“He’s not going to take that shot, no way. That would be his ninth double,” Marcus says, looking cross.
“The man can do it, I’m telling you,” Jay replies, “Darren’s a lightweight compared to him.”
“I’m willing to bet 'em fifty bones he won’t.”
“Are you that desperate to lose your money? You do know who he is, right? If not, you better recognize. Tommy Chicago ain't no chump,” Jay says before leaning back against his chair, a sneer forming along his rat-like face.
“I could give a rat’s ass who he is. And, for the record, he doesn’t look like much to me,” says Sal, the big guy next to Marcus.
“Tommy, show this loser what for, eh?” Jays says as he gestures his thumb towards the mean looking pair of men across the table.
Tommy Chicago stumbles forward and peers down at the glass of liquor with bloodshot eyes. Besides Jay, the loudmouthed stoner who sells him skunk, he doesn’t recognize any of these people.
What he does know is they were the same creeps palling around with Darren not too long after their set wrapped up. They were probably goading that idiot into a bottle as well. It doesn’t take a genius to see that they’re up to something, why else would they keep buying him so many shots?
Maybe the drink is laced with something? He didn’t see them order it, so it was a possibility.
Only one way to find out.
“Let me see the green first, chico,” he says as he taps his finger against the smooth wooden tabletop.
The goon pulls out a fifty-dollar bill, slams it onto the table and pushes it towards him. Tommy looks down and sees Grant looking up from his presidential portrait, rooting him on with a stoic smile.
Hell yeah, Ulysses. Time to go on our own odyssey.
“Alright, bet,” Tommy says with a grin.
Without another word, Tommy scoops up the glass and belts back the drink. As he slams the glass back down onto the counter, he feels a warm sensation rushing over him. The edges of his vision begin to blur almost immediately as he reaches forward and snatches up the money.
One hand turns into two, then four, then twelve. Now everything is spinning. Not regular spinning either, this is like the rims of a low-rider. Something is wrong.
Yep, the shot is laced.
Son of a bitch.
Tommy Chicago is lying prone in the middle of the dance floor. The string of multicolored lights draped around his neck blink along with the blaring bass pumped in from the overhead speakers. He wants to get up, to get away from here and find somewhere quiet to rest, but he’s not entirely sure where ‘here’ even is.
Everything is loud and hazy.
Throngs of people dance around his body, laughing gleefully with loud, obnoxious voices. Even their garments manage to be loud, somehow. Their brightly colored clothing sways around their glistening forms as the strobe lights situated along the club’s rafters bath them in a myriad of colors. The group of assholes that bought him the shots are nowhere to be seen, neither is Jay.
What he’d give for a pair of earplugs.
One of the people closest to him is a young woman. Like her fellow dancers, she is wearing a smattering of different color flannel garments and checkerboard board shorts. She’s in her own little world, eyes closed and head thrown back as she went about skanking to the beat.
A series of horns unleash their brassy payload onto the ecstatic crowd. This sudden injection of an energized brass section inspires flannel girl to skank even harder, her hips sway with a rhythmic intensity as she kicks out her feet harder and harder to the rising tempo. The arms of the flannel shirt cinched around her waist flop about like a child’s arms on a roller coaster as she seems to lose herself to the dance.
She is one with the world.
One with the universe.
She has reached ska-vana.
Tommy feels a sudden burst of pain as flannel girl punts him square in his stomach. The sudden inclusion of ribs to the toe of her sneaker breaks her free from her trance and her balance. Her face seems more confused than anything else as she is sent stumbling over his body and into another cluster of dancers without so much as a yelp of warning.
“Hey! Watch where you’re stepping, lady. Can’t a guy die in peace?!” he tries to say, but what actually comes out of his mouth sounds less like English and more like a drunk Norwegian lashed to the top of an unbalanced washing machine.
A barrage of raised voices fills the air, growing louder by the second. After a prolonged blink, Tommy finds himself surrounded on all sides by members of the club’s security team. He might not have even known they were security at all, were it not for their black t-shirts with ‘security’ printed across the chest in wide white letters.
