I knew that smoking would be the death of him, but I always thought it would take longer than three minutes.
We had moved to Portland from the Big Apple because the air was clean, the stress was less, and I had gotten a job designing clothes for PuddleJumpers Boutique. Tony could get modeling jobs if we had moved to Outer ToadStrangle Montana. He was always jetting off to Milan or Tokyo or Paris for another shoot. And he was always coming back to me.
We moved into a condo in the Pearl District. The building was so squeaky clean and green that we had to agree to bio-safe cleaning products and we had to sign a non-smoking contract. But out of courtesy to guests, and out of mercy to the addicts, there was a tiny pavilion on the roof next to the heat-exchangers and solar panels where smoking was grudgingly allowed.
We came home from a movie that night, wittily acerbic about the good intentions of young directors, and the special effects necessary to get old actors through the action roles. Tony headed to the roof for his nightly smoke, while I curled up on the sofa with a sketch pad to pin down a few inspirations.
And then his phone rang. “Portia, it’s I.M. I need Tonycakes to do a show on Rodeo Drive next Friday and could he possibly, possibly squeeze it into his schedule because he is just perfect for the look that I just realized I need.”
“Hey, Issak, he’s up on the roof with his coffin nails. Talk to me and I’ll carry the phone up.”
“Portia, you are a darling! Isn’t that man just the blondest airhead? What model goes around without a phone? How do you put up with him?”
“There are compensations, Issak. After all, I would never have met you if it weren’t for Tony.”
“Oh you flatterer! Spare my blushes. You know what an evil bastard I am.”
I laughed. Issak was brilliant, and a beast to his enemies. Luckily, I could count myself among his friends.
“Right, “ I agreed. “That’s why I knit the teddybear slippers for you. You goof.”
“Are you breathing hard, darling? Am I that attractive to you?”
“I’m climbing stairs,” I explained. “It’s only two flights from our place to the roof, and I can use the exercise.”
“Be zaftig, dear girl. You’re too old to be bone thin. A little flesh fills out the wrinkles.”
“You are an evil bastard,” I laughed.
I opened the door. I froze. I tried to understand what I saw. Tony, all muscular six foot four of him, was pinned limply against the wall of the pavilion by someone with his face against Tony’s neck. My lover rolled his head in my direction, saw me, mouthed, “Run,” convulsed, and died.
As he collapsed, I started screaming. I could hear Issak on the phone hollering, “What? What? Portia, what is it?” but I couldn’t form a coherent thought to save my soul.
The murderer turned and looked at me, with eyes as flat and cold as a shark’s. The monkey in my brainstem saved my life. I slammed the door in the vampire’s face and barreled down the stairs, leaping, three, four at a time and bouncing off walls on the corners. And screaming. Still clutching the phone to my head and screaming.
I hit the door to the lobby like a flaming bag of shit, skidded across the polished bamboo floor, and grabbed the security guard on duty. He was already on his feet with hand reaching for his gun by the time I got to him.
“Vampire. Roof. Tony. Oh God, Tony. Deaddeaddeaddead. Help meee!” The switchboard was lighting up like Las Vegas. Michael and Patrick, a couple of retired cops who lived on the second floor followed me through the stairwell door with guns drawn. Evidently I had alerted the entire building.
Police came, and the ambulance. I was interrogated briefly, then Michael and Patrick took me into safe-keeping in their apartment and plied me with chamomile tea and oatmeal cookies. “Cookies?” I asked in dismay. “I just saw -- I saw --” Hysteria rose in my throat, and I ruthlessly shoved it down.
Patrick coaxed me, “It’s me sainted mother’s recipe, Darling. Baked them myself this morning. You’ve had a shock. You need the sugar. Just nibble on one to please me. You’ll feel better.”
He and Michael fussed over me like two hens with one chick.
Finally, there was a knock on the door. Patrick checked the peep-hole, then unlocked the deadbolt, and opened the door, crying, “Roddy!” and spreading his arms in welcome.
A big beefy guy stepped in and they shook hands, slapping one another on the back. Michael jumped up and joined the happy reunion.
“Paddy, Mike, you old dogs! How’s it going?” the new guy pretended to try to punch them. They laughed and scuffled a moment, then Michael turned to me, smiling hugely.
“Portia, this is Roddy Callahan, the best damn detective on the force. You tell him everything. He’ll take care of it.”
My Tony has just been horribly killed, and for these guys, it’s all old home week. I thought resentfully. They probably see this stuff all the time, but it’s my life in pieces, here.
Scowling, I struggled to rise from the comfy embrace of the overstuffed armchair, juggling tissue box, cup, and saucer. The newcomer hurried over, saying, “Please don’t get up. I see Mike and Paddy are taking good care of you. I’m Detective Roderick Callahan.” He moved the plate of cookies and settled down on the hassock in front of me.
