I wrote this for this past winter's Support Stacie Vampire Auction. For those of you unfamiliar with Support Stacie, please see supportstacie (dot) org and supportstacie (dot) com.
Anyway, Starshinedown won my services and issued the following specs:
As for the "little bit of Josef," I'd love to know more about his history. We get interesting tidbits in the series while he's chatting with Mick, but there's so much that could be explored. It occurs to me that he probably wasn't always the confident mentor-type that he his with Mick. While I know that personalities develop over time, I'd be interested in seeing a point in his long life where he makes that transition; when he becomes a vampire of authority, rather than just-another-vamp. –bid winner Starshinedown
I had a lot of trouble picturing Josef as a wimpy nonentity vampire, so here's what I came up with. I hope you like it.
"No. No. You told me we were going out for a night on the town!"
"Which we cannot do until you get an update."
"No way," said Mick. As far as he was concerned, Josef was way out of line. He'd been hinting about it for weeks, but to just spring this on him like some—
"Mick, get with the times. You're a vampire. You're never going to be an old man, and that means you don't get to live like an old man—" Mick scoffed. "—talk like an old man," Josef went on, hammering in the last and most immediately relevant part of his argument, "or look like one." He gestured behind him, to the immaculate mirror and the lovely blond human hovering nearby with a welcoming smile and a gleaming set of hairdresser's tools. "It's nineteen-goddamned-seventy-three. That doughboy 'do has got to go."
"Josef, are you out of your mind?"
"It's just a haircut—sorry, a hair reinvention," he corrected at the human's full-lipped pout. "Now hop in the chair. We're out of lollipops but Sophie here's working her way through beauty school and isn't shy about letting some hardworking vamps sample her A-negative now and then."
"No!" snapped Mick. "No offense," he said, holding his hands up to Sophie, "but my old lady likes my hair the way it is."
"So you and Coraline are on again this week?" mused Josef. "... Does she know you refer to her as 'old lady'?"
"I don't think I need to respond to that."
Josef sighed, ruffling his moustache with one hand.
"Stop playing with that thing. It looks like it might have hydrophobia," said Mick.
"They've been calling it 'rabies' for years, and don't worry, my 'stache has had all its shots," answered Josef. "Look, I'm gonna level with you, buddy. The community doesn't like the way you've been handling yourself recently."
"And what have I been doing that has ruffled our all-powerful community?"
"Well going to all those swing performances."
"What? I have to love this dusco crap? "
"Disco. And no you don't but you do need to know what it's called so that you can fake it when you have to. And that's not it. That bar where you pretend to drink beer, for one thing."
"What, I like it at Harry's. There are some good guys there."
"Exactly the problem," said Josef. "I know you like talking with other men who fought in World War Two, but you have go to stop hanging around with the bald spot brigade. They're starting to look prosperous and you're starting to stand out."
"Wow!" said Sophie chipperly. "My dad was in World War Two!"
"See?" said Josef. "Her dad was in World War Two! You know, if you want to find other war veterans to talk to, we do have another one going on."
Mick shook his head. "It's not the same," he said. "Half these guys who come back from Vietnam have no idea where Italy even is and the other have no appreciation of what we did there."
"Starting to sound like an old man again, buddy."
"No! It's that this younger generation has none of the discipline or respect or—"
"And the rest of them could use a good stint in the army. I know it taught me some good lessons, like teamwork and brotherhood and—"
"—And no I will not get off your lawn," finished Josef, "at least not until you let Sophie here give it a mow." He flourished the line with a wink in the human's direction.
Mick closed his eyes, shaking his head from left to right. Josef gave Sophie a knowing look. After eighteen years, he could tell when Mick was about to give up. It did not happen often: Once in '58 when Coraline had taken a shine to a Pontiac over a Chevrolet. The damned thing had gotten wrapped around a telephone pole during one of their breakups, and he'd know better than to ask who'd been driving.
"All right," he said at last.
"Great," said Josef, moving forward before Mick could change direction. "You are not going to regret this. When Sophie's done with you, you'll look like the young stud you are."
"As long as I don't look like some—
" 'Damned dirty hippie'?" asked Josef. "As that would require making your hair longer and not shorter, I don't think you need to worry."
"I don't get it," said Mick sullenly as Sophie began to snip away. "There's other vamps been around as long as you have. Who got torched and left you king of L.A.?"
"If it'll get you to stop squirming, I'll tell you."
"Okay," Mick agreed. "This had better be good."
