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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Louis II

“I’ve come to believe that getting old is one of the hardest things you can do. But not getting old—that’s even harder.”
Louis Fontaine


Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

The Sonics’ lyrics blare out as a bubblegum pink ’60s Chevelle convertible drives through the night.



GM: Some folks like water
Some folks like wine
But I like the taste
Of straight strychnine
(Hey, hey)


You may think it’s funny
That I like this stuff
But once you’ve tried it
You can’t get enough
(Wow!)


Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you
(Wow!)


Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you
(Wow!)


The car isn’t going fast enough to be speeding, but Vinny’s not taking his chances lingering in the area longer than they have to.

They got in. Now they’re getting out.

“So,” says the slim, olive-skinned, and stubble-faced man.

The word lingers in the air like the smell of Lex’s cigarettes. Lou’s not sure there’s much need to smoke with the staked vampire locked in the back trunk, and he’d be lying if he said it’s harmless. He’s felt so much better since he stopped swallowing smoke down his lungs.

The black-haired, dusky-skinned resident physician takes a long pull of her cigarette, as if waiting for Vinny to say anything more.

When he doesn’t, she finally fills in, “Good to have one more leech off the streets.”

She gives a sharp, phlegmy cough and pats her throat. Vinny’s eyes drift from the road and towards her.

Grating static fills the radio until she’s finished coughing and the detective looks away.

“But not sure what you needed us for, Lou,” Lex rasps.

“You seemed to have things pretty well in hand.”

Louis: Squished in the back seat of the ‘64 Chevelle, the old man almost misses the unspoken question. It’s not so much Lottie’s blaring garage punk as much as Lou’s screaming joints. Absent the adrenaline rush of the hunt, Lou’s arching, arthritic body is reminding him of every day of his multi-century existence. It’s not so bad he’d share Savoy’s hot tub, but it’s damned close.

It doesn’t help that the tall, shovel-shouldered gumshoe is rolled up into the backseat like a canned sardine. He’d have more room if they just put down the Chevelle’s powder-white soft top. It would also help with the smell.

With Alejandra puffing like the old NE&NO, the cigarette smell is strong enough to build a garage on top of it. For most, the cloud would be merely suffocating, but for the old man forced to quit cold turkey a few months ago, it’s outright drowning.

The only thing saving his coffin-nail sobriety is Lex’s recent switch to Circinus’ menthol brand, Wendigo Kiss. The old gumshoe finds the corn mint aroma obnoxiously cloying. If he didn’t, he’d have already bummed a cig, or ten, off the pathologist. Then again, being nearly asphyxiated by the menthol fumes helps to distract him from his real jonesing.

_Tender mercies, Big Top Bob, tender mercies. _

Still, Lou’s thoughts can’t help but drift behind him, to the sleeping bag-stuffed, staked vampire in the Chevelle’s truck. Say what you will about Lottie, but the girl’s got ample trunk space. Her patience for the Latina riding shotgun, however, is clearly in shorter supply.

Noting the ghost-car’s green eyes, Lou momentarily sidesteps Lex’s remarks and gently raps a scarred knuckle on Lottie’s soft top.

“Hey, Miss Beauregard, how about some Fats Domino?”

GM: The old man is answered with a click from the radio.



GM: I want you to take me where I belong
Where hearts have been broken with a kiss and a song
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.
Soft words have been
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.


Circinus isn’t really marketed towards customers like him. It’s for the ones like Lex. Young and hip. He got a look at that cigarette pack and it was damn sleek-looking. Sleek.

Since when have cigarette packs looked sleek?

He’s a man out of time.

Him and Lottie.

“You get anything made after we were born?” Lex asks dryly.

The music plays louder.

Vinny shakes his head.

“Sorry.”

Louis: Lou can’t help but smile at the trio’s ‘conversation.’ The change in music also eases his mood, or at least distracts him from the fire in his joints. Despite the song’s melancholic lyrics and minor key undertones, the smooth blend of Fats’ buttery voice, warm sax, and gospel choir back-up soothe Lou’s soul as well as any Balm of Gilead.

Does the old man wipe away a tear at the song’s conclusion? Perhaps. But it just might be the menthol cigarette smoke that’s burning his eyes. The old man does not say.

Instead, Lou gives an appreciative tap on the Chevelle’s upholstery, as if patting Lottie on the back for a job well done. A second latter, he uses his prosthetic hook to point out an exit.

“Vinny, hit the ramp up here at the Wing Shack, past the dealers’, and jump on Route 10 towards Metairie.”

Lou doesn’t like leaving his city, especially for its western neighbors. Compared to the Big Easy, the likes of Metairie and Kenner feel like they have all the personality of a paper cup. Nevertheless, tonight is one of those rare nights that Lope leaves his city.

