TOMMY AND ABBY
Somehow it had seemed to make sense that he follow Abby's interpretation of Madame Natasha's reading, but now, standing on the dock by the black ship, with the night almost gone, he wasn't so sure.
"You think she's in there?"
"She could be. I saw in the City Blog that this ship arrived-there was a picture, and it looked cool, and-oh, I don't know, I'm new at this. You can't expect me to be good at everything. Why don't you go all misty and sneak aboard?"
They heard bare feet on teak and suddenly a gorgon of blond dreadlocks popped up over the top of the smooth black carbon fiber of the cockpit.
"Irie bruddah. Irie sistah. Howzit?" A young man, very tan, heat coming off him, but with a thin black ring inside his life aura.
Abby elbowed Tommy and he nodded to show he'd seen it.
"What did he say?" Tommy asked.
"I don't know," Abby said. "It sounds Australian. If he goes off about going down under to have a go on his dirigity-doo I'm going to kick him in the kidneys with my forbidden love Chucks."
"Okey dokey," Tommy said.
The blond guy held up a pair of night-vision binoculars, looked quickly through them, then set them down again. "Shoots! You be deadies! Jah's love to ya, me deadies!"
He vaulted up over the edge of the cockpit, landed on the deck eight feet below, then jumped over to the dock. He was very fit, very muscular, and smelled of fish blood and weed.
"Pelekekona called Cap'n Kona, pirate of the briny science, lion of Zion, and dreadie to deadies of the first order, don't you know."
He extended his hand to Tommy, who shook it, tentatively. "Tommy Flood," Tommy said, then, because he felt as if he should have a title, added, "writer."
Then the blond Rasta man took Abby in his arms, hugged her, and kissed her on both cheeks, then let his hands linger on her back and slide down. He let go when she bent one of his fingers back, driving him to his knees. "Back off, you fucking hemp Muppet! I am Countess Abigail Von Normal, emergency backup mistress of the Greater Bay Area darkness."
"Countess?" Tommy said out of the corner of his mouth.
"And a slim and delicious deadie biscuit, too, as fine as a snowflake, yeah," said Kona. "No harm, me deadies, I'n'I have grand Aloha for ya, but can't bring ya on the ship. That Raven ship will kill ya dead for good, don't cha know. But we can chant down Babylon right here, mon." He produced a pipe and lighter out of the pocket of his baggies. Out of the other he pulled a sterile lancet, the kind diabetics use to poke their fingers for blood tests. "If one of me new deadie dreadies would donate to a mon's mystic. Jus' a drop two."
Abby looked at Tommy. "Renfield," she said, rolling her eyes.
Tommy nodded. She was talking about Renfield, the crazed blood slave of Dracula in the original Bram Stoker novel. The original "bug eater."
"Maybe we can help you with that," Tommy said.
Abby said, "You're not worthy of our aid, not worthy to be free, and we would surely both be tools, to help you, vampire fool." She curtsied. "Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal. I'm paraphrasing, of course."
"Nice," Tommy said. She knew her romantic poetry, not very well, or accurately, but she knew it.
"Ah, mon, I tried dat paraphrasing in Mexico one time. The boat, she stop too quick and dis brutha drop out da sky like one rock. No mon, Kona doan like de heights."
"Not parasailing, you imbecile, paraphrasing."
"Oh. Dat diffren."
"Ya think," said Abby.
Tommy said, "Kona, I will give you a drop of blood, but first, are you saying that this ship belongs to vampires?"
"Ya mon. Me deadie masters, mon. Powerful old."
"Are they on the ship now?"
"No, mon. They here to fix up this calamity. Vampire cats dat old one leave."
"Just the cats?"
"No mon, dey clean it all up. All the peoples have seen them, or know about it. They cleaning house, brah."
Abby shook her head like she had water in her ears. Tommy knew how she felt. "So, these old vampires are here to take out witnesses and whatnot, and they left you in charge of this ship? Just you?"
"Oh yeah, sistah. Kona ichiban top-rate pirate captain of briny science."
"Why would they do that? You're not even trying to keep a secret."
Kona let his good-time bravado slip, his shoulders slumped, and when he answered, the breezy island bullshit accent was gone, "Why would anyone believe a word I say?"
"Good point," Tommy said.
"And besides, you two already knew about vampires. No heat in the night-vision goggles."
