By Christopher Caldwell
(The previous six installments of this novel can be found in Oasis back issues)
A lone, ragged figure was running through the dark alleyways and backstreets of an industrial neighborhood. His hair was encrusted and filthy, his coat was torn in several places and he was missing a shoe. Once he was very famous, but even those few who intensely scrutinize the fashion world and have kept track of its falling stars would have trouble recognizing Valentino Storm. Gone was his aura of machismo and brazen self-assuredness, the only thing Valentino radiated now was terror.
Ash sat at the kitchen table in Alan's house and watched Richard pick absently at a plate of food and Jaysin amuse himself by making faces at his reflection in the bowl of a soup spoon. He looked down at his watch and wondered for the twelfth time that evening where Alan was. Richard, who seemed to miss little, mumbled in a barely audible tone in Ash's direction, "Some nights he doesn't come home. Especially when there's business."
Richard looked down at his rapidly cooling and congealing omelet and gently pushed it away from him. Ash looked at Richard quizzically and said in a halting tone, "Oh.. do you know what.."
"What he's doing? It's probably better not to ask. Anyway, I don't care."
Jaysin pushed a lank clump of hair off his forehead and put down his spoon, "Aww.. does poor wittle Ashwey miss his Awan-wawan? Yes he does.."
Ash glared, Richard sighed, "Jaysin, shut the fuck up."
Jaysin began to laugh as if finding this hysterically funny, "Ooh, now the little servant-boy's getting mad. Ooh, I'm so scared."
Richard looked at Jaysin coolly, as if appraising him and then said without emotion, "You're a useless piece of shit. Excuse me, I have something to do." Richard stood up, brushed any crumbs off his lap and walked out of the room, leaving Ash and Jaysin alone.
"Jaysin, I don't know why you're such a prick," Ash began.
"You think I'm stupid. Don't you?" Jaysin said, his eyes crafty.
"I don't see what that has to do with anything. But no, I don't think.."
"Yes you do. Just like everyone else you think I'm a dumb whore. A stupid little streetwalker who doesn't know his asshole from a hole in a bathroom stall"
"I never said.." Ash protested
Jaysin's voiced dropped, becoming conspiratorial, "But I know something you don't know. Something even Richard smarty-pants doesn't know."
Ash sighed, "What, Jaysin?"
Jaysin winked, a lurid grin spreading across his face, "Well, I may be a dumb whore. I certainly was a streetwalker. But even dumb whores know how to listen at keyholes..."
"Well, then?" Ash asked, beginning to grow impatient.
"I know," Jaysin seemed to be savoring this, "where Alan and Persephone have gone off to, and what game they're going to play."
Ash's eyes widened in surprise at this, "What do you mean?"
Jaysin looked at Ash and licked his lips, "Now what's this information worth to you? One thing dumb whores learn is that everything has its price."
Ash's eyes narrowed, "Fuck you, Jaysin. You don't know anything do you."
Jaysin frowned, "You don't believe me?"
"No, I don't believe you. You've been a jerk to me since day one."
"Hmm. Maybe I'll be nice to you just this one time," Jaysin began to pace as if deeply absorbed in thought.
"I don't have time for your stupid cat and mouse games. Goodbye, Jaysin." Ash stood up as if to leave.
Ash paused at the doorway, "What, Jaysin."
"Alan and Persephone are," Jaysin smiled triumphantly, "out hunting.."
"Is that all?" Ash sighed and started for the doorway.
"Ash, they're hunting for a nasty little rat," Jaysin began to laugh insanely as Ash walked out the door.
There is a narrow street that runs past a grim line of warehouses and factories in an industrial neighborhood. Occasionally the sounds of a street person shuffling past could be heard, or sometimes the muted ministrations of workers on the graveyard shift in one of the bleak factories echoes through the night.
