Rock Bottom and Up
by Danielle L. Parker
Thursday at the bar in the Nosferato’s Nook might as well have been Old Timer’s Night Out.
By about two in the morning, after six pints of the red stuff sold by your average street derelict hoping for more booze, I was feeling worse than usual. It didn’t help that from my perch on the last barstool of the row I could see almost all the usual crowd. I mean, after seventeen years of the same old, same old it starts to bore even on a Vampire... the view hadn’t changed since the Flamingo first flashed rhinestones. I was sick of it.
There was Frank, Francisco Monteverdi, I mean, at the other end of the barstools – he’s the little guy in the funny clothes. It’s too bad diet, not to mention dentistry, was so bad in 17th century Spain. And those pox scars, well, I guess he’ll have to live with them forever now. Let’s see... Becky was nattering on about some Cause as usual. You’d like her. For a vampire, Becky is about as sweet as we get. She matriculated to the immortal Undead in the 60’s, and can’t seem to give up flower power skirts and off-the-shoulder peasant blouses either.
Ugg, on the other hand, scares even me sometimes. He can’t tell us when he earned his fangs, but given his sloping brow and the pretty impressive dentistry he must have developed as a breather, we suspect Stone Age, maybe even Neanderthal. And his buddy, the fellow who looks just like Pee Wee on the other side? Well, I haven’t had the heart to tell Pinkie that bow ties and striped pants haven’t been in style for eighty years, unless one’s part of a barbershop quartet.
Yes, it was a Happy Hour like any other of the thousand and one I’d spent here. Except for one thing. Wilbur wasn’t there.
Now, you wouldn’t expect a proper gentleman from the high Victorian era and a former high-stepper on the Tropicana’s cabaret floor to be friends, but Wilbur was my pal. Let’s say I’ve always liked kind gentlemen, and all kidding aside, Wilbur was the genuine article. And who else was there to talk to, anyway? I couldn’t even carry on a conversation with Frank, he was such a died-in-the-short-pants chauvinist, Becky was an artsy idealist, and Ugg and Pinkie — well, let’s not go there. If it hadn’t been for Wilbur, I’d have gone starkers long ago.
“No, he didn’t call in, Tootsie.” Artie mopped up the stray red spots off the countertop and pursed his lips. “He hasn’t missed a night in seventeen years. ’Specially since you joined us, honey.” Artie gave me his well-practiced lascivious wink and topped up my sinking pint. “Come on, stop worrying. The next one’s on the house. Wilbur’s probably just hung over. He told me he’d found a new source. Probably the blood’s too rich for him at his age.”
Strange, he hadn’t mentioned it to me. That wasn’t like Wilbur either. I drained my free drink, thinking about it, and set it back down with a shudder. “Come on, Artie, you still buying Red Cross rejects for your bar supply? Didn’t I tell you what I was going to do to you if you served me eau de hobo one more time? Even if it’s free.” I leaned across the counter and fixed him with my mesmerizing stare. He giggled.
“I love it when you do that, Tootsie. You must have been an eye-popper in your day.”
It was no use. I gave up and scowled at Frank instead. Ever since the vaccine was discovered, we vampires haven’t been respected. It was bad enough to learn a microorganism related to leprosy — leprosy, mind you! — caused vampirism. But after the general population got inoculated, the cachet went away entirely. I still remember how sexy, suave, and sinister I thought Bernie was when he seduced me the night I became a vampire. When your intended victim thinks of you as one sick Mama instead, it just doesn’t have the same effect.
“Anyone seen Wilbur?” I said loudly to the room in general.
Pinkie stopped adjusting his bow tie and shook his head. Ugg made his characteristic sound. Becky, of course, instantly abandoned her latest Cause for the new one... I was almost sorry I’d set her off.
“It’s not like him.” Her big blue eyes widened and she looked worried. “Do you think something happened to him?”
Frank sneered in his broken English, “’E iz vampire. What could ’appen to ’eem?”
