Me and Lord Moe Pull a Vamp
by Chris Hayden
Billy Witherspoon told me Vampin' ain't easy but he never told me a
Black Vampyre got so tough a row to hoe. Seems like for every
three steps forward you get pushed two back.|
Like one time I was driving through Butte, Montana and two hick cops pulled me over. It had to be for Vamping While Black. I was only doing about 120.
One cop, bareheaded, walks up to the driver's side of the vehicle and asks me for my vehicle registration and driver’s license like he’s Joe Don Baker in “Walking Tall" The other one, wearing a big black cowboy hat, stood at the ready on the passenger's side of my car. His left hand rested on the humongous metal buckle of his fine hand tooled leather belt and his right lingered not so casually near the 9mm in his holster as he had no doubt seen Chuck Norris do ofttimes on "Walker, Texas Ranger".
I mean would they have asked LeStat for his driver's license? I don't think so! I told 'em "Man, I'm a Vamp! I don't need no stinking license!"
They took great exception to this. I chastised them gently. Just made 'em get back in their patrol car and drive straight to Miami, Florida do not pass Go do not collect $200. I bet they had a pretty time explaining that to their superiors!
They were lucky they ran into me and not Lord Moe. Lord Moe hates
cops. He don't cotton to nobody pulling him over.
Then again they probably wouldn't have hassled him, he looks like their granddaddy. He might even be. And I admit I probably fucked up outing myself. From Beyond the Black Veil comes our oldest Law--Keep to the Shadows. That means Keep your Vampin' Always on the Downlow tip or "If you Vamp, stay back"
After all, look what heat gay people get when they come out and they ain't accused of sucking blood out of folks' necks. I shoulda probably told those two I was just a crack dealer or something. They could have dealt with that easier.
But Laws are made to be broken, right?
Not too long ago I ran into this sister name of Guinevere Shaperkeotter. A knockout. Style for days. A jet setter and a world traveler. A fashion model with her own skydiving school. We were in the Baby Doll Lounge over on King Drive. I'm thinking, man this type of chick you only see in Jet Magazine or something. Bein' a Vamp is about the only thing I was down with that would impress her. So in the middle of a discussion about how much I loved Halle Berry in "Catwoman" I casually let it drop.
Did she ever comp a tude! Got loud and all up in my face with it. "Nigga you ain't no Vamp. You just a triflin' Nigga don't wanna pay for the motel room!" I won't be able to show my face in there for a while!
I know you sayin' "Naw! That never happened to Blacula!" But that was the movies and this is the real world where folks think you gotta be real pale, run around in a cape with your hair slicked back like Rudolph Valentino, lay up in a coffin all day and lurk around ruined abbeys and graveyards all night or you ain't no Vamp proper.
And a word about that lurking shit, monsters we may be (a more enlightened view is that we are rare, but naturally occurring genetic mutations of homo sapiens- -Homo Vampyrus) but we are human monsters; we kick it like everybody else. We are in the library, at the mall, at the ballgame, in the club on Saturday night and at church on Sunday morning.
Your average movie theater or multiplex is just chock full of vamps, especially at midnight showings of "Dolemite","Eraserhead" "Rocky Horror" or any John Waters movie.
But lets get back to the race angle. William Marshall and Eddie Murphy notwithstanding, it seems even other Vamps think the only article genuine is a tall thin white guy in an opera cloak with a Transylvanian accent, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee (I never cared for Frank Langella; Jack Palance and Gary Oldham weren't acting) and if you ain't you need somebody to school ya.
Not too long after my Awakening, that is after I became aware of my Vampyric Nature, an Elder of the Vampyre Community contacted me and offered to become my mentor.
I would be less than honest if I did not admit that this offer, like one extended by Don Corleone, The Godfather, was one that it would have been unwise to refuse. After all we are talking Vampyres here, not the Little Sisters of Mercy.
I went along with it. Figured the old headz don't want some newbie possibly hyped on all that Hollywood horror movie horseshit to screw it up for everybody. But I wondered if they would have been so quick to move on me if my name had been Varney instead of Varnado- -Varney having the complexion to make the connection if you know what I mean.