But on most nights, the wind that toys with the refuse and trash that litters the thin, cracked sidewalks is the most pronounced sound you will hear at 3 a.m. But on this certain night, one could hear a loud scraping sound and a metallic clang. If you happened to be looking in the right direction, you would see a former super-model climbing out of a manhole, and without stopping for breath or recovery, running down this narrow street as if the hounds of Hell, the Furies and a horde of paparazzi were nipping at his heels.
Valentino reached the end of the street, and paused to assess the situation. He had been running all night, and although a being of supernatural reserves, he was beginning to tire. He needed to feed. He counted himself lucky that he had survived the initial exposition of his plan.
"Just one week, " Valentino muttered aloud to no one in particular, "one more fucking week and I would have had it all. I'd have wiped that smug grin off Alan's face for good."
Valentino kicked viciously at a crushed aluminum can that lay partially obscured in a clump of weeds. Months of clever planning, of finding weakness and marshalling his allies gone in one fell swoop. Alan had simply strode into the room, smiled and knocked Valentino's brilliant plans for revenge over like a spoiled child kicking a sandcastle back into dust. Valentino stared up at the thin ribbon of sky that was visible between the squat building that lined the street, clenched his fist heavenward and shouted, "I'll have my revenge! Just you wait," tears formed in his eyes and in a milder voice he added, "if I survive the night."
At that moment Valentino noticed an alleyway between two nearly identical brick warehouses, he ran towards it, and upon reaching the twelve-foot high fence that closed the alley to outsiders, began to climb. In a smooth motion, he shot up to the top of the fence and climbed over. The remnants of his coat caught on the razor wire that lay atop the fence, but they tore so readily that Valentino did not notice this as he fell earthwards and landed on hands and knees in a shallow puddle.
Valentino surveyed the alley, it was full of old boxes and industrial refuse. In places the weeds grew nearly waist high. Grateful for the heavy shadows that blanketed the alley and mortally tired, he crouched between two large boxes and huddled up against the cold. In a more lucid time he would have found this amusing, a creature who has died and been born again fearing the cold. Behind him tatters from his jacket blew in the wind atop the chain link fence like a pennant from forgotten days.
Purpose guided Richard's hand, he mused to himself behind the wheel of his convertible. Everyone underestimated him but Alan, only his beloved Alan knew the true measure of his worth. Vampires, for all their vaunted powers, were useless in the day, and the moment they forgot this fact was the moment they were vulnerable. He pressed his foot to the gas and watched the needle on the speedometer rise past 90mph. Everything became clearer with the wind in your hair and the road beneath you. Dealing with Jaysin could wait, he was insignificant. Ash was more of a threat, because he had gained an unexpected place in Alan's affections, but that had to be handled carefully. Besides, Richard grinned to himself, Ash seemed unlikely to think of Richard as anything more malevolent than Alan's servant. Being underestimated was a tactical advantage. The needle arched over 110. Richard snapped his finger, realizing that he had been missing an obvious and simple way to get rid of both of them.
Jaysin was imminently controllable, make him jealous of Ash, and Ash's burgeoning rage would do the rest. Richard smiled at his reflection in the mirror, "You're much too cute to be such a Shakespearean villain."
Richard noticed a sign for his turn-off in less than a mile, laughing loudly with his hair whipping behind him, he drove off into the night.
Valentino did not know when unconsciousness took him, but as he looked at his surroundings he realized that the shadows were different. They were longer, more ominous. He chuckled quietly, this was the first time he had fallen asleep at night in fifteen years. He was startled by a scurrying sound to his left, his gaze darted over fearfully, and he relieved to find that the noisemaker was only a common brown rat. His shoulders slumped, and he sat backwards to think about where to go next. He couldn't afford to stay in one place too long or they would be upon him. At that moment the shadow directly across from him seemed to unfold, and from it issued forth a whisper, "Valentino...."
Valentino did not need to look up to know whose form was shrouded by shadow, but he looked up with a sort of defiant resignation as Alan stepped into the murky light.
"You look like Hell, Valentino." Alan smiled down at him, immaculate as always.
"Fuck you, Alan" Valentino replied halfheartedly.
"Now, now. Is that any way to great your old friend? I'm wounded."
