Beware the Greeks who offer you horses ...
It was now 5:54. No call.
Annoyed, she threw her splintered straw on the sticky floor and got off the stool, only to be shocked by a woman standing immediately behind her. And not just any woman. It was Renee Littler, top investigative reporter for KSIM. Everyone, but EVERYONE, knew that snotty expression and that shrewish face. "Huh," Renee said, and frowned. "Aren't you people supposed to be able to read minds, or sense when someone's too close or something?"
"Not necessarily," Ebony said. Of course they could, she just didn't want to admit that she was a little tipsy and a lot mad. If she didn't need to make rent so badly, she'd SO tell this broad just where she could go!
"Well, if you're not a true vampire yourself, you won't be of any use to me. Can you read minds or not?"
Ohhh, if only she wasn't getting paid--
Ebony nodded, drunkenly. The stretch limo pulled up in front of Floodgate Apartments. Renee got out, looking back disgustedly as Ebony puked all over the sidewalk. "Can you handle this?"
"Got it, got it," Ebony slurred, "toda perfessonel." "Okay, total professional, maybe you should find out where the hell you're going before you climb those stairs. Over here please ... excellent. Now. Third floor, unit furthest to the left. I need you to hang around near the area until a guy in pink scrubs comes around. And then I need you to--" Blurrrrrrrrrp.
"Are you sure you can handle this? I mean, I can do it myself, I just--"
Ebony went down. Cursing, Renee dragged the girl out to the nearest bus stop. She had hoped that a real vampire would be able to determine if that Matthew Mazza was telling the truth about his origins, but for some reason the only vampires she could find lately were total idiots, drunks, total drunk idiots, and that one teenager who tried to pass off his dollar-store fangs as the real thing. Renee had offered him a plasma shake which was of course refused immediately. Busted.
She leaned against the stairs. It was almost 7. Matthew should be around shortly. ... and he certainly would have been, if he hadn't been in a bar celebrating his new promotion.
But alas, his night of debauchery was not to be. Before he could move happily onto that pinnacle of partying-- the keg stand--his pager went off.
"Really?" he grumbled.
But there was no helping it. He might have years and years of knowledge in his mind, but right now he was a go-fer, a runner, a fetcher. And when there were accidents in the city from other people who had more successfully done keg standing, he had to be at the hospital. He gave his drink to Head Nurse Dinah Jones and rode off into the night.
Six frantic hours of phlebotomy, wrapping, stabilizing, temperature-taking, insurance-paperwork-filing and general hand-holding later, he was very unhappily sober and exhausted. He stumbled upstairs, took off his filthy sneakers by stepping on the toes and walking out of them, and shed the rest of his clothes in a direct trail to his bed. That was one good thing about being independent ... no one could force him to clean up.
He sank into the pillows and drifted off immediately. **bzzzt bzzzt**
That ... sounded ... like ... his ... phone.
Oh HELL NO.
He got up, grinding his teeth. "Hello?"
Too irritable to bother with pleasantries, he said, "If this isn't my mother AND some sort of emergency, I'm hanging up. And since this isn't my mother and you sound way too calm, it's not an emergency. Bye, whoever you are." Click. Before his head could even touch the pillow, the phone was going off again. One of the less dim areas of his brain suggested that it was Renee Littler. How had she gotten his number? ... no, it didn't matter. Just one MORE thing he could yell at her about.
"Hello?" he said in a voice that bordered on outright rudeness.
"You, sir, are about this close to NEVER being accepted to ANY internship, anywhere, ever."
"Don't crack wise with me, Mazza. I'm just as tired as you are. I thought we agreed that I would be meeting you at your apartment tonight?"
"No ma'am, there was a note on my motorcycle that wasn't signed, so I have no idea who that might have been from. I haven't spoken to you about meeting anywhere since we visited Waylon's and you accused me of dispensing medicine without proper authorization."
"Which I still believe to be the case."
"As you wish, my Emmy-award winning stalker." There was a moment of awkward silence.
"How the hell did you know I won an Emmy?"
"How the hell do you have my number?"
More moments of uncomfortable dead air.
"I ... I ..." Her embarrassment was tangible. He relished it.
"I noticed that you left your motorcycle at the bar. I went back the next night hoping you'd return for it and I was there when you called the bar. When the bartender walked away, I peeked at the caller ID. Okay?"
"Tsk tsk. Right to privacy laws aren't worth a damn with you journalist types ... well, you should know that even though you don't mention your awards on the KSIM website and 'prefer to let your work speak for itself,' lots of watchdog groups are happy to blast your accomplishments far and wide. So a belated congratulations. Though I did run into an inconsistency in a few places. Are you 43? Or is it true that you lied about your age when you first got started and you're actually 46?"
