Sometimes It Sucks
Tripp has been around a long time; such is the life of a Valensi. He has seen so much over so many decades in Hollywood.
Still, he loves this town, with its stars and seediness and never-ending-entertainment.
When he meets the blue-haired Greta, however, at a movie industry party, he suspects he might just be in for more than he bargained for.
One Night in Hollywood is a short story from the Valensi Chronicles.
ONE NIGHT IN HOLLYWOOD
Twilight is my favorite time of day. Since I do not partake in the sunshine, it serves as my dawn. I love the way the city comes alive at twilight. True, I suppose, that not all cities are like this but Los Angeles is “special” in about anyone’s eyes. It is either Hollywood, or sunny-beaches, or some such ideal. But, to me, it’s simply… home.
My name is Terrence Harold. But, no one dares to call me that; even if they are among the few who even know my given name. I’m known as Trip. How I came to bear that moniker is a long story. Suffice to say that I once got a bad batch of blood from someone who did NOT look nor smell like a junkie. It took me by surprise… and, the rest is history.
I have lived here, in L.A., for the past fifty some-odd glorious years and I have rarely ever been bored. I have danced with Ms. Charise and laughed with Mr. Gleason. I have shared bourbon with Dino and sinsemilla with Jimi. It’s been a wonderful time to be a vampire.
I’ll most likely get into trouble for using that word, by the way. The Hierarchy hates it when we get lumped into the fictitious world of myth and legend. What we are is a different race than humans and not exactly like the characters of Mr. Stoker’s novel.
Although a large number of us live among the humans of this city and this country, we have our own type of government. The Hierarchy. More a tribunal, I suppose, than anything else. We have our own laws and our justice is swift and vicious. Consider your own life of around eighty years, how harsh having that life cut short by a death sentence would be. Now, consider one of us. We who age at about one-sixtieth the rate of humans. There we are at the prime of our lives, say, three hundred years old. And, then, we have that expansive future life cut off in an instant. We can take a hundred times the pain and punishment that a human can and recover completely.
Yet, death is death and there is no recovery from such a sentence. After all, nothing lives forever; not even us.
But I digress.
Two months ago, I was enjoying myself at a wonderful party thrown by a Hollywood mainstay. I’d rather not name names. There were several others of us at the party, since the artsier crew tends to run in the same circles. However, on this particular night, there was one who could not claim such tendencies. She was glaringly obvious to the rest of us. Of course, the humans saw nothing unusual about her other than her bright blue hair.
I could tell, as she swept through the crowd of movie industry players, that she was scanning them quite a bit. As a race, we tend to do this when we are searching for one of two things: a lover or a victim.
She had passed by a group of young wannabe actresses, eyeing them without much interest, when she saw me. I suppose there was a certain attraction there. Still. I should’ve realized I was in trouble when she began making her way through the crowd in my direction.
“Hi, I’m Greta,” she said. I was later to learn that this was an alias. Most of us have them out of boredom if nothing else. Greta had one out of necessity. She displayed one of those half smiles that we give, if we haven’t filed our teeth down recently. Those of us who live among you tend to groom ourselves to look as human-like as possible. Actual fangs are far from normal.
“Hello,” I replied, wary of this one’s motives. Lover or food, I wondered. Since she had to know I was one of the Valensi (as we referred to ourselves), I was wagering the former. She put her hand out and I accepted it with proper decorum.
“Do you have a name?” She was careful not to smile any wider.
“Trip? That’s it, huh? Hmmnh. Wonder how you got that one?”
“Long story, I’m afraid.” I wasn’t about to offer anything more than necessary. She could see that I was being quite cautious. We all have that habit since it aids in our survival more often than not.
“I have time,” she responded. I shrugged. Her smile was fading fast. “Wanna go somewhere quieter? To talk?”
“Just talk?” I had turned to look into her crystal blue eyes. I noticed that they almost matched the dye job of her hair. She held my stare for a moment or two and then nodded toward the rest of the party goers.
“They’re not very interesting, are they?”
“Depends on how much bourbon I’ve had.” She laughed politely at my weak humor.
“I’ll be at Pink’s later. If you decide you’re bored.” She reached out and laid a light hand on my arm as she spoke and then she walked away back through the crowd.
I know I should have let it go. I should’ve forgotten I ever met her. When you’re four hundred years old, however, your sense of curiosity can be overwhelming at times. This was one of those times.
