Read an Excerpt HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED
By MARK HENRY KENSINGTON BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Mark Henry
All right reserved.
Chapter One It's Saturday; It's the Well of Souls.
A few hints: the damned of Seattle congregate at the Orphanage on Tuesday nights for half-price nibbles and cocktail specials, Convent on Thursdays, for Burlesque of the Living Dead, and Pharmacy on Fridays, which is brand new, and I have never been (don't let that stop you, I hear it's mind-blowing) ... -Other world Weekly
Saturday night is all about the Well of Souls-see and be seen is the rule-there is no excuse for an absence, least of all a bad hair day. Shit, even if it looks like broom straw or the waxy coils plunged from drains, just throw on a hat, a wig, or whatever you have to do; the worst that could happen is public embarrassment and mockery. Nobody's died from those. Fortunately, Wendy and I didn't have to worry about that; we were looking hot as Hell, and ready to burn it down.
She wore her trademark mix of lush patterns in silk and wool, which she's been cultivating for a decade like a rose hybrid. On this particular night, she was working it short-short-short in a devilish Galliano skull and crossbones print dress. She wrapped the frock in a constricting bouclé sweater that cupped under her breasts and showed them off like a slutty European peasant girl. Her blond hair hung in perfect esses, framing her fair skin in a glow of spun sugar.
I must stop there. If Wendy had her way, the subject would never veer from her.
So let's move on ...
I sported my "Variations on Black" vintage Azzedine Alaia. I pulled it out on occasion to air like a favorite strand of pearls. It molded to my curves like a second skin, the very fibers followed each shift and undulation. My kicks were black, strapped, and towered on a heel that could impale the most amorous vamp. My hair is brown to the point of black with caramel notes-think of the first crema rising through the black of a properly made espresso-and up in a loose twist to show off these big retro hoop earrings I was rocking, like it was the '70s all over again.
Sexy? That's certain, but enough about fashion; let's move on to the oh-so-important seating arrangements ...
Our reserved black-velvet-draped banquette was centrally located between the restrooms, the dance floor, and the ice bar, perfect for witnessing both fashion atrocities and supernatural scandals. Ricardo, the Well's owner and bartender, was so good to us, always assuring our favorite spot, and providing eye candy to boot. I spotted him across the room shaking a metal shaker with a flourish. Which brought to mind the question: where's my fucking Flirtini?
Normally at the Well, I have no complaints, but, on this night, Ricardo was breaking in a new waitress. That's right, I refuse to call them cocktail servers or waitstaff, and if anyone commented as to the political correctness of my terminology, I'd have their head and everything else. Her name was Isobel, and she was exactly what you'd expect-slow, boring, obnoxious, and-wouldn't you know-pretty. To describe her as a doe-eyed starlet-type would be fairly accurate, but would neglect an account of her childlike intelligence and subpar vocabulary.
I was scanning the crowd for our regular waitress, Jezebel, when my eye caught on a table pressed against the furthest crescent of the club. Those booths, set deep within swags of thick jewel-toned curtains, were normally occupied by the evil bloodsuckers of Karkaroff, Snell and Associates, and some of them were even in attendance, but Dona Elizabeth Karkaroff was the only one worth noting, believe me, and don't ever look her in the eye, everyone knows that, never in the eye-I cannot stress this enough. The legal firm was a nasty crew, dealing in divorces and disillusionments, of the mysterious sort.
Mannish creatures flitted around her like butterflies, their thorny heads covered in fedoras, berets and caps, in shapes and sizes that must have put their milliners through Hell. They leaned in, whispered to her, roamed the area, covered their mouths. The lady herself, slouched elegantly, legs crossed and protruding from the shadows into that space between tables, like a track hurdle for the waitresses. Maybe Isobel tried to get through that way and didn't make it back. Karkaroff's cigarette glow lit her angular face. Her dark probing eyes searched the cavernous space.
I averted my gaze.
On that night, a darker than normal presence spread a dense layer of gloom through the already murky yet sophisticated atmosphere.
"Is that Cameron Hansen?" I asked.
Wendy tracked my nod to a deep copse of tables, and her eyes widened as they lit on the shadowed celebrity. "It is. Jesus, what's he doing here?" Her face fixed in a grimace, as though she were about to vomit across the table or had turned a corner and was surprised by the glaring eye of an asshole, crowning a thick brown mass. "I can't stand that shrimp."
"I certainly didn't get the memo." I lit a two-tone, pink-on-green cigarette that I'd had personally rolled and drew a mouthful of the pungent apricot-flavored smoke. I glared in the actor's direction, and blew without inhaling-obviously, the lungs don't exactly work anymore. I quit years ago, but after my death, I decided, what the hell?
Cameron Hansen appeared benign enough, sitting with a blonde pile of vacant silicone on one side and a shiny Asian boy on the other, but so many of his kind do, not that I'm remotely aware of his actual species. On the outside, he was awkwardly handsome, albeit far beneath most people's height requirements; inside Cameron was one hundred percent monster, or so I'm told. On several occasions, Ricardo shared, under his breath, tales of having to clean up the actor's sloppy kills, following previous visits to the Well.
