It was a perfect night. Best I’ve ever had, I think, unless maybe you count… no, that was pretty good, but this was better. Yeah, this was the best. I mean, it didn’t start out the best, but it’s how things finish that matters, right? And that night finished great.
There was a kitten poker game at Willy’s and I was flush. It had been a good week for me, business-wise. I don’t play if I can’t afford to lose. After all, you never know what you’ll be dealt in life or in cards. And since I don’t play when I can’t cover the loss, I hadn’t played in a few weeks. I really wanted a win.
By the time I closed up shop and got to Willy’s, the game was already underway. I said hi to the usual crowd. Y’know, Willy and Fred and Hairy and Splorkhaz. Good old Splorky. Rotten player, but a real good loser. He sends his kids to sell me Girl Scout køb melatonin cookies every year. He knows no matter how much I’m trying to lose weight I can never resist a tasty little Girl Scout. Snacking is my downfall.
This time, though, there was a new guy. Real pale, human face, but he wasn’t human. For one thing, Willy was real strict about his no humans in the game policy. For another, you just…sometimes you just know, y’know? My vamp radar must have been in good working order that night because I took one look at him and just…knew, y’know? Not that I mind. I got no problem with vampires. Not like some demons who have this thing. If a vamp doesn’t try to bite me, then I don’t care who he does bite. That’s between a demon and its victim, if you ask me.
Anyway, someone told me the new guy’s name was Spike. I tried to shake hands, but he just narrowed his eyes and took a long swig from the bottle in his hand.
“You come to chat or to play?”
Woah, he was just so…intense. If he was as human as he looked, I’d have been advising him to chill before he had himself a heart attack. I don’t like humans in that shape. The leaner the better, I say. Gotta watch the cholesterol. At least when the wife and spawn aren’t looking!
Come on, you gotta laugh at that one. The guys at the lodge couldn’t straighten their faces out for a week when I told that joke. Betsy could, though. She took the spawn and moved back in with her mother. Said she needed a demon who would work a little harder for the Apocalypse. I want to see the end of days as much as the next soulless creature of the night, but I guess I’m not as motivated as some. I figure it happens when it happens.
Anyway, I sit down and we start playing. The cards were good. I opened with a tabby, and everybody sees the bet. Spike went and raised me a Manx. That’s pretty rich, so I figured he must have the goods in his hand. Still, I had two pair, queens over fives, and I figured I was in it. I saw his Manx and raised him a tortoise shell. We went a couple more rounds that added marmalade stripes and pure blacks to the pot. At that point, everybody but me and Spike folded. He raised me a Siamese, but that was way too rich for my blood. I mean, if I had Siamese, you don’t think I’d be betting them in a poker game do you?
No way, Jose!
Might as well bet a white tiger cub at that point!
So I was out and Spike took the pot, but we were all dying to see what sort of hand he had that gave him that kind of balls. I nearly cried when I saw what he held. A pair of deuces! A lousy pair of deuces!
The game went on, and Spike took a whole lot more pots he shouldn’t have. Sometimes he had the cards to back it up, sometimes he was playing on pure nerve. Thing was, we couldn’t tell. He played the same whether he had the hand or not. I don’t mind telling you I was getting pretty steamed.
Anyway, the game broke up early. Hairy said something nobody believed about having to go visit his mom the next day and needing sleep. Fred claimed he had a job interview in the morning, even though it was Saturday.
Splorky didn’t bother coming up with a lame excuse. He just said he hated losing and dumped the table over. Splorky’s a great guy, but he’s got a nasty temper sometimes. Still, this was a first. Like I said, he’s usually a real good loser. I’m guessing it was losing to a vampire, if you know what I mean.
Spike didn’t mind. He just took another swig of gin and started gathering up the kittens. When I offered to help, he sorta looked like he didn’t trust me.
“No slipping ‘just one or two’ into all those folds of skin,”
I laughed. I’m used to people making jokes about my skin condition. If he wanted to see it bad, he should have known me when I was an adolescent. Boy, was I wrinkle city, then!
Still, I kept my hands where he could see them the whole time I was putting kittens in his basket. He must have won about fifty, so it took a long time to get them all situated. In fact, there were too many to fit in his basket, so I put a few in mine – making very sure he understood I was just going to help him get them back to his crypt, or apartment, or whatever.
Eventually, we got all the kittens put away and he started for the door. Well, I grabbed my basket and followed. He really couldn’t carry all those kittens by himself, and I like to help my fellow demon, even if he’s not a demon’s demon. Like I said, who he kills and how he kills them, that’s between him and them and it’s not my business.
He walked real fast.
It got hard to keep up. I mean, I’m not in the sort of shape I was in at sixty anymore! I’m packing a few extra pounds, and I don’t run like I did when I was a kid. Who’s got the energy for that? And with Betsy and the spawn gone, I mainly watch a lot of TV and play poker when I’m not working. It gets lonely and sorta boring, and it’s none too good for the ol’ waistline, either.
All in all, I was kinda glad when he stopped suddenly in the middle of a graveyard and sat down on a big headstone. There was another just like it next to him, so I sat down to take a breather, too. Not that he breathed, but you know what I mean.
So he hasn’t said a word to me since we left Willy’s and I’m wondering if he even knows I’m there. I decided to see if I could get him to say something, anything. I mean, the guys at Willy’s are great, and all that, but they’re poker buddies. They don’t want to know me outside that, and that’s okay, but like I said, it gets lonely sometimes. I don’t know what it was about him, but I got this funny feeling Spike was lonely, too. Sort of a fish out of water just like me.
