Marcie said that there were no good places to drink, in downtown Austin — which statement, he decided, made her a mistress of high irony, indeed. A walk or drive, of only a few blocks, revealed any number of bars, pubs and restaurants, and of course, one might dine and drink at the Driskill Hotel, on Sixth Street, which was reputed to be haunted. The hotel, not the street.
His theory went: Sixth Street was all but laid out by design, to attract casual and committed alcoholics — both local citizens and visiting dignitaries, both great and small. Marcie just screwed up her face, which others had found a surprisingly pale visage, given the relentless Texas heat of that summer — “I know that you know, that’s not what I’m talking about. Work with me here,” she wheedled. “Please, Hazmat?”
“I keep telling you, it’s Harold,” the man said, for maybe the twentieth time that evening alone, behind the wheel of the ‘borrowed’ car. He waited for a slowpoke, driving an SUV to execute a sloppy turn, before stepping on the accelerator. The car rolled onto the Congress Avenue Bridge, and across it, taking them south of the river. It was getting nigh on dark, and Marcie was thirsty.
“You know," Harold mused, "they keep saying, oh, Austin isn’t as cool as it used to be, and that’s probably right, for them. I feel the same way, about good old, bad old San Francisco.” An unexpected smile, which added an innocent quality to his gaunt face, was wasted on Marcie; she was looking elsewhere, surveying the streets, watching the pedestrians amble about. “You missed out, little lady. San Fran was really something, back in the eighteen-seventies."
“Whatever,” the woman calling herself Marcie allowed, sitting up suddenly in the front passenger seat. She moved her booted feet around, first right past his steering wheel (and view of the road ahead), then underneath her car seat. “Wasn’t anything like this town was, back during the Annihilator days of, when was he hacking up those girls?”
“A bit later,” Harold said, playing along to keep the conversation light and sparse. She talked too much, for… what she was. What they were. "Beat ol’ Saucy Jack by a few years. Like to think he picked up a newspaper, read up on the London killings and thought: That bastard stole my act.” Then he nodded. “Yeah, the late nineteenth century, that was —There!” He pulled hard on the steering wheel, upsetting her.
“What’s your problem, old man?” Marcie said. He looked at least forty, in an unflattering light, when they had first met, she thought, and she had said as much to him. He smiled at the obvious flattery, given his true age. “I’m okay with a little vehicular mischief, as long as I get something down my throat, pronto. I’m parched —”
‘Hazmat’ Harold pulled the car into a lefthand turn, parking it just around the corner from the Continental Club. “I promise you’ll find something to your taste here,” he promised, not caring whether he was being accurate. Marcie sighed and pushed her passenger-side door open, all but pouring herself onto the curb, before she rose, in a blur of motion, to walk behind him to the front door of the place so named. “And even if you don’t… I am going to listen to the band, as Michael Nesmith advises.”
Truth be told, Harold had grown a bit weary of chaperoning Marcie on her sometimes-jovial, othertimes-frantic nocturnal adventures around Austin. He had known her for ages, though they lived in different cities, most of the time, and for good reason. He had adopted Austin as his latest home, while she was more of a vagabond, a former leather tramp now taking a break from her aimless roaming around the country, never staying more than a couple of nights, until she had decided to see what all the fuss was about, in the Texas city calling itself the Live Music Capital of the World.
Harold paid the trivial cover charge for each of them, and they infiltrated the establishment. A new young country-rock trio was bashing away at at an energetic rockabilly number Harold didn’t recognize, any more that these three musicians struck him as being familiar. “See anything you like, on the menu?” he asked, while pretending to scan the board for available beverages.
Marcie was sullen and a bit childish in her refusal to get into the spirit of things, at first. The band took a break. Its bass player, a boyish lad barely out of high school, by the look of him, though he, too, could have been of an ageless demeanor, queued up to buy a bottle of Shiner Bock, his beer of choice. Marcie mustered up one of her killer smiles, just for him, and she had to raise her voice to be heard, “I thought you guys were pretty good.”