“Tony --” I said.
“I’m sorry,” the detective said, with what sounded like sincerity in his voice. “He’s on his way to the medical examiner. Will you tell me what happened?”
“I think I must be nuts. I thought I saw a vampire. How did Tony die?”
Detective Callahan glanced up at Michael and Patrick, then nodded and looked me in the eye.
“He appears to have died from blood loss, though there is no blood at the crime scene and no obvious major wounds. Please, just tell me what you saw.”
“But -- a vampire?” I squeaked.
Patrick, patting my shoulder and gently taking the tea cup from my shaking hand, told me. “Just tell him what you saw, Portia. Let Roddy figure it out,”
I did my best, trying to report the details accurately. How the little guy had Tony held up so his feet didn’t touch the floor. How that killer’s eyes were so flat and empty. How he scared me so bad that my grandkids would have nightmares. What was he wearing? Maybe a black hoodie? Or trench coat? A black cape?
The detective left after midnight. Patrick and Michael loaned me a pair of pajamas and made me spend the remainder of the night in their guest room, with a shot of Irish whiskey in my tea for a nightcap.
Life went on, as it does even though your world is shattered. I still had to go to work, do laundry, deal with people. Patrick and Michael saw to it that I ate. A lot of people came to Tony’s memorial service and said wonderful things. Issak flew into town and took me out for dinner afterward.
“How are you holding up, darling?” he asked, taking both my hands in his as we sat, waiting for our gluten-free organic vegetable soup. “I can see that the outer shell is as polished as ever, but how are you doing in there?”
“Thank God for waterproof makeup.” I said. “I weep at the drop of a hat.” I freed a hand and pulled a tissue out of my bag to dab at my overflowing eyes.
“Thought your nose looked a bit rosy. Please don’t blow at the table, dear. You know it appalls me. And you know, you just literally scared me silly. Listening to your terror and not being able to do anything was the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life. So now Issak’s here. What can I do to help?”
I snuffled mightily and gave him a watery smile. “Just be there, dear. I know how busy you are. Ask your people to let me know when you’ll be in the area so I can drop by for a hug. I’ve been a grownup for a few years now. I know how to cope. There’s nothing anyone can do to make it easier.”
“Are you all right living alone?”
“Tony was always away on a shoot or a show somewhere. I’m quite used to being alone.”
Our soup arrived. It was hot and delicious and rich with interesting vegetables and spices. The warmth in my belly was a comfort. The rosemary, grits, and graham bread served with it was filling and satisfying. Issak was caring and kind. He gossiped cattily about our mutual acquaintances until I had to laugh, and I realized that I could still feel simple pleasure in spite of the gaping wound in my life. That made me cry again, of course.
We parted at the restaurant door, he to jet off to Paris, I to walk back to the condo, crying quietly in the rain.
There were always panhandlers on the corner. Since I gave them only coupons for a meal at the local burger joint, the junkies and winos have learned to leave me alone. But a new guy made eye contact. The suffering in his look was fresh, raw and bewildered.
He’s hurting as much as I am, I thought. But at least I’m full of good food and headed for a safe, dry bed.
We just stared one another for a minute. He dropped his gaze first, mumbling, “Sorry.”
“Can I buy you dinner?” I heard myself asking. “There’s a diner just around the corner.”
His eyes met mine again. Gratitude, shame, anger flashed before he lowered them. “Just . . . just spare change if you have it,” he muttered.
“I don’t carry cash, and I can hear your stomach grumble from here,” I replied. “Come on.”
Head down, reluctantly, he came.
Mary’s Diner served plain food and lots of it. It was warm and dry and bright inside. We scored a booth and sat down. “I think this man needs a big plate of Mary’s pot roast,” I told the waitress. “Put it on my tab. And I’d like some black tea with honey, please.”
“You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive, Portia,” the waitress told me. “I’m bringing you got some hot blackberry cobbler and you will clean the bowl.” She hurried off before I could say a word.
My guest made an effort. “Thank you,” he said, again looking straight into my eyes. “I’ve had a some misfortunes lately. I just need to gather my feet under me.”
“Good. Glad to help. I’ve had a rough time myself. We just do the best we can, don’t we? I’m Portia.”
“LeRoy,” he said, reaching a hand to shake, then jerking it back as he realized how filthy it was.
“The restroom’s over there,” I gestured. “if you want to wash up before dinner.”
His eyes – brown, with a gold ring around the pupil – lighted with his smile. He rose and strode off, moving with a rangy grace.