* * * * *
I stood on the corner of Melrose and La Brea. It was a little past midnight. Even at this hour, there was a line outside of Pink’s. I’ve maintained my taste for fine cuisine since my youth in Britain. The idea of a burrito dog was somewhat less than appealing to me. Yet, it did seem to appeal to a great many humans. Give me a nice rare filet mignon any day.
I watched Greta hug and converse with several of the patrons. It was at least twenty minutes before she noticed me, some fifteen yards away. She grinned and walked over to me. Several of the people she had been talking with raised their hands in farewell. I saw one gentleman in sunglasses walk toward us, but then he sat down at one of the tables. Sunglasses at night. Only in L.A., I mused. My attention was then pulled back to Greta.
“You bored?” she asked as she reached the corner. I shrugged.
“Part and parcel, I suppose,” I said. She nodded, and then reached for my hand.
“Walk with me?” Her actions so far seemed so innocent. Yet, to steal the words of a favorite character of mine, my Spidey senses were still tingling.
“Sure,” I said, allowing my curiosity to win over my hesitancy.
We walked a few blocks up La Brea, past Santa Monica Boulevard, toward Sunset. She was rambling on about how much she enjoyed being in Los Angeles — the people, the events, and so forth. I was half paying attention and half wondering what the end result of this encounter would be. Call me paranoid. You wouldn’t be too far off.
As we walked past a large store window, I saw my face mirrored back at me in the dim light of the street lamps. I had never been vain, but I suppose I’m not difficult to look at, with my disheveled brown hair and deep green eyes. I wondered if it were my looks which had attracted the woman walking beside me.
As we turned right, onto Hollywood Boulevard, she asked, “So, how long have you lived here?”
“A little over fifty years, I suppose.”
“Oh, wow. You must have some great stories, huh?”
I shrugged again. “A few, I guess. It’s been interesting.” I looked over at her. “You a reporter?” She laughed. I saw that she had not filed her fangs at all. They were full length. “You haven’t been out in the public for long, huh?” Her laughter stopped in an instant and she stared at me with an obvious concern.
“Why do you think that?”
I nodded, indicating her mouth. “Only those at the Citadel keep their fangs. Those of us who live among the humans don’t. It begs the question.” I let her guess at the question for a moment or two, after my mentioning of the Citadel. It is the seat of our government, home of the Magistrate and the Hierarchy. For those of us who can no longer move safely among the humans – for whatever reason – the Citadel is our haven.
“And, that question is—?” I was certain that she had known I was going to ask, from the moment she first walked up to me at the party.
“What are you doing here?”
I had asked the question with zero provocation or threat. I was hoping to get an honest answer. She turned away and we kept walking. We passed Highland Avenue and continued walking in silence toward Vine Street. The hour had gotten late.
There was the occasional homeless person here and there, but only a few regular folks walking the streets. A car would drive by once in a while, even though most humans were either in their homes or headed there. I could see that she was making a decision about how she might answer my question.
I did not hide the fact that I was observing her and she made no effort to shield her expressive face. I noticed that there was the slightest scar just to the side of her right eye. It was small and traced a line horizontally from the corner of her eye, almost to her hairline. It was with a slight shock that I saw the tears. She was crying.
“I’m sorry,” she stated, brushing at the tears in embarrassment.
“No,” I countered. “I was rude. I apologize.”
“You were just being one of us, all paranoid and distrustful. You don’t need to apologize for being who we are. The question just brought up some old memories I don’t particularly care to remember. Why I’m here.” She smiled a little, then. “We all have our skeletons. Don’t we?”
“Sure.” I felt a little guilty for having made her cry. That most certainly was not my intent.
She stopped walking and turned to me. A bum a few yards away ignored us completely. There were still a few regular folks some distance away, but none within hearing distance. She took a deep breath. “I used to be a nice person.” Her smile was sad, melancholy. “Then, I became one of the Valensi and I allowed the darker parts of that transformation to rule my actions. For several decades, I was… well, not a very nice person.”
“That happens, Greta.” I took her hand. “It’s part of adapting to a new way of life. It’s difficult and scary and, on occasion, terrible. If we’re lucky, and strong, we get through it with little bloodshed.”
I knew that some of us find a true taste for the bloodier side of our race. It was not unusual for someone to become a liability. Even if they put some thought into their actions, the victims disposed of effectively. The bottom line was that a series of missing humans never failed to cause trouble. Worse was if word got back to the Hierarchy and they deemed the person’s actions a threat to our secrecy. They had severe methods of dealing with threats to the sanctity and secrecy of our race.