Harold tugged on her elbow, shaking his head in disapproval at her, and she pouted. She scanned the room, as slowly as her rising emotions and damnable thirst would allow her to do it, and shook her head, too. “Not a worthy candidate in the place,” she said, sounding eternally disappointed. Which, given her age, could almost pass for a literal fact —
Harold drained his first bottle of Shiner, and paid the barkeep, a Joan Jett lookalike wearing a cowboy hat, and a leather vest over a sleeveless white T-shirt, for a second bottle. In the corner of one eye, he spied a newcomer to the Continental, a local fellow whose face he had grown accustomed to seeing in several late-night venues around the city. Most bands playing the venues were young, loud and quirky; the guy knew what he liked, Harold surmised. “Hey there, Griff,” he called out, waving the guy over to his and Marcie’s table.
“Hazmat,” said Griffin, and coming from him, the nickname wasn’t half as annoying as when it issued from Marcie. “Hate it when I miss the first set. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your… to your…” He blinked, trying to arrange the words into some sort of reasonably charming order, and gave Marcie a mild stare, not an offensive one. “I’m Griffin,” he said finally. “So, what are we drinking, kids?”
Marcie sat bolt upright, as if shocked. She pivoted to meet his gaze, with a languid — one could almost call it, dreamlike — expression on her face, her heavy-lidded eyes coming to rest, and in just the nick of time, on someone of interest. “Depends on who the bottle is,” she said, and Griffin laughed, unable in the dim lighting of the club to see how just how pale she was.
“Okay, I admit, when we met, I thought you were a junkie,” he was saying, a couple of hours later. It was two-something in the morning; the clubs had closed down, but traffic attested to the fact that downtown Austin was still in business. “You tell me you’re a… a whomper? I don’t know what to make of that, but I figure, be pleasant, play along. I mean, we get all kinds here.”
They looked up at the underside of the Congress Avenue Bridge, home to a famous urban bat colony. Marcie waved away Griffin’s imploring look, and scowled: "I didn’t say I was a whomper, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be. It’s like this, Griffin baby: I said I was a wampyr." She pronounced this unfamiliar word, wham-peer. "Seriously, it’s been, maybe, ten seconds less than forever, and a girl’s gotta drink. Put up a fight, if you like, boy. I know I’d like it, if you did. You don’t eat really hot chili, do you? Makes the blood too caliente for my tastes. Maybe you’re not my type.”
Griffin laughed nervously, not because he believed this fantasy of hers, but because he loathed violence, and found mentally ill persons a nightmare to deal with under conditions far better than these. “Look, I think I’ll just grab a taxi,” he said. “Get myself back, to Hyde Park; better, that way. Hey there, Hazmat? Thanks for the lift this far, bud. Your girlfriend is… hilarious.” He took a single large step away from her.
“Boy, you’re stupid,” Marcie said. “I want you to know, I really appreciate it. I like stupid men. They make the worst part of this, so much easier.” She was wobbling before him, on unsteady legs. How could she be... unsteady, when she hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol the entire time he had been near her?
“Where do you think you’re going, midnight snack?” Marcie teased, but a warm jovial question, it was not. She grasped him by a shoulder, yanked him off of his feet. Griffin couldn’t help but laugh at the impossibility of this windblown mess of a woman, who was able to force him to kneel at her feet with one hand. She reached into his jacket, wrenching a billfold from its right pocket. “This is how it works now, right?” These questions were aimed past him, Griffin realized, at Hazmat. “He someone famous?”
“Just a minute, please, Edna,” Harold said, looking closely at what Griffin, in the darkness, guessed must be his own driver’s license. Harold whistled. A smile came to his face. “I thought it was you. When you talked about bands like you did, it reminded me of some reviews I’ve read.” Replacing the card in the billfold, he offered it to the kneeling Griffin, who was unable to rise under Marcie’s steely grip." Harold gazed, hard, and she... released Griffin. “I have to say, I’m a fan of your music reviews. Don’t worry, I’ll see you don’t remember a thing tomorrow. Lovers of local music have got to stick together.”
“Well, that’s good to know. Or… not to know, I guess.” Marcie (Edna?) was pouting, a few feet distant, but Griffin’s smile seemed inevitable to his rescuer. “She’s looking for her type?” The ex-prospective victim almost beamed, at three o’clock on a very dark morning. “I’m B-positive,” Griffin disclosed — which, to Harold, made perfect sense. He would have to be.
© Eric Wolf 2022.
About the Creator
Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail: https://unsplash.com/@marcojodoin.
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