What a helpful uniform. Very informative.
“What’s this dickhead’s problem anyway?” says one of the lankier security members. “First the guitar player, now the singer? Christ. You’d think they were the goddamn Stones or something.”
“I don’t know what his deal is, but he’s higher than a kite,” replies another.
“Get this loser out of here before somebody breaks their friggin’ neck!” says the most muscular of the black-shirted security guards with a guttural-sounding growl.
Like everything else Tommy’s hearing, all of their voices seem warped and distorted.
“Clearly we have had some sort of misunderstanding,” Tommy tries to say in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.
He watches with a raised brow as several pairs of calloused hands begin grabbing at various parts of his legs and torso.
“Hold on now, I can’t fly anymore,” he tries to say, his voice growing increasingly panicked.
He tries to wave them away but his arms are like cinderblocks, there is no moving them. The flashing strobe lights transition into stars as he is chucked out of the back door of the dance club and onto the unforgiving sidewalk outside.
“Shit!” he screams in perfect English.
Tommy Chicago bounces as he lands outside of the club, skidding across the coarse concrete like a rock along the still waters of a lake before tumbling to a stop face-first in a water-logged pothole.
“Bbbleerrrbbb,” he mutters, causing several air bubbles race to the surface of the water.
He rips his head free from its watery prison, wincing as the backs of his ears burn from pressing against the jagged edges of the pot hole. The moment his face breaches the water, he begins coughing and sputtering up a lungful of the murky brown rainwater before rolling over onto his side. The lights lining the lanyard throb with a dim glow before shorting out entirely. With a clumsy tug, Tommy rips the lanyard from around his neck and chucks it into puddle, causing a tiny sploosh.
His messy brown hair, soaked from the impromptu bath, clumps together along his brow. A small trickle of blood oozes from the corner of his mouth and onto his scuffed chin as he gasps for breath before going into another coughing fit. Once he is able to breathe again, he wipes the blood from his chin and peers at it, his face seems to grow darker, even beneath the beard.
This night has not been very kind to him, not at all. Most weren’t nowadays, if he were being honest. Getting out was supposed to be a fresh start for him, a chance at a better life. Why didn’t it feel that way?
He lets out a quiet sigh, then licks the blood from off of his hand. The sharp metallic tang brings with it a small measure of comfort.
“You look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet, Mr. Chicago,” says a mystery woman, her silhouette covered in a blanket of shadows.
Tommy shakes his head to the side, whipping his hair from his face as he rises to a knee. Though his eyes are still glazed over, the jolt of fear from hearing another of his kind stirs him to a more sober state of mind. He keeps his movements slow and deliberate as he reaches out and picks out the cluster of gravel embedded in the skin of his knee. Though his head is lowered, his eyes peer into the darkness in search of this new visitor.
“That’s an awful nice way to put it,” he says with a slight chuckle as he tosses the gravel down beside him, “clearly going with the board shorts was a mistake, but what can you do?”
Who on earth is she? How does she know his name? More importantly, what the hell does she want?
“What’s it been? Ten years? It’s safe to assume you miss being a part of the fold, am I right, Mr. Chicago?”
Wait, did she just say the fold? She couldn’t mean...does she know?
“A vampire with no fangs. Pftt. Those animals call it a reward for years of service during their pithy little squabbles, but it seems more like damnation to me. Wasting away, unable to access your dark gift. My gut wrenches at the very thought,” she says. Though she remains obscured by shadows, he can hear that she’s smiling.
Well, fucking hell, she knows.
“It’s true, retired life hasn’t suited me like I’d originally hoped,” Tommy says, his eyes flicking downward as the words leave his lips. A light blush creeps along his cheeks at the admission.
“Feeling a little empty?” the woman asks.
“Yeah, empty is a good way to put it,” he says with a slight nod, “there’s this void inside, it’s only grown larger since I’ve been here. Nothing fills it.”
Though he’s known it to be true for some time now, it still felt strange saying it out loud.