LeRoy I thought. Who are you? At least he’s not on drugs –yet. Maybe he’s a vet? PTSD probably. Tall, dark. If he wasn’t so hungry, dirty, and beat down, he might even be good looking. What brought a strong man to this sad place?
When he returned to the table, he had scrubbed his hands and nails, washed his face and combed his hair with his fingers. He took my hand and said, “Thank you,” very formally before sitting down.
“Pass it on when you can,” I said. “I think I hear an accent. Where are you from?”
“British Columbia, outside of Prince George. My parents were Quebecoise and we spoke mostly French at home.”
“So you were off the grid?” I asked. We talked about his wild and isolated home until the food arrived. He looked at his platter of pot roast, swimming in gravy and wreathed with carrots and potatoes, as if he had died and gone to heaven. Bowing his head, he crossed himself and clasped his hands in prayer for an instant.
French Catholic, I surmised, nice, old-fashioned manners.
My cobbler was delicious, and for a while there was only the sounds of knife and fork and contented sighs.
The waitress brought him another basket of rolls. “It’s a pleasure to see someone who likes to eat,” she smiled at him, then scowled at me since I hadn’t yet cleaned my bowl.
When she left, I pushed the other half of my dessert over to him. “Finish this for me?” I asked. “She’ll scold me if the bowl’s not empty when I leave.”
Grinning, he wolfed it down, then went back to mopping up the last bits of gravy with the hot rolls. Finally he sat back with a sigh.
“You are an angel of mercy, and I am in your debt,” he said.
I waved at the waitress as we rose to leave. She tapped her order pad and nodded. Once a month, I would stop by and write out a check for what I had eaten, adding a friendly tip. Less cash for the junkies to try to steal that way. A lot of the locals had similar arrangements. The diner never had more than a hundred dollars in the till after dark.
LeRoy stood straighter and moved with more energy as we left.
I asked, “Do you have a place to stay?” “There’s a cheap hotel nearby, and if you’re willing to scrub floors and wash sheets, you could probably get a room --”
“You’ve done too much,” he protested.
“What, give you a meal and show you a bed? You and your folks surely did as much for chance-met travelers. Call it hospitality. Welcome to my city.”
The hotel was on the way to my condo. I had a word with Frank, the manager, promising to be responsible for any charges that didn’t get handled. When I left, LeRoy had a full belly and a safe, warm place to sleep, with a bathroom down the hall. When I got home, I realized that I no longer felt bereft. I couldn’t share my story with Tony, but maybe Patrick and Michael would enjoy my revelation that helping someone else can make you feel less sorry for yourself.
A few days later, as I was headed to the diner for breakfast, I passed the hotel. Frank, the manager, spotted me and hurried outside to say, “Hey, that new guy, LeRoy? Thanks for sending him my way. He’s a hell of a worker. Never saw anyone scrub the lobby floor on his knees before. You could eat off it when he’s done.”
“So he’s earning his keep?” I asked.
“Hell, yes. He even runs errands for me. I was gonna send him across the street to the burger joint to bring me some dinner, and he said I could get a better meal at Mary’s for the same price. He ran over there and brought back a menu, and hell, I’ve been feeding both of us from there for what it usta cost me to eat crap.”
“And so Mary has another convert,” I said, smiling. “I’m headed there right now. Can I bring you anything?”
“Looks like my breakfast is coming up the street.”
I turned to see LeRoy striding toward us with a picnic basket slung over his arm and a delighted grin on his face.
“My friend Portia,” he exclaimed. “What a pleasure to see you again.”
“LeRoy, you’re looking good.” He was, too. The despair had ebbed from his face, and he had color in his cheeks. His eyes, those penetrating, eloquent eyes, showed hope and determination.
“And I am doing good as well. Will you share our breakfast?” He lifted the lid of the basket and the mouthwatering aroma of sausages wafted temptingly out to me.
“No thanks,” I told him regretfully. “Oatmeal for me. I don’t work hard enough to burn off those meaty calories.”
Frank began to imitate a Jewish mother. “You should eat! You’re so thin -- your clothes will fall off you. How will you find a husband, you’re so thin?”
“You keep that up,” I warned him, “I’ll get you a black cardigan sweater with pockets.”
Leroy looked puzzled at our laughter, then regretful as I waved and walked away.
Months passed. Work picked up for me and I threw myself into it. In order to get the fall line into the stores by August, we had to have the whole line developed and ready for production in time for the fashion shows in May, which meant I had to have my designs ready by February, which also meant that I was practically living at the office by mid-December.
By then, I had pretty much convinced myself that Tony had been killed by some guy high on ecstasy, and I had just mis-interpreted what I had seen. Because there’s no such thing as vampires. Everyone knows that.
