friends who were just dying for me to check it out. I’m sorry, again. I don’t even know you.” She said.
“How about if we share a cab? Calimere at The San Sebastian, correct?” Demetri looked into her eyes, the languid stare of an adept vampire at full power.
“I guess it would be okay.” She reasoned that the cab driver would be in the car with her. “I’m Beth.”
“Demetri.” He extended his hand. “Is that short for Elizabeth?”
“No, it’s Bethany. A very Connecticut Bethany Shane Prosper.” She said. She disapproved of the way her own name sounded, yet she had not been able to keep herself from revealing it.
“And yet you are here in California. Lucky me.” He held open the door of the cab.
Bethany’s deep brown eyes matched her dark hair. She was well dressed, expensive bag and boots, knee length skirt, matching sweater, no bra. She didn’t look like the Calimere type. She looked like she could afford to buy her own dinner and eat well.
“What do you do, Demetri?” Beth adjusted her skirt.
“I’m a business man, an entrepreneur. I own The San Sebastian.”
“But that’s where we are going. Wait, you…do you own the whole building? Oh, I am embarrassed. But maybe that’s why I thought I knew you. Perhaps I’ve seen your picture in the local paper, in an advertisement or something?” She looked at him, then quickly looked away as though she were a school girl stealing a glance. She felt herself blush.
“What do you do, Beth?”
“I am a school teacher, fifth grade.” She said.
“And your friends think you don’t get out enough?” He mused.
“My friends think my preferences are stuffy and stuck up. I had tickets to the symphony tonight, an evening of Rachmaninoff.”
“Beautiful music. I’m a fan myself. You will have to let me do everything that I can so as to make your evening at Calimere as enjoyable as possible. I’ll arrange for a V.I.P. room for you and your friends.” Demetri liked her. It had been a long time since he’d had the pleasure of killing someone he liked.
“I couldn’t possibly. I’d feel as though I were taking advantage. I’ve already been entirely too forward with you, following you like that.” She shook her head again. He believed she was being genuine.
“Nonsense, my dear, you thought you knew me. What good is it to meet the owner of the club you were going to anyway and share a cab with him, if you’re not to let him show you a good time when you get there? I wouldn’t worry too much about taking advantage of me.” He patted her hand reassuringly but did not linger at it.
“What were you doing walking, if you don’t mind my asking, in the opposite direction of your own club?”
“Not at all my dear, you may ask me anything. I was doing exactly that, walking in the opposite direction. Calimere can get to be little much, even for me. I am a frequent purveyor of the night air. The moon is quite lovely this evening, though somewhat obscured. Sometimes I go out walking until I don’t feel like it anymore, then I take a cab back.” Demetri smiled.
“What a wonderful luxury to have earned that freedom. Do you travel?” The cab pulled up to The San Sebastian.
“I go to Europe twice a year. There are certain Southern cities I favor on occasion, though there’s really no place like here.” It was true, there seemed nothing he hadn’t been able to get away with in California so long as he possessed the monetary means to cover it. He stepped out of the cab, holding the door for her once more. A fifth grade teacher. What other wonderful things might she know besides Rachmaninoff?
The information age had given way to the disinformation age. Who would have thought that at a time when people had never had more access to education, to information, to educating themselves, it would be intelligent conversation that would be the least available form of foreplay. One that was made all the more desirable by its scarcity.
It was the way she searched through her bag, that annoyance that he’d read as intelligence. He’d noticed that while truly ignorant people frequently became annoyed, some of them seeming to do so only for dramatic effect in the presence of others, as if they had determined by some process of de-evolution that annoyance was a sign of intelligence and thus acted that way to appear as though they were smarter because they had some gripe, – truly intelligent people tended to express their annoyance as frustration or disgust, rather than outrage. Beth had looked disgusted with herself. Where had she hidden away her lighter in such a small evening bag? It was the most bizarre phenomenon to witness. The ignorant feigned everything. That feigning, had in fact, become its own kind of intelligence, however lacking in self-awareness.
It seemed to him that people were returning to a kind of base behavior as a matter of emotional survival. Something was so askew in the world, they were learning to project whatever it was they had instinctively deemed would keep them “alive” longer, as it were. Whether it was prudishness or promiscuity or worldliness, they nodded at one another in agreement. “Yes. Yes. The emperor has clothes.” People faked intellect without realizing they were smart enough to fake intellect. The more they faked it, refelcting that shallowness back to one another, the more ignorant the world became, ever more unaware of itself. They complained about their drinks to show their profound knowledge of what an actual shot of vodka tasted like when mixed properly with Kahlua and Grand Mariner. Having determined that annoyance would garner attention. The world was inundated with squeaky wheels. But there she was, Beth, this angel standing there alone, with an audience of none, annoyed at herself. A spark of intelligent life, so rare that he never failed to recognize it.
The V.I.P. rooms at Calimere were decorated in the most obvious fashion. Velvets, brocades, red damask, wallpaper, ornate pedestals of gold were topped with deep red candles only far enough off the tables to make everyone look ever so slightly more beautiful. Everything was handmade to Demetri’s specifications. Twisted candles and fabric patterns that hadn’t been available for years, all designed to evoke memories of childhood, to lull his patrons into a comfortably relaxed state. The ceilings were painted the color of midnight strewn with glittering stars and gilt jewels in a hand painted skyline that made the Milky Way envious. Perpetually cloudy crystal balls resting on ebony pedestals enticed his guests to contemplate futures they would never get to see. The overall effect was hypnotically dazzling. People forgot their troubles in childlike awe as their minds opened to wonder and possibility again. He served decadence. Caviar, champagne, lobster, crab, oysters, pate’, brie, things to write home about. Things that made them feel as though their dreams were somehow possible, if only for the night. Their Last Supper washed down with tainted wine from his private vineyard in France, the red water of the catacombs of time everlasting.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from THE SLICK FURIES. You may purchase the novel in its entirety, and find out what happens in the rest of chapter twenty-two, on Amazon at this very moment for your very own.