“And you’re sure it’s not from the drugs? Or maybe the ska?” she asks.
Her voice sounds so familiar, but he still can’t place it.
“I’m sure, unfortunately,” he says with a grimace.
“Well, then. What if I could make that emptiness disappear?”
Tommy freezes for a second, then a frown begins to line his bearded face.
“I wish that were the case, but I’m afraid there’s more to it than that.”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“Well, if you are aware of vampires, then you should also know what I had to give up to become human can never be returned to me. That was the price I had to pay for my freedom.”
“And if I told you I could get your fangs back? What would you say then?”
Tommy’s eyes widen for a second as her words sink in.
A way to get them back?
No, that is impossible...isn’t it?
In his mouth he runs his tongue over the slight points of his canines, the ones they implanted in him during the ceremony after extracting his fangs. They feel so foreign, so wrong.
“How?” he asks, “after the anglicization, I was told there could be no returning to my brood grounds. If I can’t get there, I can’t see my sire.”
The woman steps out of the shadows, her fine golden robes bellow gently around her form, though the night air hangs still as the grave. Beneath the mane of wild, dark hair there is a face, both young and beautiful. While it is her actual face, it is also a façade. Behind those intelligent eyes lies the wisdom of many lifetimes. They are eyes he never thought he would get to see again.
“Lucretia,” he says, his voice catches in his raw throat.
His maker, his sire. Here in the flesh.
“There’s always a way back to the darkness, Tommy Chicago, so long as I will it.”
Tommy’s mouth hangs agape as he slowly rises to his feet. Only one flip-flop remains affixed between his toes, the other is strangely absent.
“What about the humans, Lucretia? Won’t they see this as an act against the treaty?” Tommy asks, his brow furrowing.
“The treaty has already been broken by those foolish mortals this very year. Too much time has passed since the last conflict between our two races. It seems as though they’ve all but forgotten.”
“Forgotten? What have they forgotten?”
She laughs a little as a cruel smile crosses her face, revealing the razor-sharp fangs hiding among her teeth.
“Who it was that made them terrified of the dark to begin with, Tommy dearest.”
Several figures round the corner leading to the alleyway behind the dance club, cackling with hushed voices as they approach their prey.
“Look, look, there he is,” Jay says, pointing towards Tommy.
Tommy is lying flat on his back, his head tilted toward the side.
“You did good, Jay. Hell of a mark. Time to collect our prize,” Marcus says.
“Let’s just hope nobody cleaned him out first, you know how those guards can be,” Sal replies.
“Get in there, Jay,” Marcus says as he ushers the stoner towards the body.
“You got it,” Jay says as he crouches down next to Tommy Chicago.
While routing through the pockets of Tommy’s soiled Hawaiian shirt, the color drains from his face as if it’s being pulled out through a needle. In an instant Jay’s face is covered in a thick coating of sweat.
“Marcus...” Jay says, his voice wavering.
“Don’t forget my fifty bucks, either,” Marcus says over his shoulder.
“We got a problem, dude,” Jay says, his wide eyes bulging from their sockets.
“What, what is it?!” Marcus yells.
“He ain’t breathin’,” Jay says, stammering slightly, “I think he’s dead.”
Marcus starts to snicker before elbowing his friend.
“Get a load of this kid, Sal. Little bastard is whiter than my wife’s Keds,” Marcus says.
“C’mon, Jay. You wanted to move up, yeah? You gotta be willing to get your hands dirty,” Sal says as he crosses his arms and gives Jay a hard look.
“I—I thought we were just robbing him,” Jay says, his voice hushed.
“What difference does it make? Jeez, Jay, you’re embarrassing yourself,” Marcus says with a wave of his hand.
“It’s just, I don’t know...it doesn’t feel right, dude. Tommy wasn’t a bad guy,” Jay says as he hangs his head low.
Tommy’s blood red eyes spring open as a pair of fangs suddenly sprout from his teeth.
“Wanna bet?” he says before tearing open Jay’s throat.