So it was way too late on a Friday night when I wrapped my head and neck in a big wool scarf and headed out into the wind and rain for the walk back to the condo. I felt a bit uneasy in the dark, but I told myself, It’s only a mile for heaven’s sake. I may as well be walking, as standing around, getting soaked, waiting for a bus.
I got the feeling you get when someone is watching you. Am I being followed? No, of course not. Quit being such a scaredy cat. All the winos, weirdos, hookers and pushers, punks, drunks and junkies will be huddled in nice dry doorways by now. I hitched my bag more securely up on my shoulder and walked a little faster.
The city had turned out half the street lights to save money, and it was raining fit to drown frogs. I sensed movement in the shadows behind me.
Maybe it’s Blanket Joanie turning a trick in the alley. Maybe it’s nothing and I’m just freaking myself out. Maybe I should try a little jogging. After all, a moving target is harder to hit.
I was across the street from the cheap hotel when someone grabbed me from behind by the shoulders and threw me up against the building.
“NO!” I bellowed, striking for the attacker’s throat. My fist was knocked aside, Then the guy’s hand was between my breasts, pinning me to the wall with my feet dangling. Just like Tony when I had last seen him alive.
I shrieked with the air left in my lungs, and struck out with hands and feet, aiming for groin, belly, eyes, any soft spot. It looked like the same guy that had killed Tony. Same black hoodie. Same flat dead eyes. He shoved his face against my throat. His hair was greasy against my chin and smelled like mildew.
There’s no such thing as vampires, I told myself. This is some drugged up nutcase. Fight back.
He twisted his head away and I heard my scarf tearing, then I felt his cold sharp teeth against my skin. Suddenly, his head was jerked back and he let go of me. I collapsed onto the sidewalk.
I couldn’t really see what was happening. A big guy had materialized between me and my assailant. They were both growling. Frank, the hotel manager across the street, stepped through the door and began blowing one of those canned-air horns that are impossible to ignore. In front of me, the little guy in the black hoodie turned and sort of vanished. Panting, the big guy, took a step after him.
I grabbed hold of his leg and hung on for all I was worth. “No,” I begged. “Let him go. Please.” I was not about to let my rescuer get himself killed. Furthermore, I was not about to be left alone on the street with that -- horror, that – whatever --running loose.
The big guy bent over, grabbed my hands to pull himself free, then froze, and spoke to me. “Madamoiselle Portia?”
“Leroy?” I let go, and he turned. “Please, let’s get inside,” I begged.
Just like Rhett Butler with Scarlett O’Hara, he swept me up in his arms and carried me back to the hotel. Frank was holding the door for us and we barreled into the light and warmth of the hotel lobby.
“The police are coming,” Frank said, pushing my chin up to look at my throat. “Did he bite you?”
My scarf was wrapped twice around my neck and tied in back. I unwound it. It had some kind of stinky slime on it, and a couple holes torn in it, but there were no holes in me. Frank threw it on the floor like it was poisonous. And still, Leroy held me cradled in his arms. His eyes were golden, with a brown ring around the pupil.
Sirens and lights, and the police arrived. Detective Callahan was called. By the time he arrived, LeRoy had put me down in the one plastic chair in the lobby, and gone to get me a glass of water. When he returned, Detective Callahan was leaning over me with one hand on the back of the chair, looking at the bruises on my throat and saying, “What can you tell me about this, Portia?”
LeRoy dropped the plastic cup of water and snarled again, like he had when he knocked the – the bad guy away from me. Detective Callahan spun around and – snarled back. They both seemed to swell up around the neck and shoulders like dogs bristling before a fight. Frank turned and ran into his office.
“Hey!” I shouted, and they both looked at me. Then I spoke politely and calmly, as if nothing were wrong, “LeRoy, this is Detective Callahan. Detective Callahan, LeRoy rescued me from the guy who tried to bite my neck. LeRoy lives right here, and he’s my friend.”
They eyed one another with considerable hostility and darn if they weren’t each lifting the upper lip a bit.
“Loupgarou,” Callahan muttered.
“Lapdog,” LeRoy replied.
“What?” I demanded. “Guys, we’re on the same side here. There’s something awful out there, and it’s probably gnawing some other poor soul’s neck right now. What are we going to do about it?”
This got their attention. You could almost see the wheels grinding as they shifted gears. Then Callahan slowly, deliberately turned back to me. “So, Portia, what can you tell me?”
LeRoy slunk up to my other side and dropped down on one knee, with his hand protectively, (comfortingly? possessively?) on my back.
The patrol police had other crises to respond to. Frank was holed up in his office. We were left alone in the little lobby. I did my best to tell Callahan what had happened. Without using the word “vampire.” Because anyone who actually believes in vampires is not a reliable witness, and I desperately wanted to be believed.
