They were just finishing up their second case of Bud when the Vampire King showed up. Hinckley’s wife wanted to get pregnant again, so he was putting away two for every one of Chad’s. Gerrold was pissed off because he’d gotten screwed by yet another investment opportunity. Also, his wife had left him, backing up over his dog as she tore out of the driveway. Gerry’d been planning on selling that dog to a fellow over in Aiken. He sat in his busted-out lawn chair flicking survival matches at a paint can full of gas.
“Come on, man,” Chad said. “Those cost fifty cents each.”
“This is how I relax,” Gerry said. “My wife left me, my dog’s dead, and I’m broke.”
“How much did you lose?” Chad asked.
“More than I got,” Gerry said. “They told me I could make a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year selling real estate. Goddamn LandTrayde.”
He flicked a survival match and it flew in a perfect arc, landing in the gas can.
“Gimme those,” Chad said, snatching the matches out of Gerry’s hands.
“Who the hell is that?” Hinckley asked, looking past the blazing can. The three of them watched the shiny Prius crawl up the mud track and pull into the big dirt yard in front of the Barn. The spookiest thing about the vampire was how clean his car was.
“Probably a child predator,” Chad said. “They’re always scrubbing their vehicles of evidence.”
“Goddamnit,” Gerry said. “We come out here to bang on shit with tools and forget how our lives are bad country western songs, and here comes some pedophile driving a battery-powered kiddie car asking directions.”
“Don’t stop on my account,” the vampire said, picking his way across the mud. He was beautiful, his clothes were Italian, and he had the diction of a movie star.
“You in a band?” Hinckley asked.
“No,” the vampire said. “My name is Karl and I require your assistance.”
“Fuck off back to Germany,” Gerry said.
“Allow me to demonstrate,” Karl said.
He picked up Gerry’s F-150 by the back end. Gerrold cussed because it wasn’t even close to paid off yet. He reached into his fanny pack and pulled out his Glock.
“Put it down, you fucking meth-head,” he said, his two-handed stance swaying slightly.
“Gerry, you’re drunk,” Chad said. “David Bowie, put down the truck. Gerry put down the gun.”
Karl talked to them casually while holding the truck’s rear tires a foot off the ground.
“It is all right,” he reassured them. “Gerry? I would like you to shoot me.”
“Don’t do it, Gerry,” Chad said.
“I’d already’ve double-tapped your ass if it wouldn’t fuck up my paint job,” Gerry said.
“Come closer,” Karl said. “Shoot me right in the chest.”
“Gerry!” Chad said.
But Gerry was crab-walking towards Karl.
“Do not hesitate,” Karl said. “I will give you this.”
He reached into his expensive suit jacket. Gerry shot him twice.
“Dammit!” Chad yelled, he plucked the gun out of Gerry’s hand, dumped the clip, and popped the round out of the chamber.
Gunsmoke hung in the air.
“It is nothing,” Karl said, casually putting the F-150 back on the ground. “See, I am unharmed.”
He walked towards them, pulling two stacks of cash out of his jacket.
“I am a vampire,” he said. “And I will pay you gentlemen $20,000 to kill me.”
Gerry looked at Chad. Chad looked at Hinckley. Hinckley looked at Gerry. They all looked at Karl.
“I’m gonna need to be a lot drunker for this shit,” Gerry said.
They started out slow. Gerry’d already broke the seal on the thing, but it was still hard to take the first shot.
“On three,” Chad said. “One…two…THREE!”
No one moved.
“I can’t shoot a man when he’s passed out,” Hinckley complained.
Lying in the mud at their feet, Karl looked like a baby. A big, beautiful baby wearing an expensive Italian suit who had just drunk four bottles of Jack and sixteen beers. He snored softly.
“He asked us to!” Gerry hissed.
“That don’t mean it’s easy,” Hinckley said.
“We all shoot at once,” Chad said. “Come on.”
“Why’re we whispering?” Hinckley asked.
This time they each pulled the trigger. Gerry had his Glock, Hinckley had his .38, Chad had his Guide Gun, and when they fired it sounded like a single crack and looked like a single flash.
“We get him?” Hinckley asked.
Chad took a squat and fingered the bullet holes in Karl’s suit. The vampire stirred and mumbled something.
“Didn’t even break the skin,” Chad said.
They each unloaded full magazines into Karl, shredding his suit, ruining his tie, and reducing his shirt to scrap. The echoes rolled away and Karl gave a little wet snore.
“What the fuck is up with this fuck?” Gerry asked.
Chad went into the Barn and came back out with his shotgun. He put it right up to Karl’s face and peppered it with buckshot. Nothing.
“Shitfire,” he said. “We’re gonna have to earn that money.”
They all needed the money.
“$20,000, man,” Gerry begged. “I can double that in two months with my day trading system.”
Hinckley’s problems were more urgent.
“She bought some sexy panties,” he said. “I’m a weak man. She’s get a baby out of me before October. How’m I gonna send ‘em all to law school?”
