All rights reserved, 2005 Valerie D'Orazio
FOR MATURE READERS ONLY (for reals)
In The Company Of Vampires
The hotel room was musty but at least it didn’t smell of pee or have any pubic hairs on the blankets. It was the most that could be said for the arrangement. Tara lay in the dark, in her street clothes, head propped against a pillow. Across from her was one of those mural-sized mass-produced canvases of abstract art in a pastel frame with chrome piping that really made you want to blow your brains out.
What a mess. No job, expensive-yet-really-depressing moldy hotel room, and the honk and cry of the traffic on Broadway, the fucking clog of trucks and taxis. She tried opening the window to air the place put but the smell of smoke and fuel and the blast of hot air clashing with the air-conditioned staleness quickly prompted her to close it again. She was terribly bored, and the City held no surprises or allure for her so she rarely ventured out for more than to pick up a sandwich or pasta plate at the deli.
In such oppressive moments of ennui her thoughts traveled back to the contents of the trunk to the left side of her bed. She would just get impulses to cast spells for no reason, big chaos magick spells full of results and good times. But she remembered the admonitions of Lucy Holloway, and the specter of Rache. And then she recalled the Nine’s request, via Roy, for a hit on Rache--requesting it from her as if she was fucking Silvio from the Sopranos. No, she didn’t need to go so far to make things right. She would just discontinue the magick, was all.
No more spells.
But what else to do? She dreaded getting a job.
She wished all her problems would be over.
She wished really hard.
Her cell phone rang.
*** *** ***
And so once again, quite unexpectedly, Tara Amadeo was invited to partake in her favorite pastime--dinner, preferably free. Actually, she was just invited to lunch, but when you’re unemployed time has a way of dissolving and temporal designations meaningless. Dear Alex had received an inquiry as to the whereabouts of the now-nomad “ex-witch” and of course he just went and gave out the information, bless his fuzzy head. The caller in question could have been just about anybody: repo man, angry former client, demon incognito ready to pull her into the depths of hell and thus fulfill Molly Griep’s many hopes and predictions.
But annoyance at her former roommate’s gullibility (or was it--did she really know Alexander Platt, or did she only know him partially or was her mind not big enough to encompass the entire tapestry of an individual?) aside, the point was moot. Free Food won out and so Tara stood in the doorway of a cheesy but upscale Italian restaurant, dressed in a wrinkled black tank-dress that she had unpacked after weeks of being crammed into her suitcase.
The squat, monobrowed maitre d’ with steel grey hair and an ethnicity that wasn’t exactly Italian but something indeterminate accosted Tara at the doorway, either noting her less than polished appearance with disapproval or starring at her titties.
“Hi, I’m looking for Baxter,” she said in a defensive voice, hoping the name would carry some sort of weight around these parts. And indeed it did, because with a subservient dip of the short man’s head and a placid, closed-mouth smile he led her to a table in the pasta joint’s inner sanctum, past the terrible, almost unintentionally cubist frescos of plates of spaghetti and Mediterranean grottoes that almost reminded her of the canvas monstrosity in her hotel room. There were even crudely-painted cherubs on the ceiling swishing in a sea of stars and bottles of red wine, and it was right after Tara, distracted by such trifles, stumbled on a carpeted step and immediately looked up to see what was in front of her that she set eyes upon Pris Baxter for the first time.
Tara’s first impression of Pris, serenely gazing back at the witch with only the slightest hint of a cocked eyebrow and a shadow of a smirk on her lips, was that she was absolutely perfect. Perfect. Not perfect in a subjective personal-demons sort of way (though that always plays a part), but literally flawless, but for perhaps a slight rodent-quality to her teeth. Unblemished white skin threw her jet-black page-boy and her blood-red mouth in stark relief, small hands pressed palm-to-palm and unusually long fingers well-manicured tip to well-manicured tip. She wore a red suit with large padded-shoulders and two tight parallel rows of pearls ringing her neck like a choker. Elegant. Moneyed. Well-groomed. Which, once the drug of witnessing the rich wore off, immediately led to Tara’s second impression--suspicion.
There was only one reason a woman like that would wish to share and pay for a supper with a person like Tara--and I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t the promise of hot lesbian sex.