Then he asked, “And you, Mr. . . . ?”
“Trudeau,” LeRoy replied, reaching into a back pocket and pulling out a Canadian passport. “Here is my identification.”
“Surprised you have papers.” Detective Callahan mumbled, taking the passport and jotting in his notebook.
“I have a pedigree,” LeRoy said, “Have you?”
Callahan snorted. “Irish purebred.”
“What is it with you guys?” I asked.
They eyed each other questioningly. Then LeRoy said, “You were attacked by a vampire. You know this?”
“I don’t know what else it could have been but if I admit it, I’m going to sound soft in the head,” I said, slowly. “So vampires really are real and not just some Halloween scary tale?”
LeRoy nodded. Callahan nodded.
“And this is a secret?” I asked.
“Who would believe us?” Callahan asked. “If I start talking about vampires as a real thing, I’ll be lucky to get stuck on desk duty. We don’t talk about it because we have to live in the world.”
I closed my eyes, took a slow, deep breath, blew it out, and opened my eyes again. The world still looked the same. And I had, in fact, been attacked by a vampire. reminded myself,
I had learned that if you want to survive in the fashion industry, you have to develop a flexible mind. I flexed. “Ok,” I said, “I’ll accept that. So why are you two guys being such jerks?”
“He’s a werewolf,” Callahan said, thrusting the passport back.
“Puppy,” LeRoy threw the insult at Callahan as he shoved the papers into his pocket. “He’s a domestic pet.”
“Irish Wolfhound,” Callahan snapped. “My family has been in law enforcement for centuries.”
They were both snarling again, and again their necks and shoulders seemed to be swelling.
“Hey!” I shouted. Again, they backed down.
“Look,” I said to Callahan, as calmly and patiently as I could manage, “LeRoy just saved my life. I want you to be nice to him.”
Then I turned to LeRoy, “Detective Callahan is trying to catch the vampire that killed my boyfriend. I want you to be nice to him. I don’t expect you to shake hands and become each other’s wingman, but for God’s sake, could you at least not rip out each other’s throats in front of me?”
Callahan said, “What’re you doing in Portland, wolf?”
“My sister – she was living here when the vampire found her. I am seeking revenge.”
I sighed, “Then we all have a common enemy. Let’s work together till we nail the bastard to the wall, ok?”
“Actually, we ought to cut off his head and drive a stake through his heart,” Callahan said, “but I’ll take any help I can get.”
LeRoy drawled, “I can work with the lapdog till the job is done. And then, I’ll be off home and out of his joo-ris-dic-tion.”
I sighed. “Ok, so we’re all pals for the moment. Can I go home now?”
“I’ll take you,” they said simultaneously.
I rolled my eyes and stood up. “Let’s go.”
As we walked, they projected so much aggression that I swear even the cockroaches fled from us. And in that neighborhood, the cockroaches carry switchblades.
Callahan called Michael and Patrick, and they met us in the lobby, in bathrobes and slippers, with a comforting shot of whiskey. As soon as they saw LeRoy, they began to snarl and bristle.
“Wolf,” Patrick growled.
“Fetchers of birds,” LeRoy snarled back at them.
I blinked. Michael and Patrick were in on this werewolf thing?
Callahan said, with alpha male authority, “Mr. Trudeau will be helping us kill the vampire.”
“And then I will return to my home in Canada. I do not invade your territory. I am not hunting your people.” LeRoy was stiff with tension. He didn’t relax when Michael pulled me into a hug and gave me the whiskey. I knocked it back, welcoming the ball of fire that moved down to my belly. Then I held out my hand to LeRoy.
“You saved my life. I owe you.”
Glancing defiantly at the other men, he lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it, saying, “There is no debt, Mademoiselle. You have done as much for me.” Then he spun and strode into the night.
“Get some sleep,” Callahan said to me. “You look like hell.” And he, too, left us.
Michael and Patrick herded me into the elevator and checked my place for intruders before they left.
My subconscious is much smarter than my conscious mind. I resolved to go to sleep and let the subconscious sort things out. Callahan was right, I did look like hell. I took a hot shower, crawled into bed, and let the whiskey pull its fuzzy blanket over my head.
Wish I could say my subconscious produced some brilliant insight. All I had when I woke up was questions. But I also had a good idea where I could get some answers. I dragged on some clothes and went to pound on Michael and Patrick’s door.
They were up and dressed, and their place was full of the heavenly aroma of bacon and hot biscuits. “Come in Portia dear,” Patrick said, “We’re just getting breakfast on the table.”
Manners warred with hunger in my head. Then Michael called from the kitchen, “There’s more than enough, darling girl. We were just about to invite you to join us. Pour yourself a mug of tea and sit down. We need to talk.”