GM: Vinny pulls onto the I-10. The unsightly freeway cuts through the heart of the Big Easy, and Lou recalls its construction destroying a once-thriving black neighborhood around Tremé (ironically, to make access to the suburbs more convenient), but it’ll get them where they need to go. Down the CBD, through Mid-City and the Back o’ Town. Then it’s smooth sailing into the Big Easy’s suburbs. You could take those cookie-cutter houses and plop them into the suburbs of any other city in America.

Metairie even has a bigger shopping mall than anywhere in New Orleans. Lakeside Shopping Center.

Over 100 shops and eateries. Maybe Lou’s problems will all be solved by buying the right knickknack.

“Metairie could belong to any other city” isn’t something everyone says, though. Lou remembers Fat City back in the ‘70s and ’80s. Metairie’s answer to the French Quarter.

Before Vinny’s time, though.

Before Lex’s time, too.

The old man is before so many people’s times.

Louis: Once they safely merge onto the expressway, Lou finally circles back to Alejandra’s earlier remark. He coughs a bit, as if trying to cold-start his smoke-aching throat, then finally spits out:

“Common sense would’ve told me not to bother waking you three at the devil’s hour to play backup while I bag a dime-a-dozen leech. Common sense says go home and forget it, no money coming in. But common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you that you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he’d been on the team. But he never is. He’s high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a gray suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it’s always somebody else’s money he’s adding up.”

He takes off his hat and runs his shovel hand over his scalp. “When playing with leeches, common sense is helpful as a fork paired with crab bisque.”

He looks outside the window at the night-lit urban sprawl. “Better to have backup and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”

“Then again, maybe I just rang you up because I missed your mugs. Advent’s a lonely time to be alone, and it’s good to see some friendly faces before lighting the rose candle tomorrow.”

The old man’s smile slides a bit. He doesn’t like playing the sentimental card, but lately it’s like a 2-7 offsuit that keeps showing up in his hand. Maybe it’s the holiday season. Or just another burden of sobriety. Or perhaps it’s because he’s preparing to die. Again. Maybe for the last time.

At that morbid thought, the ex-drunk sucks his gums, as if reflexively hankering for some booze to drown his woes. But he knows there’s not enough sauce in the world to do that. Instead, he idly itches some track-marks beneath this trench, and forces himself to refocus on his friends in front of him, rather than ride the mental current back to the blood in the trunk.

“The Cardonas getting up for Gaudete Sunday at your dad’s place?” the old gumshoe asks, skipping the sensitive topic of the Alejandra’s family—especially with Lottie around.

GM: “Common sense never has been too common, I guess,” Vinny remarks.

“Should call it something else, honestly.”

“Uncommon sense.”

“Rare sense.”

“Common or rare, I’m glad you had some, Lou,” says Lex, taking another long drag of her smoke.

She smiles at his next words.

“You look good. You know that? Whatever you’re doing, I wish I could prescribe it to my patients.”

“You want somewhere to be on Christmas, you’re welcome to come celebrate it with my family.”

“In Houston, aren’t they?” asks Vinny.

Si. Holidays are the one thing with them I’ve not been able to get out of.”

“I feel you,” says the detective.

“I wouldn’t mind coming to yours to get out of mine.”

Louis: Lou laughs at, but not quite off, the compliment. “Who you kidding, Alejandra?”

“Last I heard, your patients are biopsied droplets pressed between glass-plates.”

It’s a good-natured jibe, given with an ugly but sincere smile.

GM: The car hits a sudden bump in the road. Vinny grasps the steering wheel tighter.

Then he coughs.

“But, ah. Can’t duck out of my family’s Christmas plans either.”

His hold on the steering wheel relaxes.

You know how families are."

Louis: Lou gives the pair—if not the trio—a slow glance.

GM:Si,” Lex repeats, before glancing back towards Lou. Her look is somewhat more somber.

“You know those aren’t my only patients, Lou.”

Doctors are always in demand among the Kappas. Among all hunters.

They can’t afford to be picky over specialties.

Louis: Lou nods in a conceding gesture. It’s a sad truth, but at least it’s a truth.

GM: Another group of people it can be hard to say no to.

Louis: “Well, if you want to give them a prescription for what I got, you can jot down a lifetime supply of cold turkey.”

“No sauce.”

“No coffin nails.”

“That, and some sleep. Not great sleep, but sleep. In a bed, not chair.”

“Oh, and a diet of four-square meals made with ingredients other than those made by Jack Daniels, Captain Morgan, or Jim Bean.”

GM: “You get hitched or something, Lou?” Vinny asks.

Louis: Lou laughs. “I’m not cruel enough to put a woman through that kind of misery.”

Not anymore, not again.

But he doesn’t say that, instead settling for, “Not at my age.”

He almost confesses right there and then that he was previously married, but that was another lifetime ago. Several actually. Before Lou, before Enrique. Technically, the Galvestons never got divorced, though technically, they also both died in the speakeasy fire. Thinking about his ‘wife’ and their last bitter parting causes the old man to inwardly sigh, as if drawing in a knife right between his ribs and straight to his scarred heart.