Pris got up and extended a suited arm towards the taller woman, her tiny hand engulfed in the witch’s broad palm.
“So good to finally meet you, Ms. Amadeo,” she said in a melodious, glass-like voice. “I’m Pris Baxter, Vice President of Dermaco International.”
“Uh, thanks. Cool job.”
“Thank-you,” she replied confidently, “I like it.”
Now Tara was even more suspicious and paranoid than ever. She had done magicks for some corporate types in the past, but none had been so bold or so high-ranking. Usually these were covert jobbies, certainly not meeting for a lunch date at a crowded midtown restaurant to discuss the finer points of hexing or the magickal applications of crabs. Tara studied the woman’s pale doll’s face as they both sat down and poster-sized laminated menus were placed before them. There was something odd about her, odder than the mere fact of her being upper management of a major company and yet seeking out the services of a skank like Tara.
The witch’s thoughts suddenly flipped back to that night after Kinky Witter died, when she was in the street upchucking crows and turtles and looking up at God and inquiring if there was indeed more. This whole situation, before it ever really began or at least began to be sketched out, seemed to augur complications, complications even though she had finally packed it all in and announced to herself quite clearly:
That's it! No more complications!
Sigh. Was this to be the pattern of an entire life?
Tinny music in mono began to play throughout the restaurant, emanating from lint-encrusted ancient speakers. Tara thought it was a Musak version of “Perry Mason” by Ozzy Osbourne but couldn’t be sure. A waiter set two tall glasses of water and a basket of bread before the two women; he was also short, squat, dark, monobrowed, and of indistinct heritage.
Pris smoothed a white linen napkin over her lap and smiled.
“Let’s just get to it, shall we?”
Tara dug into the basket, pulled out a pumpernickel roll the size of a grapefruit, and began hastily to butter, her mouth watering at the impending carb-orgy.
“Sure,” the witch replied through a mouthful of bread, “what’s on your mind? Product testing? You have free samples? I think I could use some foundation...” she drew down one of her dark lower eyelids with a finger. “I think I could probably use some foundation. Powder. Concealer.”
“Hm,” Pris said, frowning, leaning in slightly and scrutinizing Tara’s face. Her ice-blue eyes were penetrating, focused like the lenses of an expensive microscope, and Tara actually felt goosebumps raise on her arms and the back of her neck--which was no fair, because “spooky” was her job. “Perhaps a Seaweed-Coconut Exfoliant Mask. No, definely the mask. And you’d need an entire sebacious-matter removal session at one of the Dermaco spas. God....what do you eat?”
“Okay,” Tara answered, raising her index finger, “the thing about the foundation and concealer? Purely being a wiseass, wasn’t serious. What is the real reason you called me? See, now I’m being serious.”
Pris brought the glass of water up to her lips, barely tilted it, then brought it down again.
“I would like to offer you a job.”
“Well, you caught me at a weird time right now...see, I don’t do that stuff anymore.”
“It pays very well.”
Tara tried to quell the rising tide of greed within her with images of Rache gutting some innocents.
“I...really...can’t. It’s just a principle thing.”
That faint, haughty smirk again appeared on Pris’s face. She grabbed a knife and began buttering a breadstick.
“What type of job do you exactly think I’m offering you, Ms. Amadeo?”
“You know what job.”
“I’m offering you a position at Dermaco.”
Tara worked on another roll, pulling the lid off of a small plastic butter container but never taking her eyes off of the striking little woman.
“You mean a job job?”
“You’re very talented.”
“Talented. I’ve been looking for a woman of your particular talents.”
Tara stuffed the roll in her mouth, biting out a large V-shaped section and chasing it with the ice water.
“You make me sound like sex professional.”
“I assure you, sex has nothing to do with this.”
“Well great, now I’m disappointed.”
What the fuck is wrong with me, Tara asked herself. Some money, some power, a pair of blue eyes, and suddenly I’m all lesbiano.
“Would you be disappointed with 60K?”
“All at once?”
“A year. Plus benefits.”
C’mon, keep thinking about the Horror, keep thinking about that swath of chaos and destruction caused by your magi--
“And what do I have to do?”
“You do what you do.”
“You got enemies?”
