We are getting closer to the end with this installment…
If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:
- Read Chapter One here
- Read Chapter Two here
- Read Chapter Three here
- Read Chapter Four here
- Read Chapter Five here
- Read Chapter Six here
- Read Chapter Seven here
- Read Chapter Eight here
- Read Chapter Nine here
- Read Chapter Ten here
- Read Chapter Eleven here
- Read Chapter Twelve here
- Read Chapter Thirteen here
- Read Chapter Fourteen here
- Read Chapter Fifteen here
- Read Chapter Sixteen here
- Read Chapter Seventeen here
- Read Chapter Eighteen here
- Read Chapter Nineteen here
- Read Chapter Twenty here
- Read Chapter Twenty-One here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Two here
One in a Million – Chapter 23
Spooking the Straights
Oliver’s Garden was the best cheap Italian restaurant in the city, that being entirely relative. What they really had going for them was the ability to take reservations, put large parties in relatively secluded places, and they offered outstanding pizza at reasonable prices. It was a favorite for any Comix Comix Comix special occasion. D.J. always booked the Ratpack room, a kitschy mélange of red velvet, old gambling paraphernalia, and movie posters, album covers, and photographs of the various Ratpack members. A large table was placed centrally in the room, which is where the staff of Comix Cubed sat. D.J. chose a booth for him, Leslie, Hazel, and Jane in the corner, under an iconic picture of Frank, Sammy, and Dino shooting pool.
When they arrived, D.J. played big shot, calling the greeter by her first name. She didn’t remember him, of course, but she acted like she did, and sent them directly to the back. Their waitress had only started her initial approach when D.J. ordered two pitchers of beer for the staff, along with three extra large pizzas. It looked classy, but it really wasn’t. They ordered the same thing every time. Geeks were creatures of habit.
The booth turned out to be very cozy, with D.J. and Jane on the inside, and Leslie and Hazel on the outside. The women kept the chatter lively and loose. D.J. tried to follow it but after about thirty seconds and not hearing a single buzzword that would allow him to guess the context of what they were saying, he let it wash over him and instead concentrated on not paying any attention to the fact that he was a foot and a half away from Jane Callow, the object of his most ardent affection.
After they placed their orders and the wine was brought forth, D.J. filled their glasses and offered a toast: “To a wonderful way, beautiful women, and cold, hard cash.”
Strangely enough, everyone liked the toast and clinked glasses. Hazel and Leslie leapt into a deep discussion about Strangers in Paradise, Terry Moore, and other comics featuring women, leaving D.J. and Jane to make small talk on their own.
“You okay?” D.J. asked. “You signed an awful lot of books.”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Jane said, offering a fetching stretch as she laced her fingers together and lifted her arms up over her head. “Right as rain. I could go dancing after this.”
“Wow,” said D.J. “Lot of energy.”
“Oh, I feed off of the crowds,” Jane said, smiling.
D.J. opened his mouth and then abruptly took a drink. “I hope you like this wine. I’m not an expert by any stretch.”
“Yes, it’s very good,” said Jane, smiling. “I meant to tell you earlier how much I liked your T-shirt.”
Leslie nudged him with her elbow, as if by accident. This was their pre-arranged signal to let D.J. know that Jane was flirting with him. D.J. glanced down at his monochrome Bela. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Thanks. I love the first Dracula, but I prefer the Christopher Lee movies.”
“You know what my favorite vampire movie is?” Jane asked.
“Let me guess: Fright Night,” said D.J.
“Yes!” she nearly screamed. “You’ve read that somewhere, haven’t you?”
“No,” said D.J. “It’s just that anyone with brains and taste and striking natural beauty would consider that one of the best modern vampire films of all time.”
“You are entirely too sweet, Deej,” said Jane. Her teeth were so white against her red lipstick.
D.J. licked his lips, smiled back, and said, “You know, we’ve met before.”
He felt Leslie kick him in the ankle. Another pre-arranged signal to let Deej know when he was venturing into dangerous conversational waters.
Jane looked down at the table and said, “No, I don’t think we have. I’ve met some socially awkward people ever since I became a best-selling author, and while I don’t remember everyone, I am sure that I’ve never met the person sitting next to me right now.”
Leslie kicked him again, harder this time.
“Maybe some of those socially awkward people were just so dumbfounded to be standing in front of you,” D.J. said carefully, trying not to wince as Leslie tried to chop his shin off with the side of her shoe, “that they would have said anything that came into their heads, rather than say the thing that they were trying to say.”
“That’s an interesting theory,” said Jane, leaning closer, elbows on the table, her head in her hands. She was wide-eyed and looked innocent, if not coquettish. “So, you think some of these ‘socially awkward’ types might have said something stupid when they were really striving for an honest connection with me?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” said D.J.
“Fascinating, but there’s no way of knowing what they would really say to me if they were, for example, having dinner with me.”
“If only there were some way to loosen there tongue,” D.J. agreed.
“Hey guys?” Hazel tapped Jane on the shoulder. “Me and Leslie are going to go look at the mobster memorabilia.”
“Toodles,” said Jane.
“Would you bring me an ice pack? For my ankle?” D.J. asked Leslie.
“Ha ha,” she said. “You are so on your own.”
“I’ll be all right.”