The mentor was cool. A brother. Billy Witherspoon. He was a gentleman from the old school. Smooth. Suave. Sophisticated. Always wore a charcoal gray pinstripe three-piece suit with matching gray spats, gloves, and waistcoat and homburg hat. Always had a white carnation in his lapel. Looked and talked just like W.E. B. Dubois. Claimed he had hung out with DuBois during the Harlem Renaissance. He could vamp a mark in broad daylight and not spill a drop.
He was a walking encyclopedia on Vamps and Vampyrism.
One day he just disappeared. I was on my own. It was during that period I had the run in with the law in Butte, Montana and with Guinevere in the Baby Doll Lounge. Then Harold Livingston Halbert, Lord Baltimore, the man I call Lord Moe, showed up on my doorstep and announced that he was now my mentor.
I had heard of him. Billy Witherspoon might have been top bat in the Hood, but Lord Moe was the most from coast to coast. Been vamping about two hundred and fifty years-- almost as long as Agamemnon or Lord Ruthven if they're still around. He vamp who he want, when he want, where he wants to.
But, as Rodney King said, could we all get along? Lord Moe's mind was set in 1774 (before the American Revolution, which he viewed as an absolute calamity). I could never feel sure that he was not contemplating selling me down the river or setting me out to stud
He was crude. Violent. Prideful, a glutton, slothful, lustful, angry, envious and covetous. But whatever you could say about him, and you could say a lot, mostly bad, bout that mean, treacherous man slaughtering son of a bitch, he was one hell of a snappy dresser. He was, as Richard Pryor says, clean as a broke dick dog the time him and me pulled our first vamp together.
We met up about 3 am in Mel’s All Night Diner. He was wearing a black velveteen Edwardian suit, black patent leather shoes with big gold buckles on them, black silk top hat, white shirt with ruffles down the front and lace on the cuffs and collar, a huge red silk butterfly bowtie and a red rose stuck in his lapel.
He had topped that off with a diamond stickpin big as the Ritz right in the middle of his shirt front and a polished black wooden cane with a knob head made of pure sterling silver. He looked like he was ready to step out for a night on the town with Oscar Wilde.
He claimed to have hung with Wilde back in the day but Lord Moe was an inveterate namedropper and the biggest goddam liar I ever seen--
. I was no sartorial slouch myself; I was playing wrap around shades, long black leather coat cut gangsta style, black shirt, pants and boots (My Avery Brooks as Hawk "Spenser for Hire" loud kind of mysterious look) and I had dreadlocks down past my shoulders.
“Well, Angie, what do you wanna do tonight?” I asked him.
“Ah beg your pardon?” he said in a deep, down home tone. Despite his soft, subtle cornpone manner I never relaxed around him for an instant that morning. You'll see why.
“That’s a line from “Marty”,” I said. Lemme explain. Sometimes I play a little game with folks where I toss out quotes from movies to see if they recognize them.
"That's a movie," I said. “Marty, played by Ernest Borgnine, is this terminal bachelor. He lives in the Bronx with his mother. He has got this best friend, Angie. Several times in the movie Angie asks Marty, “Hey, Marty. What do you wanna do tonight?” and Marty answers, “I dunno Angie, what do you wanna do tonight?” and then Angie will answer, “I dunno Marty. What do you wanna do tonight?”
"They always go back and forth like that, seemingly without aim. It is meant to be a comment on the loneliness and ennui, the pointlessness of everyday life for the common man in modern day times.”
“Do tell,” he said, blue eyes glinting icily. Then he looked away and glanced gingerly around the diner.
Mel’s was a once common slice of Americana; a 24-hour a day greasy spoon in a converted railroad car. The layout was classic: chrome sun spray designs over a long white gold-flecked formica counter, padded red naugahydge and chrome stools and chairs, booths with padded seats and tables made of the same stuff, white linoleum floor.
Like much that started out junk, Mel's had become, merely by surviving, a treasure.