“I’m one of three VPs of a major company with a host of young go-getters nipping at my heels and a selection of old-timers who feel agitated and not a little resentful at my ascent. I simply want what they all want. I see the disadvantages, the chinks in the armor, the potential backstabbers.”
“Then why don’t you go stab some backs?”
“Tempting. But I don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”
“But it’s okay for me to?”
“It wouldn’t be personal if you did it. Besides, you’d be an employee.”
Tara rested her chin in her hand and tore her eyes away from Pris, fixing them instead on an oversized jar of roasted red peppers in an alcove. Manic fantasies involving money, prestige, and licking expensive shoes danced in her head, multiplying and crowding out her hard-won grabs at nobility and reform. She couldn’t back down now--she had gone so far! The way she handled Myra, for instance--defusing the situation and restoring order to what once was chaos. And putting all those books and instruments in storage and losing her home and just willingly stepping into the void, trusting in God to take care of her as she made her journey--just like Jules in Pulp Fiction did (just like Caine from Kung-Fu).
On the other hand, to speak of God and to speak of morality--what about the whole thing with Alex? Here she thought he was the nicest guy in the world, her best friend, the Frick to her Frack, all that was good in humanity--and then it turned out that she really hadn’t been so irreplaceable to him, so dear, after all, not when the money flow ended. She still hadn’t recovered from that shitty how-do-you-do. The last seven years or so of her life had been a series of disillusionments and burnt bridges.
Malcolm Dust--who taught her a hell of a lot and should have been the graying old mentor that she looked up to like Gandalf or Obi-Wan--totally couldn’t stand her. Molly Griep not only tried to kill her but as absolutely convinced she was the Antichrist or some bullshit--yeah, she managed to piss off that bitch right well. Then Alex. Three fucking blonds. No more blonds. So now she was going to try her luck with a brunette. Besides, she felt herself inexplicably drawn towards the woman. It was some golden shit that reflected off her eyes, the sort of shit you can’t quite see but feel. It just made her feel so...reasonable.
At some point during the remainder of the conversation Tara realized that Pris Baxter was a vampire. Maybe it was the way she played with her food but never really ate anything. Or the pointy white tips of her fangs that very subtly popped in and out of view as she talked. The thin band of pure white in-between her neck and pearls, a white far paler than was fashionable or possible through the palette of a mainstream cosmetics company. Or maybe Tara always knew she was a vampire, from the very start; maybe this--what was sitting across from her and signing the credit card receipt just handed to her in the sumptuous leather folder--was what vampires really were, or could be.
But she no longer cared. And she really wasn’t convinced that she ever really cared or was truly reformed in any way to begin with. In her life she had seen so precious few that were truly noble--she doubted it was really part of the human condition, and if nobility was not really the purview of humans, what made them so much more better than vampires? Even the unfortunate members of the Invisible College--if a simple biological abnormality introduced into the bloodstream transformed them into amoral killers at the drop of a hat, how weak and how fleeting this notion of character, of basic identity. Character, nobility, ethics, identity, morality--concepts unstable and unreliable, certainly not immortal, as vampires were.
So the witch never mentioned the vampire thing, though she suspected Pris knew she knew--but as long as Tara didn’t blanch, didn’t run out of the restaurant, didn’t break off a table leg and stake the woman through the heart, then it was assumed that everything was cool.
But Tara promised herself she wouldn’t tolerate any killing, or biting.
Okay, maybe some biting.
Pris tossed her a wad of cash before they parted and asked her to make herself presentable. Actually, she ordered Tara to make herself presentable.
*** *** ***
When Pris and Tara strode past the framed posters of various shadow-cheeked models bedecked in dark eyeshadow or green seaweed-avocado masks and into the glass conference room of Dermaco, they almost looked exactly the same--you know, in the superficials. They had the same page-boy haircut, one in black and one in brown. They wore a similar cut of skirted suit--the vampire’s in red and the witch’s in black. They both wore heels--which accounted for Tara’s wobbling as she tried to maneuver herself to the head of the table, where Pris already was.