Outwardly, though, he forces a smile back on his face, and offers a lighter, easier confession: “But you’re right to guess that there’s a lady involved in all those healthy choices. I certainly wouldn’t have the guts to make them alone, much less keep them.”

“We all need better angels of our nature,” he adds, tapping Lottie to make sure she’s paying attention to something other than the pretty Latina riding shotgun.

GM: “It’s always a lady,” says Vinny.

Louis: Lou huffs, “Genesis 2:18. God says it’s not good for man to be alone. He could’ve given Adam some bowling buddies, but nope, God hooked him up with Eve.”

“But then, Vinny, I bet your nonna has close to branded that scripture on your backside by now.”

He doesn’t let that topic linger long though, as he once again tries to steer it to safer subjects—at least while within the Chevelle. “But how’s the rest of your family doing these days?”

“How’s retirement treating your old man?”

GM: “He’s getting out of jail soon, so there’s that,” Vinny says wryly.

“Gaudete Sunday is happening, to answer your earlier question.”

“He’s really looking forward to it.”

“Says he’s ‘had enough of being Silver Penny Sal.’”

“Lucky, Marie, and all the others will be there too. It’s kind of doubling as his ‘welcome back’ party.”

“You’d be welcome there too.”

“Ditto Christmas if you don’t want to make a trip out to Houston.”

Louis: Some currents are just too damned strong to swim against, Lou grouses, not entirely unhappily.

But he smiles at the generous invite. “Good for Boxcars, but I’ll need you to give him my love tomorrow, as I can’t attend. Christmas, maybe. Tomorrow, I promised to visit a pair of orphans. Doubt they’ll want my company, but it’s the right thing to do.”

GM: “It’s Christmas,” says Lex.

Louis: Lou shrugs.

“How about your brother?” he says, asking after Vinny’s twin.

GM: “He’s still never seen the inside of a jail cell. As an inmate, anyway.”

“Dad’s still proud he’s ‘grown up more like Accardo than Capone.’”

Louis: Lou laughs. “I’ve heard it said that all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden city is whether or not a guy knows the ‘right’ people.”

GM: Vinny snorts. “I’ll not disagree there.”

“He’s still smart. Always has been.”

“Smarter than me.”

“You think he’d have made it through OPP during Katrina?” Lex asks.

“Maybe,” says Vinny. “Maybe not. I don’t think he’d have been in that situation to begin with.”

Louis: “Smarts help,” Lou says, neither agreeing or disagreeing with Vinny’s assessment, “but life’s not chess. It also takes guts and a good heart.”

“And we don’t know the final score until St. Peter tells us at the pearly gate.”


Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

Louis: Thirty miles later, Lottie’s white-walled are soiled with the mud of Maurepas Swamp. With Kenner’s western levee behind them, the travelers can no longer see the metropolis’ night-polluting light. Winter similarly mutes the swamp’s insectile songs, making their surroundings comparatively soft and quiet. Above them, white moonlight shines cold and clear, like the justice Lou dreams of but rarely finds in the waking world. The devil’s hour has passed, but the dark still reigns.

Lou continues to lead them through that darkness, departing Route 10 for Old U.S. 51, before exiting just past Frenier Road onto a nameless, shoulder-less dirt road that has the barest hint of rainwashed gravel and old tire tracks. The group fortunately only have to travel a mile only the treacherous road before they reach their destination: the duck hunting lodge of NOPD’s Captain Otis K. Wiggons.

GM: Lou confirms the lodge’s vacancy with a call to its owner. Vinny warns the ex-detective that the NOPD is still doggedly hunting for him over the Rampart Street affair several months ago (he’s at a loss why they “still have such a big hard-on over that”), and that Lou will find few friends among the force’s top brass… though its middle to lower ranks may be another matter. Lou still has many friends on the NOPD. Officers are already well-accustomed to playing dumb and looking the other way. Vinny thinks Wiggons will be safe to contact, given his and Lou’s friendship… but when the old man decides to use a public payphone, Vinny doesn’t tell him he’s being too paranoid. Lex tells him he’s being smart.

Wiggons is surprised to hear from Lou but seemingly happy to invite the ex-cop over for dinner later tonight. He confirms that yes, he’s home. Carla will be happy to serve up an additional plate (“or several”) for a guest.

Lou supposes that’s no surprise… December 10th may be duck hunting season, but Wiggons has mentioned before that Carla thinks it’s “too close” to Christmas. Carla doesn’t mind her husband’s recreational hunting, but she asks him to hold off during the holidays. To remember that it’s the season of peace and goodwill, for all of God’s creatures. Even ducks.