Chad looked at the Barn and the collection of crapped out cars sitting on the oil-stained dirt lot. This was supposed to have been his moneymaker, instead it was sucking him dry. He didn’t even have enough money to put new tires on his truck. They were so old and bald they were going to blow out any minute and send him spinning off the highway. Might be doing him a favor, broke as he was.
They agreed on a three-way split. The vampire suggested they get him drunk before trying to kill him.
“If I am conscious, I might defend myself,” he purred. “It is better if I am incapacitated first.”
“You care what you drink?” Chad asked.
“It is difficult for me to taste anything that is not a part of my regular diet,” Karl said.
“You on Paleo?” Hinckley asked.
“He means blood, dumbass,” Chad said. “Who’s sober enough to drive? Hinckley?”
“You’re more sober than me,” Hinckley complained.
“I’m not leaving this son of a bitch on my property unattended,” Chad said. “Karl, give Hinckley $100 out of that vampire money. Hinckley, beer run.”
Hinckley came back an hour later with six cases of Bud and eight bottles of Jack Daniels, along with two packs of Pampers and a case of paper towel.
“Mei told me we’re all out at home,” he said, then turned to Karl. “Sorry, no change.”
They sat out front of the Barn and started drinking. No one said anything until Karl moved from Budweiser to whiskey.
“What’s it like to sparkle?” Gerry asked.
“I do not understand,” Karl said.
“Sparkle, glimmer, shine, whatever it is you vampires do,” Gerry said.
“Ah, like the book,” Karl said.
“Yeah, like the book,” Gerry said. “You may be immoral but you ain’t real swift on the uptake.”
“Unfortunately, it is nothing like that,” Karl said. “Being a vampire did not turn out to be what I thought it would be.”
“Thought you’d sparkle?” Gerry asked.
“Something like that,” Karl smiled. “Live forever, I challenge you. I cannot digest solid food. For more than 100 years I have smelled pizza, but not once have I tasted it. I am haunted by memories of investments I never made. IBM! I could have gotten in on the ground floor but instead my money was tied up in canals. It has been 30 years since I have had an interesting conversation. People have been talking about the weather for hundreds of years. It is always boring. Always! I have reached a point where I prefer the embrace of death to hearing once more person wonder whether it is cooler today than yesterday or if this rain will last.”
“Yeah,” Gerry observed. “Sucks to be immortal.”
“To find some purpose I have hunted down the others like me and torn them to shreds,” Karl said. “I am all that is left.”
“Okay, why don’t you get that second bottle of Jack down your piehole,” Gerry said. “It’s getting late and we need to kill your ass and get the hell home.”
It went on for so long that it stopped being serious and got funny, then got serious, then got funny again. They took turns hauling Karl up on top of the Barn and throwing him off while one of them stood in the yard shooting at him with Chad’s shotgun. Vampire Skeet. Chad finally called a halt because they’d gotten so drunk they were mostly hitting the Barn.
They lit him on fire, hit him with kitty litter napalm, dropped a ‘71 Chevy Malibu on him, and tried to take off his head with a cutting torch. They chained him up between their cars, and tried to pull him apart by driving in different directions, but Hinckley’s Caddy kept stalling out, and Gerry’s F-150 just spun its wheels in the mud. Chainsaw blades dulled, radial saws wouldn’t bite, and when Chad clamped his head in the drill press, he couldn’t get the bit to bite into Karl’s eye even with all his weight on it.
“That is sick,” Gerry observed.
“You got any better ideas?” Chad asked.
By now, Karl was wearing a shop apron they’d tied around his waist because Gerry objected to seeing his vampiric junk flapping free. His body was scorched in places, red in others, dirty as hell, but otherwise it was unmarked.
“We’re never gonna get that money,” Hinckley whined.
“How do you even split $20,000 three ways?” Gerry asked. “It’s like he’s fucking with us.”
It was like he was fucking with them, Chad thought. He’d been divorced twice and audited three times and he knew what it was like when someone was fucking with you. He looked at the perpetually pissed-off Gerry and big dumb Hinckley arguing over whether you carry the one or what, and he realized what he needed to do.
$6,650 each,” Chad said. “Take that last $50, Hinckley. You’re going on another beer run. It’s time we got serious.”
“Why us?” Chad asked Karl.
The vampire was feeling the effects of alcohol poisoning. His eyes were sinking shut, his head kept nodding forward and snapping back.
“Your YouTube videos,” he mumbled.
Gerry, Chad, and Hinckley had been putting up YouTube videos of themselves blowing the shit out of shit for a while. Their best was a refrigerator they’d stuffed with home-made dynamite. They’d set it off with an incendiary round and it launched itself into the sky like God kicking a field goal, made a great big arc trailing fire, and punched through the roof of the Barn. They’d had to cover the hole with two sheets of plywood.
“If he can find us on Youtube so can other people,” Hinckley said. “We gonna get in trouble?”
“He’s out,” Chad said, lifting Karl’s arm and letting it fall back down. “Get the guns.”