Hmm, dial tone. Imagine that.
Confident that the phone would not ring again, he went to sleep. That ... that ...
Renee couldn't throw anything--it wasalmost one a.m. and her husband was asleep for once--but oh dear sweet mother of pearl how she WANTED to. Her temper was boiling over. Did that lunatic really just talk to her as if she was some bar-hopping hussy drunk-dialing him?
If her car didn't have a bad tire right now, she'd be on his doorstep, throttling him.
She wasn't going to bed like this. She changed into her swimsuit and stepped out onto the patio.
A strong breeze was blowing from the bay. She closed her eyes and let it wash over her burning face. Still not satisfied, she slid into the pool silently and swam back and forth beneath the surface of the cold water.
There was no way that brat kid was any damn vampire.
Though it WAS intriguing to imagine him as one. He was handsome, and she'd seen enough of him to imagine that he was pretty buff--
She finally crawled out of the pool once she was shivering from the wind. Shaking her head with annoyance, she went inside and tried to write, but ended up just crashing on the couch for a nap. Her mischievous unconscious ran amok and filled her dreams with foolish images of Matthew shouting at her about her Pulitzer and her Emmy awards while she struggled to lift weights.
She hated the gym.
There, it was settled.
She hated him.
Another night, another party. Matthew hadn't even been invited to this one really, he had just talked to some girl at the corner store and she had offhandedly mentioned that she was buying the 30-lb bag of ice for a party and he should come if he didn't have to be anywhere. And he came. There wasn't much to it. Pretty, wannabe actresses, guys with too many tattoos and too much alcohol in their stomachs.
He began talking to a nurse that he had seen a few times in the cafeteria--she was a hardcore flirt. And she was married. But she was a bit too empty-headed for him. He had learned the hard way not to get sold on a pretty face and shapely thighs.
He slipped into the hot tub, only to see his pants slithering away on their own due to the vibrations of his phone. Oh, please not the hospital. Anything but the hospital. With some relief, he saw that it was his mother.
"'Hey there?' You leave town and go off to that horrible city and don't call for months on end and the best we can get out of you is 'hey there?' Do you know what today is? Your father was born on this very day. And you haven't even called! How will his birthday be happy when his own son doesn't call?"
"I don't have a son!" a voice shouted in the background. "My children have RED hair! I don't know where that bastard child came from!"
"You see? You've made him upset! Now, tell your father happy birthday--" Matthew hung up and grabbed his clothes. He didn't have time for this. After thanking the hostess and declining a kiss goodbye, he drove to Eugi's and ordered whatever the bartender could whip up the fastest. Eager to oblige, the barkeep mixed a spline reticulator with flourish. "Having a good night?"
"Not really, folks won't leave me alone."
"I know the feeling. Though I'd have guessed girl trouble by your look."
"Don't have a girl."
"Well, there's your trouble."
"Funny man ..." The next morning he felt oddly cheerful. He got to work right on time and managed to successfully divert so much of the workload from triage that he made all of the other orderlies look like total slackers. Outraged by his productivity, they lobbied to foist him into another department, and Jun Xu could do little but agree. Shame on Matthew for being such a good employee! What was there to do with him besides promote him to paramedic? When he left for the evening in brand-new work clothes covered in brand-new fluids, both synthetic and organic, Marina Prattle was waiting for him. More specifically, she was waiting for him because Renee Littler had paid her to wait for him. And so, here she was, looking at this guy, who couldn't be saying 'Get the hell out of my way' any more clearly if he was screaming it.
"Hello," he finally said in a rough voice.
He's really tired, she thought. I won't be able to keep his attention for long, better just spit it out. "There's going to be a gathering at Plasma on Friday if you're interested."
A 'gathering.' Something that he would have no reason to even know about if he wasn't truly one of them. Their eyes met, and slowly, tiredly, he shook his head.
"I'm on vacation. But thank you for thinking of me." He smiled with an effort, and made his way to the parking lot. His motorcycle whined as he drove away.
Marina called the number she had been given. No answer, of course. She left a terse message on the voicemail.
Renee listened to the message again, and again. She refused to believe it. She hired another vampire ... ... and another ... ... and another.
They all reported back with the same message. "It's true." "How the hell could it possibly be true?" she asked Reuben while mixing a salad together.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Reuben said without looking up from his book. "I guess I was supposed to be part of this one-sided conversation. Exactly what are you talking about?"