"Also a good point," Tommy said. "So these are the vampires who came to get Elijah?" Abby had told Tommy that the Emperor had seen Elijah and the hooker, Blue, leaving with three vampires, taking a small boat out into the fog off the St. Francis Yacht Club.
"Ya, mon. Dat old bloodsucka be locked up below now, air tight. Dat buggah stone crazy, him."
Tommy expected a chill of sorts, but instead of alarm, he felt his senses and mental acuity almost tightening down. There was no flight response, only fight. That was new.
He said, "So Elijah, the hooker, and how many others?"
"Just the three, mon. No hooker. She second gen vamp, mon. They doan make it long. Curl up and die for good, she."
Abby stepped up and tried to grab Kona by the throat, but her hand was too small and she just ended up knocking him over on the dock. "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck are you talking about, Medusa?"
"Oh, dey doan tink Kona know, but only dem vamps Elijah make live long time. How 'bout a drop of Zion, now, brah?" Kona held the lancet out to Tommy.
Tommy was stunned. "One more thing. Why would they bring the ship back here? They had to know that we blew up Elijah's yacht."
"Ya mon, but the Raven, she ain't like dat. She protect herself." Kona held up his arm and Tommy noticed for the first time he was wearing something that looked like a dog's shock collar on his wrist. "If I doan have dis here on, da Raven kill Kona dead dead, too. She knows. She knows them three. Anyone else, she send to Davy Jones."
Tommy took the lancet from Kona, unwrapped it, and pricked his finger with it.
"Not going to happen," Abby said, catching Tommy's hand as he was holding his bleeding finger out to Kona. "You are not getting dirty hippie mouth on you. You might be dead but you can catch heinous hacky-sac rot from someone like him."
"Gentle down, biscuit, Kona has him feelings, too."
She reached into her messenger and came out with a retractable pen. She unscrewed it, squeezed Tommy's blood into the cap, then handed it to Kona. "There."
The Rasta man sucked at the pen so hard he nearly aspirated it, then sat back on the dock and dazzled a wide, white grin. "Ya mon, takin' the ship home to Zion."
Abby's cell trilled. She checked the screen, said, "It's Foo," then answered and turned away.
Tommy could hear Foo Dog on the phone, begging Abby to come back to the loft right away. He shifted his focus to Kona. "Why?" he asked.
"Shoots, brah, a mon love his blood ganga, so jumpin' ship be powerful hard, but when I sign on the Raven ship she have a crew of twenny. Dey say dem boys leave, but they ain't jumpin' ship when we out to sea five days. Dat Makeda deadie, full on African biscuit, too, she eatin' me shipmats, Jah's mercy. Only Kona left now."
"You? You're the only crew on a ship this size?"
"Ya mon. That Raven, she sail herself."
Abby turned around. "We have to go."
"What?" Tommy asked.
"Foo said all the rats are dead. All of them."
Tommy didn't understand. He looked at the sky, which was starting to lighten. "We can't get over there now."
Abby checked her watch. "Fucksocks! Sunup in thirty."
The sky was lightening behind the Oakland hills and the pink light reflected in the glass front of the Marina Safeway made it appear to be on fire. The Animals stood around their cars, unslinging the tanks and Super Soakers of Grandma Lee's tea. Clint had Barry's spear gun, and was holding it as if it were a holy relic.
"We're out," said Lash Jefferson. "What are we going to tell Barry's mom? We don't even have a body."
Rivera didn't know what to say. He hadn't thought of the Animals as people, really. It was wrong in so many ways he didn't have time to count them up. Not just endangering the public, but actively drawing citizens into a secret operation that got them killed. Amid all the unreal things that had happened, having Barry plucked out of their ranks was too real. Too wrong.
"I'm sorry," Rivera said. "I thought we were prepared for them. They're just cats."
"The Emperor told you that it wasn't just a cat," said Jeff, the big ex-power forward. He was scratching Marvin's ears and the cadaver dog was smiling.
Rivera shook his head. It was the Emperor. He was a loon. How could you know that that part of the story was true?
"Did he have a wife, girlfriend?" asked Rivera. "We could put together some money for her."
"No, he didn't have a girlfriend," said Troy Lee. "He worked graveyard shift like the rest of us. Got high in the morning, slept until time to go to work at eleven. Girls won't put up with that shit."
The other Animals nodded, sadly, for Barry and for themselves.