Wiggons thinks it’s a load of nonsense, and has regaled Lou with more than one anecdote about how ducks are “fucking rapists.” Males frequently copulate with females by force. Many males won’t even deign to help their mates and will abandon them afterwards.

But whatever. Plenty other days to hunt if holding off for now somehow makes his wife feel better. Otis clearly thinks he is humoring her.

“Ducks will be fuckin’ rapists no matter the season.”

“Merry Christmas, you flat-billed little rapists.”

Wiggons doesn’t ask Lou about anything related to Rampart Street.

Maybe he’s just being rightfully cautious over the phone.

Or maybe he’s trying to lull the ex-cop into a false sense of security, and a mob of cops—and their friends in the shadows—will be waiting for Lou at the Wiggons residence.

Too bad for him, if he’s genuine, that Lou’s skipping dinner.

Louis: Having so confirmed and doubly ensured the lodge is vacant for the weekend, Lou directs Vinny, or more accurately Lottie, to pull into the small lodge’s empty carport beside a parked ATV. Curtailing their hour-long conversation about families, holidays, and future plans, Lou bids his friends wait inside the Chevelle until the PI can do a thorough sweep of the area. Still paranoid despite his 3-month sobriety, the gumshoe ghoul makes sure Otis hasn’t installed any new cameras or security system to the small lodge or trails to its duck-stands. He also triple-checks the perimeter before picking the backdoor and casing inside to confirm the lodge is indeed empty.

Only then does he motion for Alejandra and Vinny to go inside, pointing out a path that lets them remain under the eaves of nearby trees. He doesn’t comment on suspected satellite-surveillance, but both of his mortals friends can tell the old man is on edge.

“Vinny, I need to talk to Lottie. Alone.”

He then spares a glance at Lex, adding in Spanish that he needs time and space to “no tener pelos en la lengua”, an idiom which the Texican-American pathologist readily understands indicates a tough, but honest talk that doesn’t mince words. With a salute of his hat, he elaborates:

“Antes del amanecer, es posible que todos necesitemos ese tipo de honestidad. Especialmente con nuestros propios corazones.”

(“Before dawn, we all might need that kind of honesty. Especially with our own hearts.”)

GM: Lex and Vinny either humor Lou’s paranoia, suppose it can’t hurt to sweep for bugs, or both. He finds that Wiggons has indeed set up a new camera system, but it’s simple enough for the centuries-old PI to disable and confirm the lodge has no eavesdroppers… that he can detect.

The worm of paranoia never stops wriggling.

Lex is amenable to “taking a smoke break” for Lou to “no tener pelos en la lengua.” Vinny doesn’t make the obvious crack on her not needing a specific break to smoke.

He initially says something about going with her, only for Lottie to belch a noxious-smelling black cloud of exhaust.

“Think I’ll take a walk,” he says. “Stretch my legs a bit.”

Lex doesn’t object. But her eyes linger on him for a moment.

Soon enough, Lou is left alone with the pink ’64 Chevelle.

Louis: Lou waits till the bantamweight and doctor are out of earshot and eyeshot before beginning with a soft opening. Both literal and figurative.

Gently popping open the Chevelle’s trunk, he says out loud, “You’ve done a good job taking care of him, Miss Beauregard.”

Unzipping the staked vampire and preparing the hematology supplies Alejandra brought, Lou continues, “It’s a hard line he’s walking, what with his family and the badge.”

GM: There’s a low rumble from the car’s engine.

Louis: Lou pauses as if trying to better suss out the sentiment of the ‘car’. Unlike Lottie’s well-maintained, the old man’s fluency in ghost automobile is a bit rusty. After a moment, he proceeds to hook up the IV and pump to the staked vampire, only pausing once to wave in the direction of the lodge.

GM: The staked Quarter rat stares up at him with equal parts fear and anger on her dirty face.

She looks so young.

Could’ve been a classmate of Lottie’s.

Louis: Her glare slides right off the calloused vampire hunter. Instead, Lou continues his ‘conversation’ with the car.

“Lottie, not sure if you’ve ever meet the owner of this duck lodge. He’s a fellow NOPD, like Vinny, but he’s the captain of District Investigative Unit-Person Crimes in the 1st district.”

GM: There’s silence from the engine at that.

Probably not.

Louis: Lou nods. “Thought as much. He’s a real hard case, Otis, is. Also racist as they come. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s like the old timers who considered Italians like Vinny’s families not to be white.”

He pauses the briefest of moments to let that sink in. Racial relations in the ‘60s were bad enough, but anti-miscegenation mores of that era were largely responsible for Charlotte’s traumatic death—just as her deathbed racial slurs led to her soul’s cursed binding to the Chevelle.

GM: A faint plume of noxious-smelling black trails from the car’s exhaust.

It smells even worse than the one Lex got.

Louis: Lou waves a hand to clear the odorous exhaust, even as he chuckles loudly. Not at Lottie, but rather in agreement, which he makes clear as he speaks, “My sentiments exactly, miss.”