A sea of well-groomed corporate types looked up at the pair, inscrutable expressions of neither interest nor boredom nor welcoming fixed upon their faces. The only thing that distinguished any of the seated from each other, besides gender and slight variations in apparent age, was that several looked a little paler, a little more perfect, a bit more red on the lip and finely traced around the eyes and nostrils than the others. And Tara thought, fuck, they’re vampires too. Just how many of them were at Dermaco? And the killing--they must be killing people to survive. Tara couldn’t abet this saort of behavior. Not even for full dental. But now she was trapped within the gray-carpeted confines of the glass conference room, her nose inundated with the smell of coffee and the strong odor of artificial fruit-scent that overlapped the very faintest (you’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention) whiff of death.
Just then, Tara caught a glimpse of her tall frame mirrored in the glass, and became so completely distracted by how hot she looked (albeit in a fascist sort of way), that she forgot everything she was just thinking about. Which was just as well, since such seditious ideas had no place in the boardroom.
“Hi, everyone,” Pris’s bell-like voice intoned brightly, making the glass walls hum. “I’ve got to run for a meeting about the Victorian-Allure-in-a-Bag launch, but I just wanted to introduce you all to my new assistant--Amanda Tarantino.”
The crowd sitting around the table said simultaneous in a voice that was neither welcoming nor bored nor hostile nor particularly enthusiastic, through strangely synchronous:
*** *** ***
Tara sat before Pris’s silver-and-lucite desk, and the seat was rather low, and Pris appeared rather big. Tara looked down at the maroon carpeting under the desk and for the first time noticed her new boss’ shoes, little black strappy things with spike heels that seemed impossible. They were the type of footwear that appeared to be at the same time flimsy and prohibitively expensive. It was a fucking shoe fetish that just grabbed Tara by the short hairs, was what it was, another recent fetish to add to her power fetish and meney fetish and newly aquired Ilsa Queen of the SS fetish. The witch never thought corporate life could be so kinky.
Pris was going through the motions of reapplying the beige Victorian Allure lotion on her cheeks and forehead and the back of her neck with a sponge, tipping the small, pink-and-black bottle liberally and applying its contents in quick, numerous, staccato movements. Tara sensed the inherent urgency of such a procedure, how unlike the vampire’s other actions this one was accomplished with a certain degree of vulnerability written on her face.
The sun that shone through the windows behind Pris--windows which virtually consisted of most of the wall space for two adjacent sides of the room. That noon-day light would have just fried her, was it not for the lotion. The strangeness of being a vampire out in the open, in the human world, the human world with its lighted billboards and lines of cars and trucks snaking down Broadway, the essence of Times Square summed up in a gigantic animated Ramen Noodles sign at its very crossroads, all lights and noise even at such an early time of the day--
Pris tossed the used sponge in the silver mesh wastepaper basket and regarded Tara with a squinty scrutiny.
“Wasn’t Dermaco Spa supposed to shape your eyebrows as well?”
“Yeah, well, after the sebaceous intervention with the scoops and suction I just kinda decided to save some goodness for next time.” Tara motioned to herself. “But how ‘bout the rest--pretty good, huh?”
Pris nodded at her, the very hint of her elongated canines showing under her upper lip.
“Yes, quite decent.” She then unlocked a file cabinet under her desk, pulled out a large manilla folder, and handed it to Tara. “You should find everything you need in here. Remember the somewhat porky older man with the Grecian Formula hair and the David Niven-cum-Hitler mustache that was sitting towards the back? Barclay Desjardins. Catty fucking cocksucker,” she said evenly, as if listing his rank and achievements. “Upper management. Been gunning for me ever since I came here. Used to ask me for oral when I was but a slip of a girl in the typing pool. Always said I didn’t have what it took to make it, even as I made it. I know he’d love to see me brought low, destroyed. Shitty cocksucking human. Cocksucker. You’ve got handwriting, photographs, even hair samples from his trash. Cocksucking bastard.”
It was odd hearing Pris repeatedly call someone a cocksucker but still look composed as if giving a Powerpoint presentation. Tara pushed her index finger in the folder and flipped through the contents. Amazing, she thought. Just like the friggin’ CIA.
“Just out of curiosity--you ever file charges on him?”
Pris threw her head back and let out a peal of spontaneous crystalline laughter.