“You live around here?”
I asked him. Well, it was something to say, anyhow.
“I’m not precisely living.”
Okay, not the friendliest answer, but it was something. I tried to build on that.
“You’re not from around here, are you? I mean, originally.”
“Well look who’s little Harriet the Spy,” he said. “How’d you work that one out?”
“Your accent,” I said. “Are you from England?”
“No, I’m from bloody Viet Nam.”
” Viet Nam?
Wow, I’ve always wanted to visit there. Is it nice?”
He just shrugged.
“If you like rice paddies, land mines, and the stench of poverty,” he said.
I decided then and there, I had to make friends with this guy. I mean, he needed someone to help him see the bright side of stuff.
It can’t be that bad,” I told him.
Well, he just sort of grunted and opened up his kitten basket, but at least he didn’t say something rude. I considered that progress.
He pulled the cutest little marmalade stripe out of his basket. My mouth watered just looking at it. Next thing I knew, he was all fangs and ripping the kitten’s little throat out. He drank greedily, but there isn’t that much blood in a kitten. Sweet, but not much. Soon as he’d finished draining it, he just threw the kitten away.
“Hey!” I yelled. “You’re throwing out the best part! And those pelts are worth something. Haven’t you heard of walking gently on Mother Earth?”
“Heard of it. Bollocks, I call it. Can’t end soon enough for me. Not that I can do a bloody thing about it.”
He opened up the basket and took out an adorable baby Manx. I looked at the marmalade, then back at Spike.
“Can I have it?” I asked.
He stopped drinking.
“The parts you don’t want,” I explained. “There’s plenty of good eating left on that kitten.”
He shrugged again.
“Knock yourself out,” he said. “I don’t care what happens to ’em once I’ve eaten, not that there’s enough blood to make a decent snack in both these baskets put together.”
“Why are you eating kittens, anyway?” I asked him. “Don’t vampires usually drink human blood?”
“As a rule, yeah.” He sucked another kitten dry and handed the remains to me. “But these government nancy boys stuck a bloody chip in my head and now I can’t feed properly. If it’s got a soul, I can’t harm it. Demons don’t have souls, but most of them are either too much trouble or the blood is all wrong.
Your kind would be death in an instant to me. But kittens, they don’t have souls, they taste good, and I can still pretend I’m the big bad I used to be, once or twice upon a time.”
I had a mouthful of kitten, so I just nodded. It’s not nice to talk with your mouth full. Actually, I don’t think he cared about what I had to say. He just wanted to talk to someone. I let him. That’s what Betsy used to like about me, that I’m a good listener.
We sat and talked for a long time. Well, he talked, mostly, and I listened. When he’d finish with a kitten, I’d take over, eat the meat, toss the bits I don’t like for the rats, and put aside the pelts and bones.
“What do you want with that junk?” Spike asked at last.
“I make quilts out of the pelts. Lots of demons like them for their spawn, ’cause they’re so soft and come in pretty colors. And the bones make good jewelry.”
“You make jewelry?” he asked. From the tone of his voice, I guessed he wasn’t so much impressed as unable to believe he was sitting with such a total loser.
“My wife made the jewelry,” I explained. “But I lost her.”
“No, I just lost her.”
After that, we both went kind of quiet. We just sat there eating kittens together. Finally, he decided to talk again.
“I lost someone,” he said.
“Can you get her back?” I asked.
“No. She’s dead. Thought about a resurrection spell, but no. Couldn’t do that to her, or her little sister. Must be going soft.”
“Happens to most of us at some point,” I said. “We fall for some girl and next thing you know, we’re domesticated. Taking care of business. Then they’re gone and we don’t know what to do next.”
By this time, there weren’t many kittens left. It was down to a few pathetic mews coming from the baskets. Mine was empty, so I started putting the bones and pelts in it. One I got them home, I could start cleaning and making stuff out of them.
“Look,” I told him, “it doesn’t matter what happened. You just gotta keep on keeping on, like the song says.”
“That one by Gladys Knight and the Pips. There’s that line about thinking up good reasons to keep on keeping on. You know the one.”
“More of a Sex Pistols fan, myself,” he said.
“I like Motown,” I said. “Really great for chasing the blues away. You should try it sometime. I could loan you some CDs.”
Spike just bit into the last kitten. About three seconds later, he tossed the leftovers to me and I started eating.
“Bloody hell,” he said. “I just ate fifty kittens, and I’m still famished. Need about a hundred of those to make a proper meal.”
“We could go get some nachos,” I suggested. “I got nowhere I gotta be.”
He just sat for a moment like he was thinking it over to decide how much damage it would do his reputation hanging out with me. In the end, he stood up and nodded.
“I got a TV,” he said.
“Tapped into it illegally. I’m still as big a bad as I can manage.”
So that’s the story. Spike and I started hanging out a lot after that. Kitten poker nights, TV, nachos…yeah, he’s a great guy. My best buddy.
Last week, he even taught me a new decorative stitch for my kitten pelt quilts.
Oh! I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone that. Look, if anyone asks you, Spike is the biggest and the baddest of all the vamps. I know he’s just a big cream puff, but it makes him feel better to think he isn’t.
Well, I gotta run. Poker tonight at Willy’s. Spike said he’s got him a purebred Himalayan and some Russian Blues. I’ve never tasted Russian Blue.
I wonder if they’re good.