“Shut up, Frank,” I said. It was just about my automatic response to Francisco, I’m afraid. I was 5-foot 11 off my stilettos to Frank’s 5-foot 5, and he hated me, too. “I think you’re right for once, Becky... don’t let it go to your head too much. Wilbur hasn’t missed a night in seventeen years.”
I had everyone’s attention by now. Pinkie creased his brow (which was dead white now, of course, but he wouldn’t let us change his name). “Maybe we should go check on him,” he suggested doubtfully.
“You’re right, pinstripes. I think I’m going to do just that.” I got to my feet and dumped my coinage out on the countertop. “Thanks for the swill, Artie.”
“I’m closing up,” he said, squinting at the clock on the wall. “Want some company?”
After that somehow we all ended up in Artie’s decrepit, original Beetle, with Pinkie and Becky sitting on Ugg’s knees and Frank, sulky as a pinched crab, on mine. With Ugg in there, I’m not sure how that sputtering contraption got moving, but we bumped and backfired through the night until we made Wilbur’s. There was no light on, naturally: Wilbur lives in a moldering Victorian mansion that he’s too poor to fix up, and of course none of us are rich. We can’t work days, and the disease thing still bothers a lot of potential employers. Wilbur was probably saving on his electrical bill like the rest of us... the only folks in Vegas without neon at night. No wonder we were regarded as weird.
Artie got out and stood squinting at the falling post on the porch. “Cheerful sort of place,” he said. “Hey, any of you got a light? One of us can still break a neck, you know.”
I tossed Frank off my lap, got out, turned on the porch light and banged on the door. No answer. The rest of the crew came up and stood awkwardly around me. Even Frank was starting to look a little interested by now, and Becky was on the edge of having nervous fits. I had to agree with her. It wasn’t like Wilbur not to answer the door for his old friends.
So we went in uninvited. Vampires never bother to lock doors — I mean, who’s going to rob one of us? It’s not like the public feels completely protected by that vaccine. And Wilbur didn’t have anything worth robbing, for that matter. Lots of clutter, of course. But florid red wallpaper, purple horsehair couches and porcelain figurines went out a couple of centuries ago. I could take it better than most, I mean you can’t get much more lurid and tasteless than Las Vegas was in my day, but I saw Artie shield his eyes as he followed us in.
Well, of course Wilbur was in the basement. We could see his shoulder over the edge of his box as we tiptoed in, so I knew he was there, but... well, it was clear the moment we stepped in something was really, really wrong. That sound — a sort of inchoate gulping and gasping, and Wilbur’s shoulder, in its tweed jacket, was heaving. Worse, as Becky’s shaking finger pointed out, there was something oozing down through the cracks of Wilbur’s coffin — it was a trickle of mud. There was no doubt about it. Wilbur was crying his eyes out, enough to turn some of the precious dirt of his native Old England into streams of genuine mud.
We were stunned, but I took charge as soon as I could. “Artie,” I said, “That flash-frozen pint of sweet sixteen you were saving for Pinkie’s UnDead Day, go back and get it right away.” And I wanted Artie out of the way for a few minutes until we could calm down Wilbur. There are some things that should be kept private, and for all Artie’s the sweetest bartender I’ve never actually tasted, he was still a breather. I just felt Wilbur wouldn’t like being seen at his worst by an outsider.
Artie pulled his jaw off his chest and took off running. I heard a crash from the porch, but after that I heard the Beetle putt-putt into life, so I knew he was ok.
Meanwhile, we crowded around the coffin and tried to get Wilbur to talk to us. He wouldn’t look at us at all, and his handlebar mustache was a ruin with all that mud he was creating, so finally I just told Ugg to lift him out of there. Poor Wilbur was so limp and wrung out, he didn’t even argue with us.