“It took me a long time to find myself, as it were.” Her tears began to trail down her delicate face once again. She looked down at her feet, hiding her shame from me. “I made some mistakes. Big mistakes. Now, I’m trying to escape my own fate, to start over. It’s just so…” She looked back up at me, with those blue eyes wet and glowing in the moonlight. “Lonely.”
I understood, now, why she seemed so out of place at the party, why she was scanning the crowd as she was. The combination of the fear of being recognized along with the pain of the solitude that comes with being a fugitive… That would be enough to make her conspicuous in such a crowd of movers and shakers. It must have been nerve-wracking. But, then I saw the blue hair and thought about the scene at Pink’s. Something wasn’t right here.
“But, those people at Pink’s,” I said. “Not a very effective way of hiding, I should think.”
“I’m not hiding, Trip.” I saw that she was struggling to keep eye contact with me. “I decided a long time ago that I would live my life as well as I could for as long as I could. But I stopped running almost five years ago. I’ve been in San Diego for the past few years. I came here when things started getting out of hand down there.”
“I have to admit, that leaves me with several more questions.” I wanted to be honest with her.
“Then, I’ll answer them,” she replied. Her eyes were still wet and I felt as if I were being drawn into her through those eyes. Her hair was chopped off at her shoulders and little strands were blowing in the gentle breeze. She was a beautiful lady, no doubt about it.
“How long were you on the run?”
“Almost eighty years.”
“What was going on in San Diego that made you leave?” These were the obvious questions. I was saving the big one for last.
“There was a Hunter. He was killing us off, but there were a few who turned the tables and were hunting him. He kidnapped one of us. Her lover was a Protector.” I inhaled involuntarily. Protectors were the guardians of our secrets. They were the tools of the Hierarchy. Cold, heartless, relentless and highly-trained. They served as near-immortal assassins, with all the skills that title entailed. As far as I knew, no one who had come up against a Protector had lived to tell about it.
“No. I couldn’t join in the fight; although, I wanted to help find the Hunter and stop him. This was, if Garrett had seen me, he would have recognized me. And, that would have been the end of me.”
The time had come. I looked around to see that the bum had moved farther away from us. Although there was some guy about thirty yards away, he was walking away from us and no one was close enough to hear. I asked the question that worried me most.
“Greta,” I sighed, “What did you do that made you a fugitive?” I could see the fear in her eyes at the prospect of revealing her deepest secret. I also saw a resolve that was building. She squeezed my hand.
“It was near the end of August in 1936. I’d been living in solitude for the previous three years, in Amsterdam. I’d come to know a few of the local homeless that wandered the streets. They hid themselves away during the day, so I suppose I felt a certain kinship with them under cover of the night.
“Natalya was my favorite. A Russian refugee who had escaped the boundaries of that country in the early thirties. She’d found herself alone and lost on the streets of Amsterdam. I spoke a little Russian, and she had learned a little English. Neither of us spoke Dutch very well. We sort of hit it off.” Greta swallowed hard to ease the pain of the memories she was detailing. I could tell that this was very difficult for her.
“Take your time,” I whispered.
“I came upon them by accident. I didn’t know what was happening at first. Then, I realized. I had, after all, been a feeder for several decades. My course had changed and I no longer thought of humans as food. But, this one… he certainly did.” Her tears were flowing, now, and I felt that this was something that, though it was painful, she needed to share. The hurt of keeping this inside for so long had been a stone on her soul, weighing her down, suffocating her. She sniffled a little and continued.
“I yelled at him to stop, knowing that to interrupt one of us while feeding is almost always seen as a threat. I just knew that I couldn’t stand by and allow another human to die at the hands of one of us. I’d done enough damage on my own in the past. I couldn’t let it happen again; especially there, where I called home.
“It was like a knife in my heart. It was Natalya he’d been feeding on. He dropped her lifeless body to the ground like nothing more than trash and turned on me. I saw his eyes and prepared myself. Once he focused on me, he could see that I was Valensi, but at that point it just didn’t matter. He said he was going to tear my hearts out.” She was breathing hard, now, with the effort of the telling.
When we say hearts, we refer to the oversized organ required to pump our thicker-than-human blood. The people are nothing if not overly-dramatic. I glanced around to make sure we weren’t making too much of a scene. There was a woman in a beat up overcoat on the other side of the street, and a man in shades about a block away but no one nearby. Greta took a breath and I could feel her shaking. Nevertheless, she pushed on.