"I got away from you once.." Valentino began.
Alan chuckled, seeming authentically delighted, "You're so touchingly naive, little peacock. Did you really think you got away from me?"
Valentino merely glared up at Alan.
All pretense of civility and amusement dropped out of Alan's face, "I let you go. I wanted you to run like a scared rabbit. I wanted you to see there's no place you can run to, no door that will keep you safely locked away from me.
"No where", Alan opened a pocketknife at this point, the click serving for emphasis.
"Fuck you, Alan. In a week your pretty little empire would have crumbled.. and I.." Valentino trailed off as he noticed Alan was not paying attention to him, but rather was looking skyward, his neck arching elegantly upward. Curiosity got the better of Valentino and he too looked up.
Persephone was on him from above before he could even scream.
Ash was reading a book on the marble floor of the living room when Alan and Persephone returned. Alan was immaculately dressed in a black-double breasted raw silk suit with a charcoal tie and a dove-grey shirt. His clothing almost seemed to have been crafted from the shadows. Persephone was wearing a trenchcoat that in all likelihood had once been pea-soup green, but now was splattered with mud and grime and something that looked black and shiny in the wan light of the living room. The smell hit Ash's nostrils and he realized that Persephone was covered in mud and shit and blood. Alan smiled at Ash.
"Persephone, take the mask down for me, please."
Persephone grunted an assent. Ash looked up at Alan with something that resembled both fear and desire and said in a halting voice, "Uh.. where did you guys go?"
"I went to a boring party given by the publishers and flew the red eye back. Who knows where Persephone went," Alan said, completely guileless.
"What was that about the mask?"
"Oh. A hideous piece of art given to me by one of the guests. It's a gaudy Mardi Gras type mask, he'd heard I was from New Orleans."
Ash was strangely relieved by this. Alan opened his arms and Ash tumbled into them. Although Ash was a head taller than Alan, he felt like a child in Alan's arms, and was comforted as he was kissed and rocked and held all the way back to the bedroom, where they lay in each others arms long after the sleep that comes with dawn took them.
Valentino was conscious again. His vision was obscured by the blood that was steadily dripping into his sole eye. Strange, he mused, that there should still be blood left within this body.
A moment after he realized he was awake, he realized he was in pain, he cried out, no words articulating his agony, only guttural howls. He discovered that he did not have a tongue to shape words with. He put all his concentration into focusing upon seeing and not the pain that throbbed and stabbed from all parts of his body. He was upside down, he realized. Hanging from his ankles by a rope. He was facing eastward, and although the sky above was mostly obscured by the brick warehouses , he could see a gradual lightening. Valentino, who had eschewed religion at the age of eight, began to pray for dawn. Death was better than this pain, and this humiliation at Alan's hands. As the sky grew purple, he could hear maniacal, ragged laughter escape from his throat.
He laughed so loudly that he almost did not hear the voice.
"Poor Valentino. They really worked you over, didn't they?"
Valentino strained to see where the voice came from, but saw nothing but a subtle shifting of the shadows.
"Oh look, Alan left forty pieces of silver beneath your head. He was always one to be melodramatic, wasn't he?"
Valentino became agitated and moaned.
"Took your tongue because of your foolish words, and your face because of your vanity, I bet. It really was a pretty face."
Valentino could see a black-clad figure step into the wan light.
"I'm guessing from the ragged tearing that Persephone took your balls as a trophy. The cuts around where your face was are almost surgically neat. Persephone is more fond of ripping things off."
Valentino's hands curled into fists. Above him he could hear a sawing sound. The rope around his ankles tightened for a moment, then there was a moment of vertigo as he fell a foot and a half onto the asphalt into an ungainly heap. His consciousness ebbed as he felt latex gloved hands pull him onto something cool. Vinyl, he thought, or maybe rubber. There was a sound of a zipper and just before the body bag was zipped over his face,
Valentino stared with his one eye into the face of someone he knew.
Christopher Caldwell is 22 in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his webpage http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/9010