We might have left, just then, simply to avoid the actor's bad energy, if we hadn't been waiting for Liesl and Gil to arrive for our weekly snarkfest. Nothing was more enjoyable than the four of us volleying hilarious barbs, at the expense of the moronic undead and neverliveds. Liesl was on her way, and Gil was perpetually late to the point of actually being punctual, but he never missed the chance to rail on his peers or drink blood from sparkling martini glasses. We loved him, and when I say we, it's not the royal plural; I'm including you. So we just sat, spat gossip, and grew increasingly irritable about our cocktailless hands.
The Well of Souls is certainly in no Seattle guidebook, and no one will direct you to its doors. It is a nightclub that does not exist in your world. Well, that's not altogether true and frankly, you should know, I can slip into a bit of drama. The truth is, the Well of Souls is our bar, just as are Convent, Pharmacy, Malevolence, Orphanage and the aptly named Les Toilettes. Our places are right out in the open, just like yours, but you can't see them, and it's too bad, because they are amazing feats of sinister architecture and engineering.
"There they are!" Our drinks bobbed on a tray, afloat on the sea of pouty-lipped club goers, Isobel's hand invisible in the murk. My pink Flirtini and Wendy's Melon Ball nodded right past Cheryl Rand, the famous water sprite and owner of Discreet Dry Cleaners, and Cash Zinsser, a vampire and social essayist, who had just written a scathing review of the all-demon-owned Malevolence. In it he reported the drinks were overpriced, the appetizers, inedible, and the victims, flavorless. The two were wrapped in a furtive embrace, groping, clawing. He grazed from her neck like a cow chewing cud. It made me feel icky.
As the drinks swung past the dance floor, a forest of arms rose to obscure them. They bounced to the rhythm, some glowed fluorescently with rows of Band-Aids lined up like dominos, because, this season, it's all about cloud, and cloud is the new crank. The faces attached to the flailing limbs were giddy, mostly fanged-out and with eyes like saucers. The cloud was having its known effect, euphoria. Across the room, the bathroom seemed to be home to the "paster," a male wearing a retro Kangol hat and massive gold chains. He supplied the drug from a repurposed Crest tube and slapped on the bandages to keep it in place for maximum absorption.
Isobel drifted past the ballet-dancing werewolf, Lina Peritzkova, who hunkered over her drink, one of Ricardo's secret recipe Black Devils, thick as syrup. Lina still nursed the hurt of failure; she couldn't seem to test out of the chorus, despite an impressive arabesque. Wendy and I used to joke that one day we would take water pistols filled with Liquid Moonglow[TM] and blast her from the orchestra seats during Swan Lake. But, seeing her in this downtrodden state stripped the humor from that idea.
A single margarita rode alongside the two martinis; I watched it, longed for its sweet warmth, and salty aftertaste. Because this is not a perfect afterworld, the margarita's owner was served first. A long-fingered hand coiled around the offered cocktail as Isobel wrinkled a cloying smile. The hand belonged to Shane King. Isn't a margarita an odd drink for someone so masculine? I wouldn't mind mangling him. He looked to be about twenty-eight, a shade younger than I, but was probably over a hundred. He wore a square jaw, kind eyes and the tousled blond hair of a surfer. The golden boy vampire-I'm not ashamed to admit-was the subject of at least two early morning pillow hump fantasies. I tried to erase his drink choice information from my mind and focus on the image of his butt; I sometimes called upon it. Whatever it takes, right girls?
"Look over there." I pointed in Shane's direction.
"Mmm, yummy. Dibs." Wendy shoved out of the banquette before I could protest, slipped through the crowd like a professional, touched shoulders and winked, and stopped to grind hips with a familiar face, or three. And then she was with him, sliding in close. Was he alone?
I turned away with an ech, to find Gil bumping and pushing his way to the table. Gil looked very much the part: his hair, jet black, and skin, a golden-blushed olive stretched over a lean muscular frame, a vampire, obviously, but so sadly, stereotypically gay. But still, I could look.
"What up, bitch?" he said as he plopped down into the banquette, slouching, one leg splayed into the passing lane. I thought of Karkaroff. Was it becoming a trend to block walkways, or a cry for attention?
"You're working that fashion editorial vibe a little hard, don't ya think?"
"Gotta glitter." He motioned to his black and grey pinstriped jacket, presenting it like a game show hostess playing up the crap prizes. "It's Armani."
The drinks arrived, and Gil ordered a vodka martini with two olives, an extra glass, and a pint of warm red. He explained that the vodka was a sheer sensory pleasure, sniffed and rolled over the tongue. Isobel would have to bring a spittoon if she expected a tip. I tried to avoid eye contact with the incompetent waitress, lest she cause me to become irritable. Regardless, the Flirtini was perfect (see inset); it glowed hot pink under the disco's black light. Ricardo was on point. The frost clung to my cold dead fingers, like sugared fruit on a holiday centerpiece.