Seeing as how he himself was a relic of history, I thought Lord Moe would dig Mel's. It beat any old blood bar all to hell. But Lord Moe was hopelessly bourgeois. He frequented fru fru joints where you have to make reservations and where the waiters are dressed like 18th century fops and the menus are in French and servings so small you still hungry after you eat.
A couple more monsters and Mel's coulda passed for a Vamp joint. In one booth, sat three guys covered with Satanic tattoos with greasy long hair and sunglasses dressed in full Goth regalia. At a small table in the back were a couple of stripper/hookers in tight black rubber dresses, loud makeup and long fall wigs.
A guy with a porkpie hat and t shirt and vest who looked just like Art Carney playing Ed Norton was sitting at the counter with his face down in a bowl of chili, dead drunk.
My kind of place!
With a frown Lord Moe turned up his nose like he said he did at Jeff Davis' offer of Vice Presidency of the Confederacy (“The man was a pretender, suh. He had no class. He was, what you young folks call, perpetratin’?”)
The night waitress slouched over to our booth. She was middle aged. Hair was some impossible shade of orange, frazzled and sticking out every which way. Her face sagged and her expression was as sour as month old milk. Her once white waitresses uniform, now dingy gray, was stained, sweaty and wrinkled.
“I’m handmaiden to the damned,” she muttered under her breath as she tottered over to us on her aching corns in a voice that would have been too low for a human to hear.
Lady, you must be psychic, I thought.
She made a sound somewhere in the back of her throat that was supposed to mean, “What’ll you two boys have?”
I don't know what it was. Maybe she reminded me of somebody. I was suddenly seized with a desire to see her bright and cheerful. I am gifted by nature to manipulate the emotions of humans, to make them feel happy or sad, any way I want. Fear not. It is a power I use only for Good. My Good.
“How about your phone number and a little of your time, sweetheart?” I said in a voice sweeter than Tupelo honey.
“Oh come on now,” she said. “I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“Madame, I sincerely doubt that,” Lord Moe said.
“Two coffees with cream and sugar,” I said, whipping her callused hand up to my lips and kissing it daintily. “And your word that you will not be long gone.”
She rolled her eyes but then she gave her frazzled hair a flip and she smiled, oh yes she did, and she giggled like a young girl and I swear she had a little bounce in her step and a switch to her hips when she walked away from the table.
“Well well you live and learn,” Lord Moe said to me. “I wouldn’t have thought she was your type.”
“Her? Please. I was just practicin’”
“A couple hundred years ago I’d have jumped right on that,” he said. “I’m much more particular these days” And indeed he is- -so particular that he disdains blood and goes right for the life energy of a victim. He is a Psi Vamp (or "dry") as opposed to a bloodsucker (or "wet") like yours truly.
“An old pal of mine once said that particular motherfuckers don’t get shit ” I said.
“I don’t do bad for a three hundred year old," he replied.
“You don’t look a day over two ninety-nine,” I said.
Harold Livingston Halbert, Lord Baltimore! You may run into him someplace sometime. It don't have to be at night. It might be high noon.
We are everywhere 24/7. One of us might be right behind you right now.
Lord Moe likes Victorian or Edwardian garb, but he might be wearing a space suit or a dashiki. He might be speaking American or Russian, German, Chinese Urdu or Swahili. He might use his real name, or he may be using one of his aka's (such as “Horrible Harry”, "The Allegheny Anti Christ", "The Tidewater Terror" or "Black Harold"- -that one cracks me up).
You might be in a haunted house or at the beach. He may have disguised his face or voice, but you will know him. His weird blue eyes glitter like deadly daggers even behind the thickest dark glasses or the most opaque contact lenses.
Excuse yourself and get the hell away from him quick as possible. He is the most dangerous Undead man walking.
The waitress came back with two steaming cups of coffee. Real china mugs and not Styrofoam. And it looked like somebody had actually washed them. I was impressed.
I whipped out a fifty-dollar bill, pressed it into her hand, held it for longer than I should have, whispered, “You make my blood boil.”