There were piles of scrambled eggs and thick, crispy strips of bacon. There were hot golden brown biscuits ready to slather with soft butter. There was home-made strawberry jam. There were grilled tomatoes and beans. And the tea was, “strong enough for a mouse to trot across,” as Michael told me. I took it with milk and sugar. To hell with the diet. I needed to keep my strength up.
Patrick and Michael said grace. We dove in. “So,” I said, “Callahan is a wolfhound, LeRoy is a wolf, and you guys are . . .?”
“Irish Setters,” Patrick said. “Retreivers make great beat cops.”
“Oh – kaay,” I said, trying to see evidence of dogginess in them. “Do you – change shape at the full moon or . . .”
“It’s not like that,” Michael said, laying another pile of bacon on my plate. “You had a shock. You need to eat.”
“You guys realize this breakfast is heart-attack on a plate, don’t you?” I replied, but I ate another slice.
“So you want to give up bacon and live another thirty years – without bacon?” Patrick asked. “What sort of life is that?
He continued, “As for the animal nature thing, we don’t change shape at all, but we are, inside, both human and Irish setter. We’re faster than other humans, we hear better, can scent better, and our instincts are much sharper.” They both waggled their ears at me. “There aren’t many of us purebreds around, but certain professions suit certain types, so Michael and I met when we were assigned to patrol together.”
They smiled at one another, and you could almost hear angels sing.
“Purebred?” I asked “So, you’re born like this? You didn’t get bitten one dark and stormy night?”
Michael laughed. “Those stories are all made up. No, It’s genetic. Didn’t you ever hear, ‘blood will tell,’ from the grannies when you were growing up? A certain family has bad blood. Someone else comes from good stock. You watch the families and you can see what they mean. It’s not just the way the kids are trained. It’s in their basic instincts.”
“But, Irish Setters,” I asked. “How do you know. . .?
“Look at us,” Patrick said. “We’re long-boned, red-haired Irishmen, just like everyone else in our families.”
Michael stroked his bald pate and shrugged. Patrick continued, “Well, he was a redhead. And I’ve gone gray, but never mind. I had a lovely head of red waves in my youth. We have an acute sense of smell – that’s how we recognized the wolf. In a sprint we can outrun anyone we’ve ever met.”
“Except that Cheetah that was dealing drugs,” Michael noted.
Patrick agreed. “He was fast. And mean --I’m glad neither of us had to go up against him alone.”
“You and me both, boyo,” Michael exclaimed. “But when you’re a purebred, Portia, you know who you are. Half-breeds and crossbreeds maybe don’t know, but purebreds know who they are.”
“Halfbreeds?” I asked. “Crossbreeds?”
“My sister was runt of the litter,” Patrick said. “She ran off and married a cocker spaniel. Their kids are beautiful, but if brains were dynamite, the whole family together couldn’t blow their noses.”
“Brian’s a fine lad,” Michael said.
“He’s a faithful husband and a kind father but he couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel and you know that’s the truth,” Patrick sighed. “Life’s hard, but it’s harder when you’re stupid.”
“Do their kids know what they are?” I asked.
“Well, yes and no,” Patrick told me. “They’ve been told and they don’t dis-believe but it’s not as if it matters to them. The blood’s diluted. And if a purebred has children with a normal human, the blood’s thinned even worse. Like your friend, Issak, that we met at Tony’s service. He’s at least half cat but he doesn’t know it.”
I thought about Issak. Yep, I could easily see he was part cat – a big Russian Blue maybe.
I had to ask. “Am I . . .”
“Completely one hundred percent purebred human,” Michael said, smiling. “It’s kind of rare. Over the centuries, a trace of animal has gotten into most family lines.”
“First time I smelled you,” Patrick said, “The dog in me wanted to roll onto my back and get my belly scratched. You smell so … ” He turned to Michael, turning his palms up, asking for the word.
“I feel the same way,” Michael said. “So does Callahan, and it pisses him off. Dogs and humans have this bond, and you are completely human. The dog in me is so happy to be with you.”
I shook my head, and said, “I don’t know if this is metaphysical or metaphorical or what, but I’ll take your word for it. Some people are also animals. And LeRoy is a wolf and Detective Callahan is a wolfhound, so that makes them natural enemies. Do you think they can work together?”
“They’re also human,” Michael pointed out, “with a common enemy and a common goal. They’ll manage for as long as they have to.”
“And the – vampire?” I asked. “Is he . . .”
“Near as anyone can figure,” Patrick said, refilling my tea mug, “It’s a recessive gene in normal humans. It’s not that they have to drink blood to survive, but they’re born with the appetite.”