"You can't quit now," said Cavuto. "You don't even know if your spray works. Don't you want to see? Get revenge?"
"What's the up side?" asked Lash.
"You save the City."
Lash slammed the car door. "We have two hours to get our whole night's work done. You guys need to roll out of here."
Rivera said, "Can we have a couple of those sprayers, then? And you guys should keep them with you. We know that Chet retraces his territory. You might be territory now."
Clint reached into the back of his Volkswagen, grabbed a Super Soaker, and threw it to Cavuto.
"Great," said the big cop, "I'm going to save the friggin' world with an orange squirt gun."
"Okay, in the car, Marvin," said Rivera. He opened the rear door of the Ford and Marvin leapt in. "Call us if you need us."
The two cops drove off. On the roof of the Safeway, the vampire Makeda checked her watch and squinted at the eastern sky, which was threatening sunrise.
Okata had never been to the Levi's store on Union Square, yet that's what the burned-up girl had drawn on the map, so that is where he went. It appeared to be a good place to find blue jeans. He handed a young girl the list the burned-up girl had given him. He paid in cash and left fifteen minutes later with a pair of black jeans, a cotton chambray shirt, and black denim jacket. The next mark on his map was the Nike store, and he left there with a pair of women's running shoes and a pair of socks. Then, about a block along the way to his next marker, he turned, went back to the Nike store, and bought a pair of running shoes for himself. They were bouncy and light and on his way to the next mark, he started skipping, but then caught himself and returned to deliberately pacing out his steps with his sheathed sword. People might ignore a tiny Japanese man in an orange porkpie hat and socks, with a sword, but if you went around expressing unrestrained joy, they would have you in a straitjacket before you could belt out a verse of "Zippity Do-Dah."
Next Okata found himself in the very soft and satiny world of a Victoria 's Secret boutique. It was nearly Valentine's Day, and the entire store was festooned in pink and red, with very tall mannequins standing around in very small swaths of underwear. It smelled of gardenias. Young women moved back and forth, trailing bits of silk, not really talking, each entranced with her own decoration, in and out of fitting rooms, back to shelves, touching, feeling, stroking the lace, the satin, the combed cotton, then moving on to the next soft scene. He imagined that this must be what it was like in the control room for a vagina. He was an artist, and had never been in a control room, nor a vagina for nearly forty years, but he was sure he remembered it having a similar sensation. This was embarrassingly public, though, and he sat on a round red velvet settee to conceal the sudden memory rising in his trousers.
He was approached by a petite Asian girl with a name tag. He gave her his list and said, "Please," and was shocked out of his fuzzy, separate world when she answered him in Japanese.
"Is this for your wife?" she asked.
He didn't know what to say. She was there in the room with him, this young girl, in a vagina control room with him and his distant erotic memories. He could feel his face go hot.
"A friend," he said. "She is sick and sent me here."
The girl smiled. "She seems to know exactly what she wants, and her sizes are here, too. Do you know what color she likes?"
"No. Whatever you think is best," he said.
"You wait here. I'll go get some samples and you can pick."
He wanted to stop her, or bolt out the door, or crawl under the cushion of the settee and hide his embarrassment, but gardenia was in the air like opium, and there was music playing with the rhythm of slow sex, and the young women moved like diaphanous ghosts around him, and his shoes were very, very comfortable, so he watched the young girl picking out pairs of bras and panties, gathering them like rose petals to be sprinkled over a snowy path to heaven.
"Does she like basic black?" said the girl, noticing all the black denim peeking out of the Levi's bag.
"Red," Okata heard himself saying. "She likes red, like rose petals."
"I'll wrap these up for you," she said. "Will this be cash or charge?"
"Cash, please." He handed her two hundred dollars.
He waited on the settee, willing away his whereabouts, the smell and the music, the women moving, and thought about kendo exercises, training, and how tired-how really exhausted-he felt. By the time the girl returned to press the pink bag and his change into his hand, he was able to stand without embarrassment. He thanked her.
"Come again," she said.
He started to leave, and then looked at the burned-up girl's map and saw the pictures of the pig, cow, and fish, and realized that it was going to be an ordeal to explain to a butcher what he needed, so he called to the salesgirl.
"Excuse me. Could you do me a favor, please?"
On a fresh piece of pink stationery with red and silver hearts on it, she wrote in English: 4 quarts, cow, pig, or fish blood. It would be much easier dealing with a new butcher with an order slip to hand them. He thanked her again, bowed, and left the store.