"I guess I've been talking for the past five minutes for my health. How is it possible that a vampire could become human, and yet still be recognized by other vampires as one of their own? If you're human, doesn't that by definition make you NOT a vampire?"
"It depends on whether or not the humanity is temporary. Being a vampire is just like any other class or culture, we have to have our needs and wants properly represented too. There are vampires who spend their time managing that kind of paperwork--"
"Vampiric accounting," Renee said incredulously.
"No taxation without representation," Reuben said, smirking. "Anyway, the vampires who do it have to get out of the office once in a while. Considering how long we stand to live, becoming human for a while is a perfectly legitimate way to spend vacation time. Why are you suddenly so curious about it, huh? When I tried to tell you about it before, you always blew me off."
"No reason," Renee sighed. When Reuben woke up alone at 2 a.m. and came downstairs to turn off the lights, he found Renee half-asleep over her laptop. She had been online all night long--she had multiple search engines going, incoming emails, instant chat responses. It was all related to the same thing: is it possible for a vampire to, in fact, be human?
It had to be research for some story, a whim that had entered her head. It wasn't uncommon for her to become completely obsessed with sousing out minutiae for her articles and news pieces. And now she was in the middle of that large-scale expose. That was it. It was just Renee being Renee.
That was it. Sad face. Sad, sad face.
There was no food in the cabinets. There was no food in the fridge besides a withered, spoiled tomato, and a hunk of something that was powdery and green. It had probably been cheese at one time ... months ago. But far worse, there was no coffee left. Unacceptable.
He searched through piles of dirty clothes for a shirt. A pair of pants. Socks, socks, socks ... no socks. To hell with it, he'd wear his ratty sneakers. It was just around the corner. He could walk. He just couldn't talk. If he talked to anyone, he'd probably bite their head off. And probably enjoy it.
Now. Unlock door, walk out. Wait, need wallet--
First she tried to get him fired, then she illegally obtained his number and address, and now she was in his house? There had to be a law against this!
"It's not breaking and entering when the door is wide open," she said and smiled broadly.
He forced a smile. Oh heavens, it hurt. "Mrs. Littler, this is bordering on creepy."
"I'm a reporter," she said.
Her trump card, her get-out-of-jail pass. I can make your life hell. I can stop you from accomplishing anything. I'm a reporter.
For a moment, he completely hated her.
... but that was just the lack of caffeine talking. With a sudden motion of his hand, he interrupted whatever that was she was saying. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Littler, but I can't focus right now. I'm going to get coffee. And you'll be coming with me since I clearly can't leave you alone in my home or you might break into everything in the name of journalism."
"You have really got some chutzpah on you, don't you? Fine, I'll drive. I'll even buy. If you haven't had the Triple Bypass omelette from the Dirty Diner, you haven't really lived." The Dirty Diner was a glorified Airstream trailer next to the Wharf District. The owners insisted that the restaurant was called The Metro, but "Dirty Diner" was more fun to say and besides, it wasn't a lie. The health inspector was paid regularly to be somewhere else at all times.
Still, it was some of the best-tasting comfort food in the city if you avoided looking too closely into the kitchen. With dishes on the menu such as the Coronary and the Angioplasty, it was popular with truckers, med students, and food snobs who liked to sneak a country-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy every now and again. AND they had amazing coffee, probably due to the permanently-stained cups.
The pair cleaned their plates. They spent the rest of their day together. Not so much because he wanted to, but because he didn't have his bike and Renee was driving.
They went to the library, the museum of classic art, the public pool, the butterfly preserve. All the while, she kept firing off rapid questions that were designed to trip him up.
He explained himself again: he was a 22-year-old man, born to a couple in a hick town. But the reason all of those vampires she kept sending over recognized him was because he was, in fact, a vampire himself. What else did she need to have spelled out? At last, she gave up. "All right, I ... guess .. I'm convinced. Where else do you want to visit in my fair city?"
"You're not sick of me yet?"
"Not at all."
"Well ... I haven't been to a nice lounge yet."
"Aren't you a lucky boy then, to be hanging out with me. I can get you into the best in the city. Meet me in front of the Prosper Room at 10, okay?"
"But it's 9 already!"
"I'm so glad you can tell time, Matthew. Don't stand me up, I don't like being blown off." He was on time.
The bouncers checked for his name and sent him upstairs to the private club, which was somehow even more private than the club downstairs that practically everyone was being turned away from. "Thank you for joining me," Renee said. "I wanted to dance, but the pianist is determined to channel his inner Beethoven. Kind of kills the mood. Care to join me in the hot tub?"