“Bet they’re bottle babies from the start,” I suggested. “Let me help with the dishes.” I rose and started stacking plates while I asked, “Do we really need to cut off his head and drive a stake through his heart?”
“Better safe than sorry,” Michael said, running a sink full of biodegradable low-phosphate bubbles. “I’ll wash, you can dry, Paddy will put things away.”
Patrick handed me a linen towel on which were printed the words, “I’m Blarney Castle. You can kiss my stones.” I snorted. He winked and grinned.
I shook my head and snapped the towel at him. “I’ve been alive in the world for a few years now. How come this is the first I’ve heard of all this?”
“Portia, dear, if you had never had any experience with that vampire, and we had mentioned to you one day that we were Irish Setters, what would you think?”
“I’d think it was some New Age woowoo spirit animal thing and be amazed that you guys had fallen for that malarkey.”
“The only reason that malarkey sells is because it has a grain of truth in it,” Michael said, handing me a plate.
I dried and passed it to Patrick who continued, “We’re taught by our families not to tell anyone. You know how some families are close and happy but have their secrets? Well, sometimes the secret is that they are more than they appear.”
Michael handed me another plate. “If you start insisting that you’re an Irish Setter, Human Services will put you in a place with bars on the window and give you drugs till you feel better. So we keep our mouths closed. But things happen and stories get started. You don’t hear about were-setters because we’re cautious and friendly, and we want to live in the world. But wolves--well, they don’t really give a rip.”
“And vampires?” I asked, handing over the dainty Belleek plate.
Michael stacked it carefully in the cupboard. The silence grew.
“Guys?” I prompted.
At last Patrick admitted, “You have more experience with vampires than we do.”
Michael agreed. “Up until Tony – I always thought vampires were – imaginary.”
I looked from face to face. They were dead serious. I drew in a deep breath and assembled my brains.
“Ohhh-kayyy. So we’re dealing with a guy who may or may not be able to fly, transform himself into a mist or a bat -- ”
“Or a swarm of bats,” Patrick added.
“Or a swarm of bats,” I amended. “Who might be susceptible to silver, holy water, and sunshine, or not.”
“Inhuman strength and speed,” Patrick added. “Let’s not forget that.”
Michael contributed, “He might not be able to enter a dwelling without an invitation.”
“Or that might be a clever literary device to advance the plot.” Patrick suggested. “We probably shouldn’t count on it.”
“He might be able to regenerate from crippling wounds, gunshots to the head, and other injuries. Or not,” I said. “Does that about cover it?”
“We’re screwed,” Michael proclaimed.
“Ok,” I said crisply. “Let’s list what we know for sure. I slammed the door in his face and he didn’t tear it down and snatch me off the stairs. And when he attacked me on the street, LeRoy was able to pull him off. Then when Frank started blowing that klaxon, the vampire disappeared.”
“Did he transform into a mist or a bat?” Micheal asked.
“He was wearing dark clothes. It was pitch black and raining like mad, and I had just had the sense scared out of me.” I told them. “He was there, and then he wasn’t.”
Patrick mused, “He hasn’t attacked anyone in daylight.”
“That we know of,” Michael added.
“In the words of victims everywhere,” I asked, “why me?”
Patrick replied “As God said to Jonah, ‘Why not?’”
“Guys,” I said, “I think my weird-shit capacity has maxed out. I’m going back to the office and choose buttons for next fall’s coats. Thanks so much for breakfast and for – everything. I’ll probably have a million questions later when it all sinks in. This is all . . .” I trailed off.
Michael said, “We understand, darling girl. Just don’t go walking around in the dark anymore.”
Then Patrick pulled a necklace out of his pocket. “And I’m wondering if you would wear this rosary. The cross is silver, and you never know – it might help.”
I kissed his cheek and pulled the beads over my head. “Thank you. Thank you both so much for -- well -- I know you didn’t have to trust me, and explain things to me, and – everything. You are such good, good friends.”
“You have to be a friend to have a friend, dear. You’ve always been the best of friends to us.” Michael gave me a hug, then turned me around and opened the door. “Now be off with you to work, and be sure you come home in the daylight.”
I meant to be home by sunset, but the sun sets about 4:30 in December. I got involved and lost track of the clock. The next time I looked out a window, it was a dark and stormy night again.
“Well, crap!” I exclaimed. “Now what do I do? Spend the night here? Call for a police escort? Wish I had Patrick and Mike’s phone numbers.” Finally I decided to just call a cab then wait in our brightly lighted entry.
But a rainy Saturday night is not a good time to get a cab. I was told, “It’ll be at least an hour, but maybe someone can pick you up on the way to another call if you wait outside the building.”