It was no small irony that when he finally found a butcher who could sell him blood, it was a Mexican in the Mission who had to have Okata's one-item shopping list translated into Spanish. Of course, he had blood. What self-respecting Mexican butcher didn't save the blood for Spanish blood sausage? Okata didn't understand any of that. He only understood that after walking half the City carrying jeans, sneakers, and a pink bag of underwear, he finally had a gallon of fresh blood for his burned-up gaijin girl. After he left the shop the butcher went to the phone and dialed the number on the card the police inspector had left for him.
Okata went against his normal discipline and took the F car instead of walking. He rode the antique streetcar all the way down Market Street, past the Ferry Building, and a few blocks up the Embarcadero, where he got off and took a moment looking at the extraordinary black sailing ship that was docked at Pier Nine, before dragging his gallon of pig's blood home.
He was sitting beside the futon with a big grin and a tea cup full of pig's blood when she awoke.
"Hello," he said, with a great grin.
"Hello," said the burned-up girl, her fangs showing when she smiled. Her hair had grown through the day, and now hung down to her chest, but it was dry and crispy.
Okata handed her the cup and steadied her hand while she gulped the blood. When she finished he gave her a paper napkin and refilled the tea cup, then sat down and drank tea from his own cup while she sipped the blood. He watched the color move over her skin like there was a pink light moving there, and she began to fill out, the flesh coming up on her bones as if she was being inflated.
"Did you eat?" she said. She made the motion of chop-sticks scooping rice and pointed to him. No, he hadn't eaten. He'd forgotten to eat.
"No," he said. "Sorry."
"You need to eat. Eat." She made the motion and he nodded.
While she drank her third cup of blood he retrieved a rice ball from his little refrigerator and nibbled it. She smiled at him and toasted his tea cup with her cup of blood.
"There you go. Mazel tov!"
"Mazel tov!" said Okata.
They toasted and he ate and she drank blood, and he watched as her smile became full and her eyes bright. He showed her what he had found for her at the Levi's store and the Nike store, and at Victoria 's Secret, although he looked away and tried to hide a little-boy grin when he showed her the red satin bra and panties. She praised him and held the clothes up to her body, then laughed when they looked too big and took a big gulp of the blood, spilling it down the sides of her mouth and on the kimono.
And she saw his new shoes, too, and pointed and winked. "Sexy," she said. He felt himself blush and then grinned and did a little dance step, a universal Snoopy dance of ecstasy to show just how comfortable the shoes were. She laughed and ran her hand over them while rolling her eyes.
After he had drank a whole pot of tea and she almost a whole gallon of blood, she sat up on the edge of the futon and threw her thick red hair back over her shoulders. She was no longer a charred skeleton, a burned-up wraith, a desiccated marble crone, but a voluptuous young woman, as pale as snow, as cool as the room, but as vibrant and alive as anyone he had ever seen.
Her kimono fell open when she stretched and he looked away.
"Okata," she said. And he looked at her feet. "It's okay." She closed her robe, then ran her hand over his cheek. Her palm was cool and smooth and he pressed into it.
"I need a shower," she said. "A shower?" She mimed washing, falling rain.
"Yes," he said. He brought her a towel and a bar of soap, then presented the shower, which stood open to the room next to a pedestal sink. The toilet was in a little closet on the other side.
"Thank you," she said. She stood and let the kimono slide off her shoulders, laid it carefully on the futon, then took the towel and soap and walked to the shower, throwing a smile over her shoulder at him as she stepped into the tray.
Okata sat, dropped really, onto the little stool by the futon, and watched as she washed the last bit of ash from her skin, then let the water stream over her until the whole apartment was full of steam, weariness, and wonder.
He picked up his sketch pad from the floor and began to draw.
He watched her move like a spirit in the steam, drying herself and then combing her hair out with her fingers. She came out of the steam, dropped the towel on the floor by his workbench. He looked away as she approached and she knelt and raised his chin with her finger until he had to look at her. Her eyes were as green as a jade plant.
"Okata," she said. "Thank you."
Then she kissed him on the forehead, then on the lips, and ever so gently, she took away his sketch pad, and dropped it to the floor, then pushed him back on the futon and kissed him again as she unbuttoned his shirt.
"Okay," he said.