He checks to make sure the IV pump is working, then adds with a gentle pluck of a leaf from Lottie’s soft-top: “I’m gonna tell you something I’ve never told you, something not even Vinny knows. But I was married. Long time ago. Before your parents were twinkles in their parents’ eyes. My wife, she was black.”

Is.

A frown creases his face, as he considers what ‘tense’ Chica actually is now—and what guilt he must shoulder for any change in that status.

“Salome was her name,” he says, pushing forward. “Her eyes were like pools of Louisiana gold: black, wet, and just one spark away from becoming an inferno. I loved her. Still do, I guess. But I lost her.”

He shakes his head.

“All of which is to say that Otis and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.”

“You understand?”

GM: The car’s radio clicks on.



GM: I got a whole lot of loving for you
True, true love for you
I got a whole lot of loving for you


I got a whole lot of (kiss-kiss) for you
Whole lot of (kiss-kiss) for you
I got a whole lot of kisses for you


I got a whole lot of (clap-clap) to do
A whole lot of (clap-clap) to do
And I’m so glad to see you


Louis: The music flows into Lou, filling his face with a smile.

“That’s right, miss; a whole lot of loving, kisses and all.” He can’t help but laugh and smile again. The joy feels strange on his face. He gently pats her soft top again. “You’re getting better at that. Making people happy.”

“Vinny too. You helped save him from a dark spot.”

Another pause.

“And maybe he’s helped you.”

GM: The car’s engine rumbles faintly.

Louis: “Love does that. It’s like a light. When bright and true enough, it can push back the darkness. Even the darkness of hate.”

The Gospel of John swims through the old man’s heart. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

He doesn’t share the biblical verse, though. After all, Lottie is arguably still a 16-year-old girl. Even if her soul wasn’t bound to a car, Lou has a sense that scriptural sermons wouldn’t be the ticket.

But that doesn’t mean his words don’t include a confession or two.

“And I’m sorry, awfully sorry, that I couldn’t help you feel that light back when we first met.”

GM: There’s a grittier-sounding engine rumble. Not quite angry, but not quite forgiving either.

Louis: He raises his sole corporeal hand as if in defense, or perhaps surrender. “I’m not asking for forgiveness. I don’t deserve it. I… I had a lot of darkness in me, back then. Still do. But less I hope now.”

He shrugs.

“Still not trying to excuse what I did, just to properly explain it. Not the boot, mind. I think you properly earned that for trying to run me over.” He continues quickly, “But for leaving you in the impound.”

He struggles to compose words as he re-contemplates the horror of what those four decades must have been like for her. “I… I told you before that I didn’t mean to… not that long, not at all. I know you don’t have cause to believe me. I was living in the LaLaurie House.”

He pauses again, cocking an eye at the Chevelle. “Yeah, that one. Even girls that don’t go to fancy schools like McGehee still know about that place. Or think they do. The truth is worse than the rumors. Blackest of black darkness.” He sucks his gums again, his face blanching ever so slightly. “I thought I could drive the darkness from it, but it put more darkness in me than I light in it.”

He raises his amputated hand, “It was poisoning me, squeezing out the little light I had, leaving me even littler to give to you.”

“And I’m sorry for that.”

“Doesn’t change what I did. But I thought you should know. God knows I owe you that much. And more.”

GM: By all accounts, that house is still managing to pour out darkness uninterrupted.

Two men dead.

Two girls shot.

Another girl’s life destroyed.

Gettis cracked.

Tante told him the girl refused to heed her warning.

He should know better than anyone.

No good can come of nights slept in that house.

There’s a low rumble from the car’s engine when Lou mentions the LaLaurie House. There’s a shaking, trembling quality to it. Almost… fearful.

Perhaps she does believe him.

Louis: Lou’s face softens. It’s an odd look on him. But he wears it sincerely, if awkwardly.

GM: Lou’s kept abreast, too, even before the Rampart Street affair. The house has passed into new ownership. The mother of one of the rich girls shot in the aftermath of the disastrous sleepover.

Louis: Inwardly he grimaces at that recollection.

GM: Maybe he could have done more.

Given the other girl more than just a note.

Louis: Maybe.

Maybe he could have done more.

Should is a different matter.

He definitely should have done more.

GM: Then again, Tante said stabbing the girl in the hand and screaming prophecies of doom wasn’t enough to change her mind.

But when has anyone ever listened to Tante prophecying doom?

Louis: No prophet is accepted in his own country.

Or hers.

GM: The curse of all seers.

Lottie’s engine gives another low rumble.

It’s a quiet sound. A tired sound. A faintly restless sound.

Too tired to hate, after 40 years in the impound.

Still not wholesale forgiving.

But at least moving on.

Vinny’s given her something to move on to, at least.

Louis: It’s a sentiment Lou well understands. Knows. Feels. Deeply. Deeper than bones.