“When he came at me, I simply allowed my reflexes to take over. I sidestepped his first attack but he caught my arm in the process. His first swipe at me was close enough to set my pulse pounding.” She pointed at the small scar by her right eye, which I had noticed before. “His second, I wasn’t prepared for.” She lifted her blouse to show, on the left side under her ribs, a nasty scar at least five inches in length. I knew that, with our elevated healing factors, the original scar must have been twice that length. I felt a deepening pity for what she must have gone through, but I didn’t want to say anything to interrupt her.
“I guess instinct kind of took over at that point,” she said. “I remember that I was so amped up on adrenaline that my strength must have been incredible. I’m still not clear how it happened, really. I just remember my last-ditch effort, as he pounced on me. I punched straight, fingers open and stiff. I felt his flesh give way. As he crumpled to his knees, I grabbed his head — now at my waist-level — and twisted as hard as I could. It was him or me, and I was fighting for survival. The consequences of my actions never surfaced until after the fact.” She was sobbing, now. And, as I wrapped my arms around her, I was still confused. We were a vicious and emotional race, as a rule, and in-fighting was far from unheard of.
“Greta, I’m sorry. I just don’t understand. Why would the Hierarchy be after you for defending yourself against another?”
“He wasn’t just another one of us, Trip,” she sobbed. “He was a Protector.”
* * * * *
I led her down the street, as her tears dried in the breeze. We found a transit bench and sat down. I looked at my watch, seeing that it was almost four o’clock. Soon, we would need to get off the streets. Sunlight, regardless of the myths’ many inaccuracies, was still our enemy. It was more an allergy than anything else. I’ve heard that a few of us have spent centuries building up immunity to the allergic reaction. A few have even managed to gain the ability to function for limited time in the daylight.
I allowed Greta to collect herself for a couple of minutes. Then, “Greta…”
“No.” She looked up at me and, “That isn’t my real name.”
“You don’t have to—”
“I do. I have to trust someone. I sensed the compassion in you the moment I saw you. I suppose that’s why I chose to approach you so instinctively.” She leaned in and kissed me softly on the lips. “Thank you.”
“For listening. I don’t even know you, but you’ve been a tower block for me tonight and I’m grateful you allowed me the shoulder to lean on. I know this is not what you had in mind when you agreed to meet me at Pink’s.” She was smiling again.
“To be honest, I had very little in mind. Me being my paranoid but curious self, I was just bored,” I said with a shrug. Something was still touching my nerves, though and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something that was circling the perimeter of my conscious thought. It teased me with the hint of something I felt I should understand or be aware of.
With the moon a bright orb in the summer sky, her eyes were luminous and clear. She took my hand once again. “My name. It’s Elizabeth. Elizabeth Townsend.”
“It’s a beautiful name.” I smiled and squeezed her hand, gazed into her bright eyes.
That’s when it clicked. How could I have missed something so obvious? I stood up and looked down the street toward Vine. Nothing. Looking back up the street in the direction from which we had come, I saw that the entire street was empty. No one there. Greta — or, rather, Elizabeth — noticed my concern immediately.
“What’s wrong?” she said. A new voice answered her question.
“His senses are failing him, I would surmise.” The man wearing sunglasses appeared behind us, emerging from the shadows. He had been so quiet in his approach that neither of us had been aware. I had completely overlooked the fact that it had been him at Pink’s. As well, he was the one walking away from us earlier and then appeared a short time ago about a block away. He had been stalking us the entire time. That did not bode well.
“You’ve been following us. Why?” I asked the question already knowing the answer. Elizabeth did, too. Yet, she made no move to run. I marveled at her strength of will. Or, I wondered, was she now giving up?
“You’ve been a very bad girl, Elizabeth.” The Protector smiled wide, his fangs obvious in the bright moonlight. He spoke with a British accent, his close-cropped black hair fitting with his ‘London Calling’ t-shirt and heavy, buckled boots. “You killed one of our own. We don’t forget. And, we never forgive.”
I stepped in front of Elizabeth with a warning stance. “It wasn’t her fault, she was just protecting herself. You’ll have to go through me if you plan on harming an innocent.” He laughed.
“That woman is far from innocent, Terrence.” It was no shock to me that he knew my real name. These guys did their homework. “She’s done some things that would shock even you, I’m sure.”
