Friday, January 5th
“Man, you look like shit.”
Through blurry eyes, Patrick came to terms with the face of his best friend. “Hey, Anthony. What’s going on?”
“I should ask you that. Where the hell have you been?” Anthony threw a set of keys on his chest. “You left these at Twila’s.”
Patrick squinted at the familiar key ring. He had a vague memory of breaking into his apartment but the keys… they were somewhere else, right?
They were outside with Michael.
That’s what he’d thought, but obviously he was wrong.
Anthony explained, “She found them this morning. I went to the gas station to give them to you, but they said you haven’t been in since New Year's. Oh, and you’re fired.”
Patrick felt a sudden wave of artificial sobriety. He sat up, panic in his eyes. “Fuck. What day is it?”
Churo stepped from behind him, and nudged an empty bottle with his foot. “Friday.”
“Friday.” Patrick experimented with the word as he surveyed his friend. Churo was short and thin, with prominent cheekbones and interesting eyes. His hair was dyed a mixture of black and purple and his face glittered with little silver studs; there were two above his eyebrows, a couple in his lip, and three on his nose. Patrick didn’t want to think how many he had in other places.
“Friday,” he repeated. Then it all connected. He’d missed a week’s worth of work. “Fuck! Do you think I could talk them into cuttin’ me some slack?”
“I doubt it. That manager chick Becky said something like, ‘if you see that prick, tell him thanks for nothing.’ I guess she covered for you.”
Patrick groaned. When he was hired, they’d warned him that no-call-no-show meant termination—no matter the reason.
“At least you can go get your last paycheck,” Anthony said cheerfully.
Churo snickered at the suggestion, then slumped his way to the bathroom.
Anthony’s demeanor changed and he cleared his throat. His voice was low when he asked, “Did you know Mikey’s back in town? He wants to talk to you.”
A sick feeling settled in Patrick’s stomach, like bile mixing with alcohol. “Yeah. Mikey was here the other night. He was all fucked up.” He paused, then added, “He fuckin’ bit me, man. He said he was sorry afterwards but…”
“Shit. He bit you? Why? What was he on?”
“Fuck if I know.” Patrick tried to find words to express his foggy memories. Something was wrong with Michael… something…
Anthony interrupted the effort. “I saw him last night. He seemed kinda out there, but he didn’t get violent. He said he wanted to see you tonight at seven, at McD’s.” Silence fell and Anthony moved to the couch. He knocked aside an empty bottle so he could take its place. “You should probably go. You know he gets in trouble by himself.”
“I can’t spend forever taking care of him. And what’s to stop him from attacking me again? Are you coming?”
“Nah, man. I got shit to do. Besides, it’s kind of a family thing, huh?”
“You’re afraid he’ll eat your face off, chicken shit.”
Anthony snickered. “Sure, that’s why I’m the one who talked to him. You’re the chicken shit. He’s your little brother, man. If he gets out of line, fucking beat him back where he belongs.”
Patrick gave a fake laugh. It’s not as easy as that.
An hour later, Patrick slopped to the gas station through the mushy remnants of snow. He kicked a stubborn chunk of ice and thought about his car. It was a rusty rattle-trap Ford that broke down just before he’d moved out. With deposits, he couldn’t afford to fix it. Mark was the only gearhead he knew, and the one who’d done most of his mechanic work over the years, but he couldn’t stand him anymore, not even enough to get his car fixed cheap. So, he’d sold the thing for parts to Churo’s cousin, and used the money to overhaul the engine in his mom’s Regal. She worked in another town, and needed a vehicle more than he did. He could walk everywhere he needed to go, or get a ride. She couldn’t.
And so much for buying a new one now, unless I can get Becky to cut me some slack.
When he tried, she leaned on the counter and gave him a hard stare over a display of corn nuts. “I’m sorry, Patrick. When you didn’t show up we filled the position. Wait six months and, if there’s an opening, put in a new app. That’s the best I can do for you.”
Panic seized Patrick and he imagined having to go back to his mother’s trailer. “How am I supposed to pay my bills for six months?
“Try getting a job with someone else.” A customer approached the counter, soda in hand. Becky tossed Patrick a paper and waved him out of the way. “Sorry, it’s all I can do. Good luck.”
He started for the door and she called after him, “If you really want a job, stop getting in fights. No one wants to hire a guy with a black eye. Oh, and try fixing your coat.”
Her advice jangled in his head and he glanced down at the ragged tear in his coat sleeve. How the fuck was he supposed to fix that? Tape?
Patrick cashed his check at the grocery store and bought a bottle of whisky and a roll of electrical tape. Then he went home, stuffed the bottle in the cupboard, and repaired his coat sleeve. The result was crude but effective.
He read through the classifieds twice and circled three possibilities. It was too late to call, so he made a note to stop in the next day, then headed for his appointment with Michael.