The girls walked off, murmuring, heads together like Siamese twins. D.J. noticed the staff whispering and talking about him, but he shut them out, focusing all of his attention on Jane Callow. “I can’t believe they ditched us.”
“It’s understandable,” said Jane. “We’re pretty boring.”
Her eyes locked on his and suddenly, D.J. felt as if she were inside of his head. Jane let out a small cough and broke eye contact. She took a drink to cover her embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” said D.J. “You can look around if you want to.”
Jane cocked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
D.J. re-acquired her gaze. “I’m not going to tell anyone.”
Jane leaned forward, smiling. “Tell who what?”
D.J. took a deep breath and said, “You don’t have a reflection. You wear only black, like Neil Gaiman. Your skin is like porcelain, pale, and cold. Your eyes don’t open up or close when light hits them. And sometimes you speak like you’re so bored, so sick and tired of the world around you. I’ve never seen you in the sunlight. How old are you, anyway?”
The question seemed to surprise Jane. “Why, I’m…twenty three.”
D.J. didn’t miss a beat. “You look like you’re seventeen. You’ve looked like that for—“
Jane stopped him. “A while. I know.”
D.J. repeated, “I know what you are.”
Jane bore down on him. Their faces were six inches apart.
“Then say it. Out loud. Say it.”
D.J. smiled. “You’re a vampire.”
The word seemed to hang between them like a stolen kiss. Jane said quietly. “Are you afraid?”
D.J. shook his head ever so slightly. “…No.”
Jane sat back in the booth, allowing both of them to breath normally again. “Then aren’t you going to ask me what I eat?”
“I sorta assumed it was blood,” said D.J.
Jane looked away and said. “Well, this is awkward.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” said D.J. He added Leslie mentally and with a boldness he didn’t feel, he reached out and gently touched her hand.
Jane looked down at his hand on hers. She slowly turned her hand over, until their fingers were intertwined. “I’ve not had a man in my life for…”
“I don’t want you to feel…”
That was as far as either of them got. Suddenly, the room felt electrically charged. Everyone looked up to see Larry Croft, his eyes wide and nearly glowing, come tearing through the restaurant, making a beeline for their table. D.J. could see Holly following behind, her head down, one hand over her eyes as if she were avoiding photographers.
“D.J. McGuiness!” Larry roared. “My boon companion! Come! We have much to do and little time to do it in! The fate of the Castro, and the fate of Turk and Rhonda, relies on our swift action!”
“Larry, what the hell are you doing?” D.J. hissed.
“Hi,” said Holly. “Sorry about interrupting. But there’s kind of an emergency.”
“Friends of yours?” Jane asked.
“Um…yeah. Larry, Holly, this is Jane Callow.”
Holly started. “Oh hi! I loved your book!”
“Charmed,” said Jane. She stared at Larry. “And you are…very interesting…”
“And spoken for,” said Holly.
“No offense,” said Jane lightly.
“None taken,” said Holly. “When he’s like this, he’s kinda irresistible.”
“When he’s like what?” D.J. snarled. “In ‘Obnoxious Gamer’ mode? This is a business dinner, Lar.”
“You will address me as Stercutus,” Larry bellowed.
“Oh shit,” said D.J.
“Exactly,” said Holly.
Hazel and Leslie suddenly appeared on either side of Holly and Larry. Leslie was wearing some of Hazel’s lipstick, Jane noted. She looked at Hazel, who shrugged and smiled and turned away. Leslie bored right in. “What the hell is going on? You’re freaking the mundanes out,” she said.
“You want the short version?” Holly said.
“Yes, please,” said D.J.
Holly turned to Leslie. “First off, I’m sorry, Les. You were right. Rhonda is in trouble. Big trouble. She’s going to sacrifice Turk and his virginity to gain power over…well, let’s just say, Rhonda is messing with forces she can’t possibly control.”
“What utter fucking bullshit,” said D.J.
Larry leaned over the table. “Gaze into mine eyes, D.J. McGuiness. You know your friend Larry Croft to be many things. Has he ever lied to you?”
“No,” said D.J. For all of Larry’s interesting quirks and faults, he was a straight shooter with his friends.
“Then hear this, if you believe nothing else: your friends are in danger. It may be too late to stop them. But if anyone can reach them, it’s you. Will you help me?”
D.J.’s heart shattered. He turned to Jane and said, “I’m so, so sorry. But I think I need to help my friends.” Jane and Hazel exchanged quick glances. “I would really love to make it up to you, though, Les…I mean, Let’s try this another night?”
“Whoa there, cowboy,” said Jane. “Who said this is over?”
“Well, I’ve got to go…”
“Why don’t me and Hazel tag along, and then when you’ve done what you need to do, we can pick back up where we left off?”
D.J. cocked his head. “Are you sure? This is really not your problem. For all I know, it may be a big stupid waste of time.”
“You never know,” said Jane. “I might have some special insight into whatever the problem is.”
D.J. looked over at his staff, who were all staring at them like they were circus midgets. “I’ve got the meal,” he said. “Just don’t go crazy on me, okay?”
They nodded, mute. D.J. slid out of the booth. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“The Rhonda’s apartment,” said Larry.
“Les, call Linda and tell her to meet us there.” D.J. brazenly took Jane’s hand and said, “Come on. We’ll make this a date if it kills us.”
The group walked out, with Jane and Hazel having a conversation with each other comprised entirely of knowing looks.