“What, you mean like for sexual harassment? So I could have my character assassinated and be labeled a ‘troublemaker’ and be reassigned to our satellite branch in Duluth under the pretense all upper management wanted to do was ‘protect’ me from him? What a joke...the livelihood and dignity of some lowly file clerk or junior associate has no value in comparison to that of a Vice President, or to a personal friend of CEO “Baby” Bersee himself. Sure, I could have filed something, hired a lawyer but by doing so I’d have to give up everything--maybe even enter a new field completely. No, the rules they play by here...it’s their own rules, just like vampire rules are their own rules, the rules of the clan. And so let them play by their own clan rules...and I’ll play by mine. Or by yours, specifically. Obliterate him.”
By this point the petite vampire’s face had become grim, had been becoming steadily grimmer with every word, and now her face looked positively forbidding, a stone-faced mask of vengeance...Tara wondered uneasily if she was thus witnessing the real Pris Baxter, the face she used when fully exercising the full extent of her vampire power.
“Oooh-kay. But I can’t kill him or anything like that.”
“I’m not asking for death--just destruction. How long will it take?”
“It’s not an exact science. But you’ll know.”
The noon-day sun hit the window in its full heat, and Pris was bathed in an aura of light. Little beads of moisture bubbled up on her forehead, dissolving the lotion and revealing slightly the true ivory of the skin underneath. She instinctively reached for the Victorian Allure, but held back from applying it.
“What will you...ask for, exactly? To happen to him?”
“Safest and easiest bet is to play upon his karmic weaknesses,” Tara said with the technical savvy of a computer programmer. “I’m going to use magick, via the concept of like attracts like (vis a vis personal and bodily effects) to influence his karma to ‘tip,’ as it were. Quite simply--whatever skeletons he has hiding in his closets will suddenly shake the sleep out of their eyes and roam the Earth for all to see.” Tara leaned cockily back in her small chair and couldn’t help but revel in the impending chaos of it all and the look of approval and anticipation in Pris’s ice-blue eyes. “It’s the coolest way to hex, leprosy-fee.”
Pris dug another sponge out of her desk but kept her eyes on Tara.
“Though a few lepers in a company like Dermaco would carry its own degree of irony, would it not?”
“So would a VP with her face on fire.”
“No worry about that,” the vampire replied, reapplying more lotion on the back of her neck. “Victorian Allure is one of the most reliable protectants there is. That’s why it’s the Undead’s underground favorite.”
“Speaking of which..uh...I can’t be involved in any, uh, feedings or anything.”
“Oh, of course not,” said Pris matter-of-factly, “we need to keep you healthy for your job.”
“No, that’s not exactly what I mean--though, like, I do appreciate the “no-feeding-on-me” concept too, don’t get me wrong. I mean--I’m real uncomfortable about the whole vampires-hunting-humans things. Had a couple of bad past experiences. To be frank, it’s been giving me misgivings about working here ever since our first meeting. I don’t want to be a party to that stuff.”
“Tara--Amanda--don’t you know about Clan Generra?”
The witch rubbed her left eye.
“That’s like, roleplaying or something?”
“That’s what I am--I am Generra. Vampires have clans--organizations of like-minded individuals. Like political parties or the Knights of Columbus, though a bit more...intimate. The two major clans in New York City are Generra and The Caress. Caress are freaks, whores, and indiscriminate killers. Generra is committed to a peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence with humanity.”
A beatific look appeared on Pris’ face as if she just described the rights of Americans under the Constitution. Outside, Tara could hear the crowds, the cars, the alarms, things one usually funnels out of one ears during the course of a conversation--but now they were strangely intrusive, almost a musical accompaniment to Pris’ words. Her words--they were intriguing. Tara wondered if they were true. It would have been intriguing if it was true, and even more intriguing if it was just an elaborate lie--because the witch always found the elaborate, colossal liars and lies of the world fascinating in their excess and evil. But if it was really true, then the witch could work virtually karma-free, just tripping up some shady business-types who probably had it coming to them anyway.
“So you’re saying that...you guys don’t feed off of humans?”
“It’s against the policies of the official Clan Generra Handbook.”
“Then what do you eat?”
“As I have been lecturing to the vampire community for years, there are many perfectly good sources of plasma that are non-lethal to humans.”
“You mean medical blood and animals and stuff?”
“Can you, like, slit a rat’s throat and fill a wine glass with its blood and then drink it and then laughingly toss the glass into the roaring fireplace?”
“Get to work.”
--> continued in part two