He nods. His spectral hand grabbing the echo of her door-handle like a handshake.

GM: The car’s radio clicks on again.



GM: Every night about this time
I go to sleep to keep from cryin’
Every night about this time
I go to sleep to keep from cryin’


After a moment it clicks off, then starts up another song.



GM: I want you to take me where I belong
Where hearts have been broken with a kiss and a song
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.
Soft words have been
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.


Louis: Lou listens to every word, letting them pour into him like coffee. Black. Strong. Bitter. But not without some sweetness. A few drops of sugar. And maybe a few more tears.

Weighed down by that heavy brew, the old man sinks to the ground. Joints pop, and muscles groan. Lou winces and grunts in off-key harmony. Amidst that painful melody, the old man privately wishes he had a cold bottle of Jack and a hot Marlboro. He settles for sobriety. Reluctantly. But tonight, he has bigger regrets and greater needs than sauce and smokes.

“Miss Beauregard, I’ve come to believe that getting old is one of the hardest things you can do. But not getting old—that’s even harder.”

He tries to get up, but his sore, arthritic knees and back protest a bit too louder. So he settles for waving his hook at Lottie’s truck. “Miss Beauregard, I’ve been around the block a long time. Too many laps around it, in fact. Back when we first met, you knew me as Enrique Salvador. That wasn’t my first life. I’ve had others before it.”

He starts counting on his fingers, but he runs out of them. Only one hand, after all.

“God didn’t build us to live that long. Not since the flood, I guess. Sure, hate and blood can sustain you for a long time, if you nurse it real slow. But there’s a limit. And I think I crossed it a while ago. I think I’m all but done hating, and all but done with blood. It’s time to move on. Time to let go.”

He stares out into the swamp. Past the lodge and carport and parked Chevelle. It’s pristine wilderness. Not a day different from how it looked a century ago. Or the one before it. Or the one prior to that. Sure, the individual bugs, critters, and even trees have all come and gone and come and gone again and again, but the swamp as a whole is the same. Same verdancy. Same vitality. There’s a beauty to that. Maybe even some comfort.

“I’d be lying if I said I knew what’s on the other side. I’ve seen too much to say there’s no hell. The real question is whether there’s a heaven—and whether you, I, or the ones we love get to go there. Without knowing that, it’s hard to let go of life, even for those of us living a half-life like you and me. It’s hard to let go of what you’ve got when you don’t know what you’ll get, even when what you’ve got feels like too many thorns and too few petals.”

“But there are petals. They’re different for each of us, but we both have them. Things we’d miss. Things we love. People too. People, most of all.”

He doesn’t need to stare off in Vinny’s direction or say his name.

Instead, he forces himself to rise. Grunting and wincing all over again. He checks the IV pump, seeing he’s drained the vampire dry, siphoning five vials of the precious, damnable, and damning liquid. He pockets the vials, then wraps up and stows the medical equipment. He leaves the trunk open, though, leaving the staked, now exsanguinated vampire exposed.

He checks his watch, then shuffles to the front of the car, as if to allow them to talk face-to-face.

But the old man makes sure to stand where, if necessary, he can quickly pivot away from, say, an out-of-control, murderous car. Lou has not lived so long by making the same mistakes twice.

He reaches into his trench coat and produces a manila envelope like a secretarial magic trick devoid of flourish.

“I’ve never had kids of my own. Never raised any either. Maybe if I had, I’d be better. In a lot of ways. Like helping others like yourself move on, to learn to let go and move off into the beyond, despite the uncertainties.”

He shrugs, unsure of himself.

“But I know someone who has. Good woman. No stranger to pain. Loss. Betrayal. Grief. A mother. Her son died young. Bad. So bad he couldn’t move on. He found me, but like you, I couldn’t help him move on. But I found her, and she helped him. Helped him find solace. Peace. Courage. She has a gift. For helping and healing broken things. Even ones as bad as me.”

“Maybe she can help you too. Help you more than I did or could.”

He idly slides his gumshoe over the ground, awaiting her response.

GM: The Quarter rat looks drained by this point. Her fangs are long in her mouth, her skin tighter around her face, and her bloodshot eyes oh so hungry. She’s jonesing. Bad.

One ghoul’s gain, one vampire’s loss.

Blood’s always been a zero-sum game.

Lottie’s engine, meanwhile, rumbles at the long-time PI’s bittersweet words.

Louis: Lou takes the rumble for a good sign. It’s a hell of a lot more articulate than most teens these days.

“All right, I’ll speak with her. Talk with Vinny too.”

Another pause.

GM: The engine’s rumble deepens at that statement. Like he’s jumped the gun.

But not by too much, either.

It’s not telling him no.

Talking, at least, can’t hurt.

The mother of a dead son can’t force the Chevelle to face her demons and let go of them, surrendering her fate to the great and terrifying unknown.