Long ago, there lived a noble knight.
"Josef, you weren't born until the sixteen hundreds. So if this is the Arthur legend starring you as Lancelot, Galahad and the Holy Grail all in one, I'm not buying it."
There were still knights around then. And do you want to tell this? No? Then shut up.
There lived a noble knight. Not the kind that goes around slaying dragons and proudly sidekicking great kings of destiny, because SOMEONE had to be a drag about it. This was the kind of knight who sits in his estate and worries his ass off that the king will actually need him to go to war for him one day.
"Now that sounds more like you."
Because the nobility were expected to be constantly available to the king for military service, the knight wasn't allowed to take up any profession or trade, which made him bored as all get-out. Do people still use that expression? Anyway, he was real bored. And he was broke.
See, back then, the upper classes didn't have much idea of living modestly. They had an obligation to their bloodline to maintain a certain image. Combine that with not allowing them to get jobs and you get some pretty spectacular—and spectacularly devastating—results.
"Well it doesn't look like too much has changed," said Mick between snips.
"Hey," said Josef, "my place may be swank, but I've got the green to back it up. Totally different."
"Uh huh," answered Mick.
Where were we? Oh yeah. The knight was broke as hell. This is why he couldn't resist the alluring offer of the Night Countess.
That wasn't her name, of course. She probably wasn't even a real countess, at least not one whose title was still good. She wore the sumptuous garments and drove the coach of a great noblewoman, but her accent was strange. For all the knight knew, as he stood at his window and watched her enter his courtyard, she was a stranger from Italy or Portugal or even Egypt. But, his trusty young squire would tell him, she was a lady from her bones to her fingertips, and she needed the aid of a great warrior.
And the knight was a great warrior, having won fame for facing the enemy with lance and shield because they didn't have rifles or A-bombs or those little round helmets back then.
Can it. The Night Countess's honor had been impugned. She had been accused of a great injustice, though she protested that she was fully innocent. Had she been a man, the codes of the culture would have demanded that she face her accuser on the field of honor and meet his words with cold steel.
"Did the Hungarians even do duels? I thought that was a French thing."
Who said I was Hungarian? And the French don't own dressing up like idiots and hitting each other with chunks of steel. She was a chick, so she needed someone else to fight for her.
"I thought women sometimes fought duels themselves."
Well this one didn't. The Countess had many strong and brave friends, but her accuser demanded that the duel take place at noon.
"...which is why she couldn't ask any of her vampire boy-toys to do it."
Exactly. Meeting an opponent by daylight would have sapped the strength from their bodies and the courage from their hearts. She needed a mortal champion and she went looking for the noble knight. But she miscalculated. She made a grave error, so deadly to our kind. She lost track of the times she lived in. When she reached the knight's household, she did not find the bold warrior of fame but a kind of chubby, mead-swilling greybeard who was definitely getting thick about the middle. The lady would have been dismayed to find that the human warrior had not kept in fighting form.
"Wait, so the knight wasn't you? And the vampire countess just forgot that humans get older?"
Some of us do. Now can it.
"That people get older?"
We forget all sorts of crap. That's why we have a responsibility to the community to make sure we keep on form instead of losing track like assholes. Anyway, she would have been dismayed. The noble knight had once been among the bravest in the land, more than willing to defend a lady in her time of need, but he wasn't some no-neck meathead with no sense of reality. He knew that he had little chance of winning against the Night Countess's young accuser, who was also a duelist of some reputation. So he slapped a sigil on his squire's chest, said, "Pretend to be me, buddy," and shoved him headlong out the door.
The squire greeted the Countess in the old high form, as he had seen his master do many a time. The lady responded in kind, and, though the squire suspected that she was not fooled, addressed him by his master's noble name. The squire promised to defend the lady's honor with skill and courage, so long as she could meet the agreed-upon price.
"Now that sounds more like you."
The Night Countess looked the squire up and down and promised a mutually beneficial arrangement.
"You mean you didn't get the details in writing? You make the guys sign in triplicate before we can start poker night."
Yes, and Freddy paid up, didn't he? Moving on.
The squire, though pleased that he would be able to complete his task and bring his master out of debt—getting his own back pay in the process—could not understand why the Night Countess had been so willing to play along with the ruse. For although she would not be fighting, her life was no less at risk. During the duel, a rope would be held around the Countess's throat, to choke the life from her if her champion should lose. The champion himself, if not killed by his opponent, would suffer the loss of his right hand.