The walk to the fast food place was uneventful. It was just after seven when he carried his food to a corner table. Michael appeared a few minutes later, hands in his jacket pockets, hood pulled up to conceal his face. He took a seat across from Patrick and the brothers stared at one another.
He doesn’t look right, Patrick told himself. Something’s wrong with him.
“I’m a vampire.”
There’s no such thing as vampires.
Michael cleared his throat. “How’s your arm?”
Patrick’s attention moved to his fries. They were more comfortable to look at; more familiar. “Eh, it’s a’right.”
“Look, I’m sorry about the other night, okay? You just pissed me off so bad!”
“Forget it.” Patrick hazarded a glance at his brother and as quickly looked to his half eaten burger. Those long pointed teeth were still there. “So where the hell have you been?”
“I told you, with Claudius and his coven.”
Patrick sighed. This was pointless. It’s the same shit all over again. “And who the fuck is Claudius?”
“He’s that dick I mowed the yard for, remember? Owns that huge mansion?”
The rich dude Patrick thought was a fictional cover for a drug dealer. “Yeah, I remember. The master dude, or whatever, that you wanted to rob.”
“Yeah, that’s him.” Michael rubbed the back of his neck. “I found them all sleeping in the basement in their coffins—coffins, man! They’re all vampires; him, that prick Troy, the hot chicks. I told Claudius if he didn’t give me money I’d tell everyone their secret…” he trailed off and spread his hands. “So they made me one of them.”
God, he’s fucking nuts. Patrick didn’t want to admit it, but there was nothing he could do. Michael needed to detox and see a shrink. A really, really good shrink. Maybe he had brain damage. Or maybe Claudius brain washed him. Either way, the best thing he could do was get the hell out of there before something happened.
Michael stared longingly at the half eaten food. “You gonna finish that?”
“Nah, you can have it.” Patrick pushed it toward him, but Michael shoved it back.
“I can’t eat food anymore.” His voice dropped to a whisper, “Just blood.”
That was it. “I hate to bug out on you, but I gotta get up tomorrow and look for a job. It’s a long walk home. I better get going.” Patrick stood quickly and fumbled with the tray. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you soon, huh?”
Michael stood too quickly; one minute he was in the chair and the next he was standing beside Patrick, the tray in his hand. “I’ll walk with ya. You have no idea what’s roaming around out there, man.”
A shiver raced down Patrick’s spine. I’m not afraid of what’s out there, just what’s in here.
Tiny snowflakes drifted from the heavy black sky. The moist air turned the streetlights to bloated globes of light that did little to illuminate the dark streets. Patrick walked at a brisk pace, his eyes on his brother. Michael chatted continually about his “coven”; about the other vampires, about some hotty named Arowenia. “She’s beautiful, man, but she’s like fourteen or fifteen. I mean, she was. Now she’s like hundreds of years old. So is it sick to check her out? Is it pedophilia, or is it a granny fetish?”
Patrick’s answers were monosyllable grunts. He clutched his coat to him, like a shield against the lunacy.
They turned down a narrow street, when a man materialized in front of them.
“Holy shit!” Patrick leapt back. The man was tall, with long ebony hair, and dark eyes. Dressed all in black, he was like a piece of the night made flesh.
Michael bristled, his lips drawn back from his impossibly pointed teeth. “Who the hell are you?”
The man surveyed them and Patrick couldn’t move. He felt trapped, pinned down. It was as if the guy was staring through his eyes and into the back of his skull. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and his watery knees quivered.
When the man broke eye contact, Patrick sagged. He stumbled and caught himself. His heart pounded in his ears. There was something about this guy that said he’d kill them and not lose any sleep over it. All of Patrick’s instincts told him to run; run now.
The man studied Michael a moment. “An interesting question. More importantly, who are you?”
“Like that’s any of your business.”
Patrick gaped at his brother’s attitude. Was he trying to get them killed?
“You’re with Claudius,” the man stated matter of fact. The kind of fact that made Michael’s delusions a little more plausible.
Michael glared back. “And you’re not.”
“No, I’m not. And you wish you weren’t.”
Patrick stirred. “How do you know that?”
Michael met the man’s eyes and commented coldly, “You must think you’re a mind reader.”
“I am.” And that’s when the man smiled. It was a slow full smile, not particularly evil, though not kind. It wasn’t the smile itself that made Patrick’s heart stop, it was the teeth. Like Michael, he had sharp pointed fangs.
The smile disappeared. The man met Michael’s eyes and held them. Patrick got the impression he was trying to determine if they were useful. His decision apparently reached, he said, “Perhaps we’ll meet again.” Then, he seemed to disappear back into the darkness.
It was a full minute before Patrick could breathe. “Who the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know. Another vampire.” Michael glanced at his brother. “I told you, there’s all kinds of scary shit running around here.”
You’re not kidding.