Just ask her to.

Like she’s asked others to.

It’s not as hard as you’d think it is, she said to Lou once. It’s not a matter of convincing them to trust in God or that something better waits on the other side.

The truth is, most of them are just tired.

Tired of the half-life that’s such a pale echo of what they used to know.

Tired enough to want to rest.

Even if they don’t know what they’ll wake up to, or if they will at all.

They’re just tired.

Sometimes, the old man (the too old man) may not feel so different from the restless dead.

Lottie’s engine, meanwhile, exhales another faint plume of exhaust. It wafts above the staked and ravenous-looking Quarter rat.

They look around the same age.

She has no particular grievance against the leeches.

The bokor could’ve been human or less than.

Louis: Lou, on the hand, does have grievances, as does Vinny.

As do more souls than he could name. Even sober.

He looks back at the open trunk and the plume of smoke that rises into the purpling sky of night-dawn. He then glances back at the lodge.

“The racist hard case who owns this place,” he says, half-reaching for a cigarette that isn’t there, “There’s one thing he and I do see eye-to-eye on.”

“We both hunt rapists.”

“Different species, but rapists all the same. The specimen in the back, there, is one of them. My specialty. Vampires. But they don’t typically use that name. Instead, they refer to themselves with other titles. Kindred. Cainites. Licks. Ventrue. Brujah. Nosferatu. Lasombra. Other names too. So many others.”

“But to their victims? They’re known by different names. Leeches is a common one. They suck blood, after all. But that word lets these monsters off too easily. Real leeches are just opportunistic vermin, small slimy things that feed purely through instinct. Animalistic reflex. Vampires are worse. Much worse.”

“They hide what they really are to get close. Most seduce their prey. Others just physically overpower their victims. And they feed, taking without true consent. They gratify their own lusts, and violate their victims. Sometimes, it’s just sexual violation. Other times, it’s mingled with pain. Mutilation. And that’s just the body. Some have powers. To steal and warp memories. To bend minds into whatever shape they want.”

“If that’s not a rapist, I don’t know what is, Miss Beauregard.”

He pauses again, as if his cadence is used to stopping for a pull of a cig or puff of its smoke. Or maybe he’s stalling. Swallowing some courage before saying the next hard thing.

“Those boys who raped and killed you. They once acted like your friends. A boyfriend even. But they took without consent. They violated you. Hurt you. Bled you.”

He doesn’t make eye-contact. His voice is quiet as the night. This is not the sensational headline of a muckraker. Just cold, hard facts.

“And as bad as they were, those boys are dead. You saw to one. We say to the second. War got the third. A bit slower, but it got him all the same. And even if all that hadn’t, old age eventually would have punched their tickets, with St. Peter telling them their score.”

“But that monster there,” his voice breaks with a bit of rising heat, “it doesn’t have a shelf life. They can live forever. And the longer they live, the older they get, the worse they become. They can rape forever, Charlotte.”

He looks up, seeing if she follows. Understands.

GM: Perhaps, if Charlotte Beauregard still had a face, it would redden at the old hunter’s incendiary words. At the comparisons between the vampire and the gang of delinquent youth who made her what she now is.

Perhaps she would say angry words of her own. Perhaps she would want some hand in the creature’s fate.

Perhaps she would say nothing at all, and let the older hunter do as he willed with the staked vampire.

There’s not a lot a car can say either way.

A thick plume of noxious-smelling black exhaust escapes the Chevelle’s engine.

Dawn, meanwhile, slowly steals over the night. Lou can see the first signs on the vampire as much as anything in the sky. The initial, still-faint blackening of flesh. It remains Lou of onions left to sautee in a pan for too long. Not fatal, at this juncture. Not ruined.

But all one has to do is leave them to burn.

The vampire’s starved, newly terror-filled eyes meet Lou’s in silent plea.

Perhaps a crap shot, after his diatribe.

But the only shot left.

Louis: Unfortunately for the vampire, her shot can’t penetrate Lou’s kevlar-clad heart. Instead, he continues his ‘conversation’ with the Chevelle.

“Vinny ever tell you about Dorthea Clermonte? About how she died?”

A pause.

“Flash a wiper if yes,” he adds.

GM: The car’s windshield wipers move back and forth, once.

Louis: He eyes the wiper, then glances at the waking sun.

Running out of time.

In more ways then one.

“Had to ask,” he replies to the car, “I could see him holding back on the details. Not to hurt you, mind, but rather to spare your feelings. You don’t exactly make it a secret that you don’t like other women in his life.”

There’s a hint of a smile on the old PI’s face. Half a frown too.

GM: Dorthea’s not much threat to Lottie anymore, at least.

Louis: It’s small comfort to know she allows room enough for another dead girl in his life.

Lou pushes past the thought.