When I stepped out the front door, a shadow detached itself from a darkened alley. I tried to jump back inside but the door had closed and locked behind me. I couldn’t find my stinking key ring! “Oh shitohshitoshit,” I wailed, pawing frantically through my bag.
“Mademoiselle Portia? I am here to escort you home,” LeRoy said.
He was bundled up in a Navy peacoat, with a watch cap pulled down over his thick, glossy brown hair. He was big and solid and I was so very glad to see him that I nearly started to cry.
“How did you know I needed you?” I asked, as we began our walk. “And how did you know where I was?”
“I saw you walking this way in the morning, and I followed you. And when the sun began to go down, and you still had not returned, I came and waited for you. You should not be out after dark.”
“What do you know about vampires?” I asked.
They are born with appetites and urges, as are we all,” he said, “But they make no effort to control themselves. They revel in wanton destruction. This one chasing you -- he saw my sister, and knew her for the young wolf that she was. He pursued her. I was coming here to bring her home but he caught her before I arrived. Now I pursue him.”
“And you’ll kill him?” I asked.
“I will try. Vampires heal quickly, but I am a strong man and can do much damage.”
A car pulled up to the curb beside us, and Detective Callahan rolled the window down growling at me, “Portia, Pat and Mike told you to be in by dark. They’re worried sick. Get in the car and I’ll take you home.”
“I am taking her home,” LeRoy said, shifting so he stood between me and the detective.
Callahan opened the door, jumped out, grabbed me by the arm and snarled, “I’ll take her home.”
LeRoy grabbed my other arm, jerking me his way and growling, “She is with me.”
“Stop!” I yelled. “Let go of me, you idiots.” I broke free from their grips and rubbed my arms. “You’ve given me bruises. Would you just knock it off?”
Callahan shoved LeRoy. “Keep your hands off her, wolf.”
“Fireside pet! Where were you when she needed help?” LeRoy replied, shoving back.
I backed away from them, not wanting to get hit with a stray punch. They were set on having a fight. Then someone slapped a hand over my mouth and started to drag me away. I bit, struggled, fought back. It was like biting old leather, slamming my elbow into an overstuffed chair, kicking at a table leg. I dug under my collar, pulled the silver crucifix free, and slapped it against my captor’s hand.
There was a whiff of grilled meat. Screaming, he snatched his hand away. Silver crucifix on the rosary works, I thought with satisfaction.
Like magic, LeRoy and Callahan were there, punching to much better effect than I had managed, wrenching the vampire’s hands away from me.
The little vermin fought back though. He caught Callahan in the face with an elbow, kicked at LeRoy’s knee. Callahan grabbed the guy’s collarbone with one massive hand, sank his fingers in, and twisted. I heard a snap. But LeRoy crashed an elbow into the base of the guy’s skull at the same time, so maybe that’s what I heard. They were making sounds like a couple of dogs with a badger. I stood for a minute in shock and awe, then ran, jumped into Callahan’s car, and locked the doors behind me. The fight was going on in the shadows and I couldn’t see what was happening all that well, but it was fast and furious. Growls, howls, screams, thuds, crashes and that porcelain crack of breaking bone battered the air.
Then suddenly, it was over. Callahan had his hands around the vampire’s neck. LeRoy roared, pulled, wrenched loose its head, and fled, limping, into the night with it. Callahan swung the body overhead and hurled it down onto the pavement, then began to kick and stomp it, howling all the while. Suddenly he stopped and spun around, looking toward the car.
Hesitantly, I waved through the window.
He shook himself all over, reached a hand up to touch his upper lip, looked at the blood on his fingers, then pulled a radio out of his jacket and flipped it on, calling in backup.
Again, Patrick and Michael took me in and fed me tea and whiskey. The next day I went to the hotel, but Frank told me “LeRoy moved out sometime last night. He left a note, for you.”
Mademoiselle Portia, My task is done and I must return to my home and my people. I will never forget your kindness. Le Roi
We never saw or heard from him again. But in the meantime, Patrick and Michael have virtually adopted me. They are the best friends a girl could have, and we spend most of our free time together. Callahan got some kind of award or promotion or something. Evidently he’s not the only big dog on the police force, and there’s a lot more going on than they tell us normal folks. Frank is still managing the hotel. Turns out, he’s half daschund.
Issak wants me to come back to New York and work for him, but he really is a catty bitch to work for. And I’ve been offered a partnership at Puddlejumpers because of my, “superb design flexibility.” So I’m going to stay here in Portland.
As I walk around my neighborhood, I look at people and ask myself Is there a dog or a cat inside that one? Do you suppose that guy is part garter snake? That woman has to be a hawk. Look how she moves. Portland is weird, but I have a flexible mind. I fit right in