"Is that Armani with an 'e'?" I asked. Although, in truth, the whole outfit hung on that jacket, and it was a beautiful cut.
"Funny. Where are the others?"
I directed his eyes to the other side of the room. Shane nuzzled against Wendy's neck. His lips were parting and beginning to bare canines. It startled me a bit. I wondered if Wendy was aware of the possibility of being scarred by her encounter with the pretty boy.
"Ew, whore," Gil said, stretching the accusation into two distinct syllables.
"No doubt. Could you?"
"Absolutely." Gil shook the look of faux-disgust from his face. He bit the inside of his cheek and blew a vibrating blood-fueled whisper across the room. It unfurled and coiled and stretched as though a snake of pink mist escaped from his mouth. It stained the air until it found its target ear, and then slid inside, snapping from view. No one in the club seemed at all interested.
He's going to bite, bitch.
Wendy pushed back from Shane and took his upper lip in her fingers; she examined his slowly retracting teeth and then let his lip go. He gave her a sickening smile, she returned a playful slap, and then darted from his side galloping back to our table, leaving him looking around, embarrassment spreading across his cheeks like fresh blood-kill.
"Gilly!" she yelled. "Love you."
"And you." He leaned toward her and gave her a Euro double kiss.
"Thanks for the heads-up on the biter. I swear to God if he'd left a mark I would've torn him apart. Is Liesl here yet?"
"No," I said. "Haven't seen her. Let me text her." I fumbled for my BlackBerry and danced the familiar patterns to create the message:
Bitch, where r u? The crowd is grossly overrated, Cameron's here! Ick!
"I told her that Cameron's here."
"What?" Gil's neck craned to gain a view. Wendy pointed out the actor's location. "Holy shit! Do you know who that is with him? It's that skank weathergirl from Channel 8."
"No way," Wendy said. "Ew. She's got legs like uncooked spaghetti."
"What's her name?"
"Rochelle somebody, I think."
"He brought a pseudo-celebrity victim to the Well?"
"Looks like it." Gil walked off toward the bar, and slid between a severely butch demonette with short blonde hair and curly goat horns, and a cute young gent of USO. He lingered on a well-rehearsed stare into the man's eyes, then leaned across the bar and spoke to Ricardo.
Ricardo Amandine was a burly abovegrounder and tall. He had a cherubic face with cheeks like peaches; in other words, a zombie hottie like Wendy and me. He was a master entrepreneur-an undeadTrump-and turned the crumbling warehouse into the hottest club in the nation. He existed in death, as he had in life, with rich aplomb. Self-confidence dripped from him like marketable sweat; the musk hung around him tucked with dollar signs. I needed a bottle and an ad campaign.
Gil grabbed something paper from the bar, and scribbled a note on it; he handed it to the man next to him like the paper were magical, and pulled from thin air, or from his ass. He winked and strutted back to the table, actually strutted. Desperate.
"How do you make strutting look natural?" I asked.
Gil slid in close to me and whispered, "Practice."
"So what are we talking about?" Wendy asked.
"How about the freaky-ass weather?"
Normally far too banal for cocktail banter, the Seattle weather had gone full-on biblical. Raining or drizzling, at least, every day for the past two months. There had even been a tornado in some rural town that doesn't bear repeating, a farm destroyed, or something. It hardly seemed worth mentioning. Once you're dead there's no need for agriculture.
"I've been wondering why it's been raining so-"
"It is total ass. My hair is-"
"Next!" I shouted; the topic was tiresome regardless of its timeliness. I was sorry to have brought it up. "Zombie plague, anyone?"
"That's just a rumor," Wendy said. She stirred her drink with her pinky and scanned the dance floor, eyes as dull as if she were trying to stay awake in first year botany.
"I heard ..." Gil said, leaning in with that in-the-know conspirator, gotta-listen thing, "... there was another outbreak just last week. Are you bitches out on a taste test, or something? Because someone is doing a bite and run. Anyway, it happened at some coffee shop in Renton. Six caffeine-pumped zombies just chewing through customers and baristas alike. The reapers cleaned it up before the media got there. Although they might have let it go public. Renton could use the exposure."
"What a dump."
Three sips around the table and a new topic popped.
"So, how's your afterlife going?" Gil asked.
I sighed. "Are you serious? That topic is as fresh as Wendy's poon." Wendy punched my leg. I blew a kiss. "Let's talk about your conversation with Ricardo."
"Yeah," Wendy said, chiming in, almost singing the words; we love her. "Let's."
"I just wanted to be sure that he was keeping an eye on Cam. There's no way he can kill the weather-ho and go unnoticed."
"Well yeah, the reapers would be on him in like a minute," I said, "right after the media, in her case. Channel 8 probably has her lo-jacked."
Excerpted from HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED by MARK HENRY Copyright © 2008 by Mark Henry. Excerpted by permission.
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