“Point is, miss, Vinny knows what these things are: monsters. But he doesn’t know enough. Not enough to protect himself or the ones he loves.”

He looks again at the sun and the related smoke rising from the singeing ‘onion’.

“Among those of us who dedicate our lives to hunting these and similar monsters, we call it the Vigil. We stand watch over the night, holding our candles. Our light. To hold back the darkness. But the thing about light is that it grows brighter and stronger with more candles.”

“My candle’s burned bright, but it’s about to be all burned up. Others will need to take the Vigil in my place. I’m going to give Vinny another chance. Another call to that fight. If he chooses to walk away again, that’s his choice. But if not… he’s going to need all the help he can get. All the light he can gather, whether quick or dead.”

“Think on that, please. And if you can, help him—and let others help him too. Who knows? Maybe doing that will help you too.”

GM: The car does seem to think on that, if the silence is any indication.

Finally, there’s another flick of the windshield wipers.

Louis: Lou nods gravely, but gratefully, at that agreement. He steps forward, putting his spectral and corporeal hands on her hood and whispers a prayer like a priest bestowing a blessing on her head.

“Thank you,” he says, simply at the close of the short benediction. He then steps aside, walking towards the road to flag down Alejandra and Vinny. As he does so, he adds quickly, “Time’s running up, but two last things. One, watch out for the Panther that Vinny’s been hunting. My gut tells me he’s one of them.” He jerks a thumb at the smoking vampire in her trunk. “But an older one. A worse one. Even if Vinny denies the Vigil this second time, he might still be chasing the darkness—and sometimes the darkness chases back.”

“Second, I have another friend, Benoît Quebedeaux. He’s a houngan who serves the loa with the white hand. One of the good ones. You told me that the bokor who came upon you offered you help, but you refused it, so he cursed you with the black hand. Maybe accepting help from a houngan’s white hand can help you find rest. Maybe not. But I’ll let Vinny know, in case you want to try. Sorry I don’t have more time to talk, kid, but the sun doesn’t wait for old, ugly men or young, pretty girls.”

With that parting thought, he goes to collect the detective and pathologist.

He hopes they haven’t gone too far. The sun won’t wait for them either.

GM: Lou finds them in short enough order.

Alejandra is smoking. Lou’s felt so much better since he quit. And Lex doesn’t have the Blood to keep her going like she does. Cancer seems likely in her future at the rate she goes through packs.

Vinny is off walking. Both of Lou’s friends are enjoying the sunrise. Vinny remarks how it “makes the air taste like wine, outside the city.” Perhaps Lou supposes he’s enjoying it too.

He supposes the one person who isn’t won’t be around to complain for much longer.

Louis: Wine and cigs, the old gumshoe grouses mentally, Remind me not to ask either of these two to be my AA sponsor.

But outwardly he smiles. He breathes deep of the fresh air—or at least as much of the non-menthol kind he can around Lex. Either way, it’s good to walk with friends. But ultimately, it’s the dawn that is most responsible for the grin that tugs at his wrinkled lips. Dawn always makes the old man happy. And today’s dawn doubly so.

“Happy Gaudete Sunday, my friends. The sun’s volunteered to light the rose candle.”

Lottie’s trunk makes for an odd advent wreath, but it’s no stranger than Lou’s ‘candle’.

GM: The three get back just in time to watch it happen.

Lou’s seen it enough times.

First, gray plumes of smoke rise from the vampire as her skin blisters, like a sunburn. A really bad sunburn. The kind that leaves white layers of dead skin over ugly red that someone can painfully peel off.

Then the skin blackens.

Really blackens. This is no sunburn. This no overcooked food. This is ‘hand pressed against a lit stove.’ The smell of burning flesh in Lou’s nostrils is unmistakable. The ‘burning alive’ stage. The vampire’s skin takes on the texture and color of charcoal.

The smoke gets worse. Blacker. Thicker fouler.

Then the skin bursts into flames. The staked vampire’s mouth yawns in silent scream. The eyes melt into goo. Blackened, burning, half-liquefied flesh is incinerated before it can even run off the flame-licked skeleton beneath.

Then just like that, there’s nothing left but ashes. The stake falls to the bottom of the trunk with a light plunk. Smoke wafts from the destroyed vampire’s empty clothes.

Raphael’s curse claims its due.

Louis: Throughout that supernatural combustion, Lou watches. And he hopes his compatriots do the same. As the flames reach their climax, the old man recites the traditional introit of Gaudete Mass:

“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.”

(“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.”)

The Catholic church teaches that Gaudete Sunday is a time to pause from fretting over all one hasn’t yet done, to instead think of all the good things life has given them. As Lou watches the vampire become ash, he tries his best to hearken to that papal admonition. There is so much he hasn’t done during his Vigil. So much to fret and worry over. So much left to do.

But here, in this moment, surrounded by friends, he thanks God for the things life has given him.

Like a city with one less leech.


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