"Well since you've got both your grabbers stuck on yet, I take it you didn't lose."
It wasn't quite that simple. The squire was light and quick with his rapier, but the countess's accuser, as the challenged, had the right of choosing weapons. He chose the battle mace, a weapon that had bludgeoned its way across Europe centuries before, a fearsome, spiked club as long as a man's arm. Lifting and moving such a weapon required all the squire's strength. Wielding it with grace and vigor was beyond him.
The squire knew his opponent by reputation, and thought with dismay of how many times the expression "arms like goddamned oak stumps" had come up. Although his whole body quaked with fear, and although he knew at least three good shortcuts out of town, he was determined to serve the countess well. He had been raised to honor and serve his master, and to fear the name of coward more than even the most humiliating, masochistic, one-sided pummeling of a death.
The day of the duel dawned clearly, but by noon the sky was thundering down sheets of rain, as if to wash the squire's spirit from the earth. He watched the countess's accuser arrive and draw near. The inspection of the weapons seemed to pass in an instant, and then the battle was on!
The squire ducked and rolled and dived to avoid his opponent's blows, narrowly snagging the end of his waterlogged cloak and slashing at the other man's calves and ankles—the highest he could lift his mace—whenever the opportunity arose. Despite this, he could not help but notice the way the Night Countess's hair was plastered against her smooth neck by the rain, scattering off the thick cords of the noose. He turned and attacked his quarry with all his skill.
And then Fortune took a fateful turn—
"And the other guy slips in a mud puddle and hits his head on a rock?"
. . .
"Wait, you mean that was how you won the fight?"
Well I was going to tell it a lot cooler than that.
Anyway... The Night Countess was satisfied. After all, the man who'd insulted her had died, and that death had technically taken place during the duel. And in watching the squire fight she had come to an understanding of his courage and talents.
"Despite your scrawny arms and beardless chin," she said—and the squire didn't talk back because people just didn't do that in those days—" you have shown more courage than I have seen these past eighty years."
The squire thought that she'd misspoken. Surely the countess was not even thirty. Surely she must have meant eight years. But he bowed and thanked her for her kind words. When he inquired about the payment, she told him to meet her at her house in a nearby city, where he would be fittingly rewarded.
So the squire showed up at the appointed place and time, expecting to receive a sum of money that would cover his master's debts. But instead, the countess's reward was ...life. And a satisfying one, though his body became as cold as the rain that beat down on him that day.
"Huh," said Mick.
"Well it would have been more entertaining if you hadn't constantly interrupted me."
"No, no. It was good."
"Well," answered Josef, gesturing over Mick's head, "that's not the only thing that looks good. Thanks a million, hon," he said familiarly to Sophie.
The human, pink-cheeked, gathered up her scissors and clippers and left without a word. Mick's eyes didn't leave Josef's as the human closed the door and walked out of earshot.
"All right, what was that?" he demanded.
"What was what?" protested Josef.
"Your bullshit story," said Mick.
"What, you didn't like it?"
"Oh no, it had great pacing and a really original score—what the hell, Josef? It couldn't have happened that way!"
"What, why not?"
"One," Mick held up a finger, "keeping the nobility out of work was a French thing. You don't talk much about your human life, Josef, but you sure as hell weren't eating foi gras and taking rapier lessons. Also, the location of the field of honor had to be approved by both guys, so forget about a vampire agreeing to a duel at noon, and you left out everything about seconds."
"How would you know?" asked Josef.
"Coraline was going on about it last week."
Josef narrowed his eyes.
Mick turned away, a smile cracking his face. "It's the girl, isn't it?" he asked, clapping his palms down on his knees in a laugh. "You tell me that story, and she goes and tells all her freshie friends what a chivalrous little hero you are, and you get free A-negative for God knows how long."
"You're just jealous that you didn't think of it first." Josef's eyes narrowed over a thin smile. "However, I did notice that you didn't voice these particular suspicions of yours until after she left."
Mick shrugged. "What are friends for? There's just one thing I gotta know."
"And what is that, great detective?" asked Josef.
"Sophie," Mick said with a gesture toward the top of his head, "uh, how far along is she in beauty school?"
Josef smirked. "Well, we all have to make sacrifices for a greater good."
"Oh you son of a—"
"Look at it this way, at least we're not the kind of vampires who can't be seen in mirrors, so at least you'll know how big of a hat to get."
"God damn it."
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu
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