She was blushing and giggling now. I could have blown in her ear and she'd have followed me anywhere
“Keep the change,” I said, giving her hand a squeeze. She sighed and just stood there.
The three dudes over in the booth thought this was so funny. I gave them The Look. A glance of The Beast. It is another talent we have been granted by evolution and nature. It can cause vomiting, convulsions, and nightmares.
I gave them a little bitty eensy weensy one. When they had finished pissing and drooling all over themselves they remembered urgent business elsewhere, got up and staggered off into the night.
The waitress was still standing there, like she was a fan and I was Elvis. Next time you see him, you let him know he's not the only King.
“Adele!” somebody from the back shouted.
She didn’t answer. Didn’t move.
Still Adele no move.
Finally a short, squat guy with a t-shirt apron and a cigar clenched between his teeth, Mel, no doubt, came out from the back.
He was going to give her the works. I gave him a mere sliver of a Look—after all, he still had burgers to burn. He swallowed hard and ducked back in the kitchen.
“You better run along now, sweet thang,” I told her. Reluctantly she turned and walked away. She paused at the door and looked at me long and lovingly.
“Adele!” Mel pleaded.
She sighed and made her exit
I slurped my coffee. Lord Moe never touched his.
“Wal I must say that was flat out disgustin’” Lord Moe said.
“Hey, give her a break, she’s had a long night,” I said.
“Not her. You.”
"What harm is there in making a working woman feel like a queen for a time?"
"Was that what you was doin'? Or was it just another Vamp?"
There is not coincidentally a Halbert Collection at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. It is locked in a vault in the sub sub basement of the main University Library. The only key to this vault is in the possession of Lord Moe, who donated it to the Library and who hales from Baltimore.
I been in there. Getting into locked places is one of the things I do. And I ain't got to be invited.
Amongst the stacks of dusty books, musty diaries, crumbling newspapers, yellowing letters and ancient documents in there I saw a record and certificate of birth.
According to the record, “One Harold Livingston Halbert, a white male childe, was born in the Crown Colony of Maryland in the year of our lord, July 4, 1595.
It’s a forgery, one of the thousands and thousands of forged documents Lord Moe has left in his monstrous wake. That would make him over four hundred years old, and he was only three hundred.
(By the way, if you are ever at the main Library of Johns Hopkins University don’t make inquiries about the Halbert Collection. The librarians will deny that it exists. If you tell them you have read this humble account and insist on seeing it, they will have the campus police politely eject you. If you are particularly obstreperous they might introduce you to the special facilities with the strait jackets, mind altering drugs, padded walls and lobotomies that they reserve for those who won’t shut up about the Halbert Collection.)
“Let’s take a walk,” Lord Moe said, rising.
“Suits me fine,” I said getting up. “Don’t look like there’s any action here tonight.”
Mel’s Diner was on Washington between Spring and Vandeventer across the street from the Tower Tire service. We headed east down Washington. Stalking.
I'll wager we made a pair most weird and incongruous, a short white-haired Caucasian male clad in black 19th century garb, wearing a top hat and carrying a cane, and a tall African American male with extra long dreadlocks in 21st century psuedogangsta drag—unless one was gifted with the vision of the fabulous Sankofa bird, who views the past, the present and the future simultaneously- -but not to a Vampyre.
We walked block after block, never tiring, past shut down stores and warehouses to a background of night sounds, the dull electric hum of the street lamps; and the soft echoes of the day sounds, auto horns and engines that had sounded and roared hours before that still lingered in the air. We felt the fading reverberations of those vehicles and the footsteps of pedestrians long gone under our feet. We thrilled to the snores and sighs of the sleeping millions around us, their steady slumbering heartbeats, we sniffed their breaths and savored the tang of their strong, vigorous, blood, and we felt powerful, and strong, and fearless, we strode like lords of the earth, we two Children of the Night, we two Hunters.
"This way," Lord Moe said, quivering and pointing his cane to the northeast.
I smelt trouble in the air.