"I didn't know I was supposed to bring a bathing suit."
"Who said you were supposed to?" she retorted.
"Oh, it's like that."
"Yeah, it's like that."
Somehow he hadn't figured that the point of getting into an exclusive club was to skinny dip with impunity. He looked over at the bartender, who was staring straight ahead as if that blank wall was the most interesting thing she'd EVER seen. "What about--"
"Alyssa? She knows better. Indiscreet employees don't last long here. Now, are you going to be a gentleman and unbutton me? Or do I have to do everything myself?"
"I ..." He suddenly felt much less like a Grand Count of Vampires, and much more like a mouse dancing a bit too close to the spring of a trap. "I think one of us has misunderstood what's going on here. I think I'll be on my way. Thanks for breakfast." He didn't see her again for some time after this.
The exposé eventually came out, making her all-new enemies amongst the hospital's board of directors. He imagined that she enjoyed her status as the city's most-despised columnist. She wasn't sentimental, that was for sure. He wondered what kind of man could handle being married to her. He continued to slog away at the hospital. Jun Xu put in a good word for him where she could, but he could see the truth of Head Nurse Dinah Jones's original warning. By the time the board was willing to take a chance on a wild card like him, he'd probably be near 40, just getting into a position to practice medicine in his 50s.
Maybe he should just spend this vacation ... like a vacation. He took a few days off from work and lounged around his apartment, existing on PB&Js and canned soup. He checked his bank account and was astonished to find that he had almost §30,000 in there. He looked at a few vacant apartments; maybe it was time to move.
He found a few dusty recipes books on sale at the bookstore and read them. He talked to total strangers he met in the park. He dropped bread crumbs for the pigeons.
He was in the middle of a weightlifting marathon at the gym when his phone rang. "Hello?"
"Matthew! This is Jun."
"On vacation still."
"Oh, I know, but congratulations anyway!"
"Fine, play coy. They just posted the list of the incoming medical intern candidates. You're on it! So who'd you sleep with to get THAT kind of endorsement, huh?"
She laughed, and it was all he could do to laugh along. He was just as shocked as she was. He eventually found himself at home, still in a state of shock. He couldn't sleep, he couldn't study. There was no point in studying anything when he'd have all-new curricula to learn once he came back to work.
There was only one thing to do--dance. He put his clothes on and went out. Aquarius was humming when he arrived. Not that it mattered, he just wanted to dance. He moved to the middle of the floor and immersed himself in the sparkling lights.
"... well, well, aren't YOU just full of surprises."
A woman's mocking voice snapped him right back to the present.
It was Emmy Starr, award-winning actress, well-known philanthropist, beloved wife of Allan Starr and one of the honorary members of the Board of Directors of Bridgeport Regional Medical. She curled her lip, revealing fangs. "As nice as you look dancing alone, you'd look better dancing with me." "I ... I don't believe we've met before--"
"We haven't, but I remember your face from your application... you came up before the board on committee decision. I'm sure you realize that you stood no choice of getting that internship through the normal channels, which is why we had to decide on you based solely on your recommendations. You must be a mighty impressive boy to get that cow Renee Littler to be so nice to you." Her voice became husky. "Maybe I should get to know you as well as she seems to." "Renee wrote a recommendation for me?"
"Oh yeah, it was classic Renee ... a complete backhanded compliment. 'She's seen gross waste and corruption within our organization, and if we didn't want to lose one of the only good employees we had left, we'd better accept you on the next possible rotation.' The directors are such scaredy-cats they caved in immediately." Emmy rolled her eyes.
"So there, that's how you got in. Renee Littler bullied the board into taking you. But just so you know, my name's on your approval, so you'd better not screw up unless you want to be blacklisted all over town. I'm not someone you want to embarrass. And maybe you should thank Renee while she's in a good mood. She's on the roof."
Matthew began to edge away slowly. Friggin' ... ego-trippin' ... broads ... He darted upstairs to find Renee by the hot tub, holding something strong and fizzy. She was semi-clothed. He breathed a sigh of relief. "Mrs. Littler. Nice to see you again."
"Same here. Actually, I didn't think I'd be seeing you again at all."
"Is that why ..."
"I figured that I owed you."
"You don't owe me anything."
"Let's not hash over it, you couldn't get in on your merit. You already know that. Just accept the help and be grateful you never have to see me again, you little brat." She smiled, almost fondly.
"It's been nice knowing you. Good luck."
A Bloodsucker's Holiday: Part 2
Nov 30, 2010 by spladoum
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