“Unlikely. If you know my name, then you know what I’m capable of.”
“Oh, yes. I am familiar with your European exploits, Terrence. I find you something of a challenge. We don’t get many of those.” He glanced over my shoulder at Elizabeth. “You were just lucky, little lady. Just that once.” He moved forward, overtaking me, even though I thought myself prepared for such a move.
When he closed with me, I struck hard with an uppercut to his solar plexus and stepped into it, using his own movement against him. We came together with gut-wrenching force. We tossed each other aside and took on defensive postures. I could see that he was bleeding through his shirt and I felt as if I couldn’t catch my breath. I saw that Elizabeth was savvy enough to stand back to see what would happen next. But she didn’t look as though she were happy about it.
“This is my fight, Trip,” she stated. “You don’t need to do this.” I didn’t take my eyes off of the Protector.
“Are you kidding?” I smiled at the man across from me. “At least I’m not bored anymore.”
He leapt. I tried to block his punch but he was a split second faster. My head rang with the strike and I stepped back and to the left, to avoid the expected follow-through. It was good that I did. He was not happy with his miss, whipping around to face me once more. I measured his movements and focused on his eyes.
“I feel as if I should tell you my name,” he huffed. “Just so you carry with you the name of the man who kills you.”
“Wow. Such arrogance.” I’d met guys like him before. They enjoyed the fight because they were so confident that they had no true competition. What gave me pause was the fact that he knew some, if not all, of my past. So, he should be aware that I was not someone to be trifled with. If he remained so confident in light of those facts, then he might be more than just worrisome to someone like me. I decided to try something to get a better handle on his abilities.
As he moved in once again, I sidestepped and threw a kick into his side as hard as I could manage from my awkward position. It was enough to knock the wind out of him but not enough to slow him down much. I immediately felt him respond with a kick to my knee. As luck would have it, I was lifting my leg at that moment; it didn’t break, as he had expected. It hurt like the devil, though. I attempted to find a better position, fast. He came at me again.
He made a weak attempt to trip me, to further damage my knee, but I pushed back, hard. He fell away and then stood up to look at me through angry eyes.
“You are really beginning to annoy me, Terr—” His words trailed off as his eyes widened. I saw Elizabeth standing behind him. His expression turned to one of pure fury and he turned on her. A nasty splinter of wood, most likely from the bench, protruded from his back.
He grabbed her by the neck and lifted her from the ground, tossing her into the middle of the street. As she landed in a crumpled heap on the asphalt, he was already following after her in a rush. I tried to move to intercept him, but my injured knee slowed me down far too much. He was on her by the time I grabbed him by the hair.
As I yanked as hard as I could, he had Elizabeth in his own grasp. They both came up as I pulled. He ignored me as he took her neck in his hands and began to choke her with a determination only a Protector can muster. I reached for the piece of wood in his back. I grasped it, pulled it free — to his howl of pain — and shoved it straight into his heart through his back.
Elizabeth fell to the ground, unconscious. Any human would have been dead already. We have amazing resilience to match our inherent violence. Still, I hoped that she was okay, as he turned on me once more. He screamed and jumped on top of me with the full weight of his body, pounding me into the street. My head struck the pavement with a sickening thud and everything went black.
* * * * *
A soft and beautiful face, framed in bright blue hair swam into my brightening view. She was terribly scarred and bloody across the cheek from the contact with the asphalt. Her smile was all I needed to know that we had won.
“You did it, Trip,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “He’s dead.” I sat up and the world spun. I got to my feet with her help and saw that several street people were watching us from about eighty yards away. “Yeah,” she offered, “We’ve got a bit of an audience. We should get out of here. It’s getting close to dawn.”
I saw horrible bruising blossoming around her throat and her voice would take a couple of days to recover. Still, she was alive and so was I. Ashes that were all that remained of the Protector.
Would we both be targeted by the Hierarchy now? From the way our attacker had spoken, I suspected it wasn’t the Hierarchy who was after Elizabeth. It was the Protectors, themselves, who were holding the grudge.
“You need a place to stay,” I asked, as we trudged toward the sidewalk. I knew we could at least make it back to my place in plenty of time.
“Haven’t you done enough?” she whispered, with a smile. I stopped and looked back at the ashes, wafting away in the breeze. A few folks were still staring after us. I leaned in to her with a slight smirk.
“Hey, it’s just another night in Hollywood.”