At the corner of Jefferson and Washington, across the street from a bank, a brown skinned woman was standing at the bus stop. She was about forty years old wearing jeans, blue scarf, sweatshirt and running shoes. Her tired body, heavy with sleep, drooped like the stem of some night blooming flower. She clutched a brown paper shopping bag. Probably a clean up lady on her way home. A barmaid getting off late.
“Well, suh, I believe a Vamp might be in order,” Lord Moe said, quivering.
"Count me out," I told him.
Lord Moe looked at me like he didn’t believe I could fix my mouth to say it.
“What is this, Varnado?” he asked. “You can’t be goin' soft hearted on me because you haven't got a heart."
When he said this he looked and sounded like a Vampyre Tommie Lee Jones, but way scarier than Jones, when he played Two Face or Ty Cobb.
"My mama died right before my eyes," I said to him.
"What?" he asked.
"My mama died like a dog. Screaming in agony," I said.
"Everybody's mama dies," Moe, said.
"She never did no wrong. Didn't drink. Didn't smoke. Didn't party. Didn't run around. Only went to church and she died puking in her own filth like the worst sinner in town."
"My land," Moe said.
"I don't Vamp no women or children, Lord Moe," I said.
He looked at me long and hard. I was telling the truth. That wouldn't make him none. He vamp who he want when he want where he want to. He don't cotton to nobody coming between him and a Vamp, man or monster. His eyes were blue burning suns. I knew a long sharp blade was concealed in his cane and that he was very good with it. I measured the distance between us, wondered if I could leap on him and tear him to pieces before he cut me to pieces.
“I used to have such scruples,” he finally said. “You'll drop them in a hundred years or so. Let us proceed. I sense there are other opportunities abroad tonight."
I breathed a sigh of relief and we continued on. My relief was short lived.
. We found a fat man, by an empty cab, about a half-mile away at 18th and Market across the street from Union Station. He was wearing a white sport coat, white hat, and red Hawaiian shirt, red pants and white shoes. His dark skin looked almost blue in the night.
The cab door was open, the car radio was on, tuned to radio station WESL. It was blasting Jimmy Smith. He was doing the St. Louis bop by himself on the sidewalk. His white shoes skipped almost daintily across the sidewalk as he stepped and spun. I could smell scotch on his breath, reefer, see small white granules on his nostrils. A cabdriver having a private party on the street.
"Get hot, fats!" Lord Moe said to him.
"Y'cain't trust no fat man!" the man laughed.
I stood there and dug on the brother's floorshow and then the hairs on my neck rose as I sensed Lord Moe tensing to leap on him.
Maybe it was the way he said, "Get hot, Fats!" It sounded so disrespectful. "Naw man," I said. "This dude been drinkin'"
Lord Moe looked at me like I had a tail. So what? Drunks are perfect marks. They don't even know they been vamped. A little alcohol in the blood stream gives it a slight tang. He shrugged. .
We walked down Market, toward the river. "You know suh. It is not uncommon for one of us to retain for a while some misplaced loyalty to the ethnic stock one has sprung from. It is not uncommon at all. But know this- -regardless of who you came from, regardless of who yo people was before- -I is yo' people now!"
"I know a place," I blurted out. "A place good for a surefire score."
"Lead on," he said.
I am not proud of what happened next. We went to this place I used for quick Vamps an abandoned fuse factory on a deserted stretch of road on the edge of town. It looked like a set from "Blade Runner" or "Escape from New York".
Crack addict /prostitutes, who smoked rocks on the grounds of the abandoned factory between tricks, and their johns, were the only people who frequented the area.
I had an understanding with the working girls- -after they did their business I did mine.
Nobody was there when we arrived. It was as though the smell of doom hung in the air, warning everybody away. The only living thing I saw was a mangy old dog trotting along with what appeared to be a human arm in its mouth.
I threw stones at it until it ran away.
"A bad omen," I shuddered.
"Bad is in the eye of the beholder," Lord Moe said. "I happen to think it was a good one. Now, as the young people say, let's get busy."