By that time Artie, bless him, was back with the emergency resuscitation, and though it was still too cold, it seemed to revive Wilbur. We made him drink it down to the bottom, Becky wrapped him with his favorite paisley shawl, and between Pinkie, who couldn’t stop patting his hand and saying “There, there old boy,” and myself, telling him to get a grip on it, we finally got him calmed down. He still looked like a drowned walrus, and there was mud all over him. Well, I suppose for Wilbur’s sake I should stop right there. Let’s just say I never saw a vampire who looked worse at that moment.
“It’s my new job,” he said, hiccupping a little over the tears and the drink — it was too cold; we like it blood-warm of course, but that couldn’t be helped. Becky tucked up the shawl sympathetically. He started crying again and had to be braced up by Ugg. “It sounded so nice too.”
If I tell it the way Wilbur did, it would take all night. It was getting light by the time we got it out of him, but none of us would go away. You just don’t leave a friend in that sort of condition. Even Artie, who was yawning with every breath, wouldn’t leave.
The long and short of it was a nice little man named Professor Matthew Anderson, out of the University of Nevada, had offered Wilbur a job. The job came with some nice perks, including a fresh supply of our favorite stuff, and enough of a salary to pay for some of the repairs on Wilbur’s decaying house. (It’s almost the only Victorian in Las Vegas now, and Wilbur was embarrassed, because it was on the tour group loop and the porch was just completely falling in). Wilbur was so pleased he wasn’t even going to tell us about it until this evening, after he’d spent his first night on the job. He only had to work Thursdays from ten to twelve p.m., and it seemed tailor-made for him.
Only it didn’t turn out to be what he expected. Wilbur showed up in his best Harris Tweed jacket with his tightly folded brollie under his elbow, and found 204 anthropology students waiting for him. It turned out that Prof Anderson, who was a member of the Anthropology Department, had had this brilliant idea: to study a living fossil. Wilbur was just the ticket. For two humiliating hours, he stood on that platform, an Undead example of the high Victorian era from bowler to boot, a mustached Lab Rat in Tweed.
I think even Ugg felt the insult (after Pinkie had patiently explained it a few times). I knew what I felt. I was furious, humiliated, and ready to pierce Prof Anderson’s throat with every fang in my mouth. My eyes were flashing enough to scorch off the false eyelashes. Becky started ranting and crying, and Pinkie kept patting Wilbur’s shoulder nervously and looking sad. Artie himself was so embarrassed he hardly knew who to look at.
“Look,” he said, “We’re not all like that... I mean, I know you guys. You’re my pals, and not just because you tip me. Don’t pay any attention to this stupid professor. He’s just an idiot. I don’t think you’re... odd. Honest!”
I grabbed hold of Becky and shook her until she stopped crying and looked up at me. “Becky,” I said, “Do you want a real Cause to take up? How about Vampire pride? How about Vampire rights? Don’t we deserve to be treated with respect?”
I could see Artie brighten up immediately. “Hey,” he said, “I’ve got a lawyer friend who runs the local Rainbow Coalition... I can see if he’ll help!”
Becky had heart, I have to say. I could see her eyes get that look... and you know, she has done a better job than I could have ever hoped for. I think we owe most of our success to her, even if we did all fight fang and fang for it. I voted for her again last time, and she deserves that seat on the City Council more than anyone else on it. Thank goodness Vegas is a city that lives at night. We’ve turned that daylight aversion handicap into something to be proud of here.
As for me, I’ve been at the head of the Halloween Vampire Pride Parade every year since. Vampire Poster Queen, that’s me. It’s a job I think I’ll hold on to for another few centuries before I let one of the younger generation see if they can step into my stilettos. I have to admit, it’s an advantage that these 36DDD’s are never going to sag. Roxanne and the rest of my old Tropicano crowd haven’t been so lucky, of course. I lead the parade, high-kicking all the way in my rhinestones and fans and feathers, and even if I am an Old Timer now, there’s still fire in the old showgirl.
So now you know how we got started, and don’t forget it. It pays to remember your history, fangy boys and girls. Don’t forget who paid your dues next time you run for office and win.
Copyright © 2005 by Danielle L. Parker