He handed me his hat and cane, then sort of shook himself, and then he was not a short, white haired old man in black Edwardian attire but a cute little teenaged girl in a black pantsuit. His hair was a round platinum bouffant halo.
He had a cute little pug nose and a cute little cupie doll Cupid's bow mouth but his eyes were still 300-year old blue orbs full of deadly flickering knives.
I put on his hat. It fit. Big head motherfucker.
I glanced to the east. The horizon was a faint purple rim. The dawn was coming.
"It won't be long now. I can feel it in my bones," came the haunted ruin of the ancient man's voice from the body of a little girl.
The sky in the east was starting to glow and change colors. Red. Pink. Orange.
"C'mon, Moe, let's raise," I said.
:"Shhh!" he hissed.
I turned east and saw headlights.
They moved closer until I could make out a black pick up truck, cruising slowly.
"Stand by to receive borders," Lord Moe whispered. Then he bent over and put his hands over his face like he was crying.
The truck was almost even with us now. I prayed the driver wouldn't stop.
The truck drew even with us. Then stopped.
The driver got out. He left the truck lights on and the motor running. I remember him like it was yesterday. Average height. In his twenties. Dark curly hair. Black t-shirt and jeans. Olive skin. Maybe Latino. Middle Eastern. Maybe a light-skinned brother.
I don't like to think of his face.
"Is everything okay here?" he asked.
I could stand telling you about the rest of it if he had been a john. No way he was a John. Everything about him said straight and stand up guy. A factory worker on his way home from working the night shift. A store manager going in early.
He was wearing a wedding band. His wife was about to become a widow. If he had children they were going to be orphans, courtesy of the Vampyre Community.
Lord Moe didn't have to kill him. Despite all the dirt that's dished on us, we love and revere life. We need life to sustain us. We don't have to kill to get what we need. If I had been by myself I wouldn't have killed him. I probably wouldn't have bothered him at all.
I wasn't by myself. I was with Lord Baltimore. I had punked out twice already, Lord Moe don't cotton to no Vampyres punkin' out. If they are down with him they got to have what is called, in the Life, The Bite Stuff.
I had to admire Moe's touch, his deft manipulation of socio-political dynamics. The victim, driving by a deserted factory, saw a big evil looking black guy in a hat menacing a little white girl bent over crying her eyes out. Any red blooded American male would make like Sir Galahad and ride to her rescue to his doom. At the same time, aware that the victim could be as much motivated by a racial stereotype as gallantry, my heart would be hardened against him, ensuring my cooperation in the matter.
Should have minded his business. I wanted to say, "Get out of here, Galahad! It's a set up." What I did say was, "Get your ass back in that truck, motherfucker. This MY bitch!"
Lord Moe chuckled in appreciation.
"I'm makin' it my business, Nigga," Sir Galahad said. "Come on, little darlin'. We're getting' out of here- -"
"I b'lieve I'll take a rain check, podnuh," Lord Moe rasped in his scary voice. Then he laid one dainty hand on Sir Galahad's muscular t-shirted chest.
The man opened his mouth to cry out. He couldn't make a sound. His face darkened, twisted like agonized taffy, his eyes bulged, then he grunted and fell over on his face like a pole axed steer.
"Lawd mammy yo' lil' Harry still got whut it takes!" he crowed, dancing around the man's form twitching on the ground.
"How'd I do?" I asked him.
"You still a little rough around the edges, but it ain't nothin' that cain't be smoothed out with a little more time and practice," he replied. "Git along, l'il dogie," he said. Then he dragged the hapless would-be Good Samaritan back into the dark grounds of the abandoned factory.
In a little while, horrible sounds came from the darkness.
Lord Moe. Feeding.
After a while he called for me.
"We ain't got too high on the hog to take sloppy seconds, is we?" he hissed
I went on back there. I didn't have any choice. You gotta believe that. I gotta believe that. The man was lying on the ground. He was in a bad way. He'd have lived if I had got him help.
I didn't get him any.
Wherever mama is now, and I know she is up in heaven, I hope she can't see me now, I prayed as I bent over him.
"Bon Apetit," Lord Moe laughed.