Chad made sure they pounded so much beer while wiring the homemade C-4 that Hinckley finally had to go inside the Barn and sleep it off. Gerry lasted about an hour longer. In that time, the two of them turned the field behind the Barn into a war zone. They strapped an explosive vest to Karl, they wired him with dynamite, they put him inside an old bank safe and set off a charge so big it puffed out the walls. By four AM, Karl was sporting some scorch marks and minor bruising but that was it.
“Get me another beer,” Chad said. “And get me the rubber tubing and some of the napalm. I’m gonna go deep.”
He turned around. Gerry was stretched out next to a steaming pile of half-digested chicken fingers, snoring softly.
“Finally,” Chad said.
It took him a while to drag Karl around front. The vampire was heavier than he looked.
The first rays of the rising sun were resting on Karl’s face when he cracked one eye open.
“Morning,” Chad said. “I was kind of hoping the sun would make you burst into flames or something.”
“No,” Karl said, standing up and stretching in the cool morning mist, joints popping. “I am very sore but it appears I am still alive.”
“Yeah,” Chad said. “Sorry about that. What happens now?”
“Now I am forced to kill you,” Karl said.
“I figured it’d be something like that,” Chad said. “Them other two are inside, I got ‘em drunk as lords when I realized what was gonna happen. No reason for ‘em to suffer.”
“How deeply moving,” Karl said. “Usually by the time I wake up you’ve all killed each other over the money. You’re so noble.”
“Your poker face ain’t as tight as you think it is,” Chad said. “You cocky-ass European bucket of fuck.”
“How are we breaking our fast?” Karl asked, adjusting his balls as he sat down on the broken lawn chair.
“Moonshine,” Chad said, kicking the wooden spindle between them and making the mason jars clink together. “My daddy’s recipe.”
He raised his jar in a toast and slammed back half of it, then exhaled kerosene vapor and pounded his chest. Karl smiled.
“You did your best,” the naked vampire said. “I’m sure.”
“You were just messing with us,” Chad said. “You knew you couldn’t be killed.”
“A little bit,” Karl admitted.
“Is that fun for you?” Chad asked. “Makes you feel like a big shot?”
“It passes the time.”
“Well, cheers to you, dickface,” Chad said.
The two men clinked mason jars and Karl knocked back his in one slug.
“Thirsty,” Chad observed.
“I have much to do,” Karl said. “You have left me a small mess to clean up and it will take some time.”
“You’ll find a way,” Chad said. “You gonna suck our blood?”
“Don’t bullshit me,” Chad said. “You don’t even got fangs.”
“I have fangs, I assure you,” Karl said.
He parted his lips, his jaw unhinging like a snake’s. Two long, sharp incisors unfolded from the roof of his mouth. He hissed, unable to help himself, which is when Chad struck three survival matches and flicked them in. Karl swallowed reflexively.
“I felt that,” he said, sternly. “I was going to make your passing relatively painless but that was not a pleasant sensation.”
He stood and advanced on Chad, who fell backwards out of his chair, then scooted away on his butt across the mud.
“Where are you running, little man?” Karl smiled.
Then he paused, hand on his stomach. Something inside of him twitched.
“Napalm,” Chad said. “My daddy’s recipe. I gave you a napalm enema, too. Only probelm was I couldn’t figure out how to get it lit.”
Karl screamed fire, and dropped to his knees.
“Your skin was tough as shit,” Chad said. “I figured your guts might not be.”
Black, greasy smoke poured out of Karl’s throat, a secondary explosion inside his cloaca jerked his body and a lava flow of molten innards oozed out onto the ground in an endless mudslide. He lay on one side, panting steam, guts boiling, convulsing painfully. “Don’t thank me,” Chad said, prying the two bundles of cash out of Karl’s hands. “It was my pleasure.”
Karl snatched for Chad’s arm, hitting it hard enough to numb it from the elbow down. The two rolls of bills fell into his pile of flaming organs. They flared up as they caught fire.
“That’s okay,” Chad said. “I did it for love.”
He sat for a while, sipping warm Budweiser to get the shitty taste of moonshine out of his mouth, watching the vampire cook from the inside out. By the time Gerry stumbled outside, squinting in the sun, Karl was little more than a smoldering, deflated sack of indestructible skin propped up by his diamond-hard bones.
“You cooking bacon?” Gerry asked, sniffing the air.
“Killed that vampire,” Chad said.
“Smells good,” Gerry said, popping a Bud, and dropping into a lawn chair.
When Hinckley got up, he took his morning piss on Karl’s skin bag.
“That’s what you get for fucking with a bunch of good old boys,” he said. “So how’re we splitting up that money again?”
“There is no money,” Chad said. “It burnt up.”
He pointed at the two nuggests of charred paper immersed in the smoldering mess.
“You burnt our money?” Gerry asked, jumping to his feet, knocking the lawn chair over backwards. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“How the hell am I gonna pay for another baby now?” Hinckley yelled, on the brink of tears. “I was counting on that!”
“Your baby?” Gerry roared. “My retirement fund! I don’t have a safety net anymore thanks to LandTrayde! And you went and burned it all up.”
“You’d prefer I let him kill you?” Chad asked.
“You’re jealous because you knew I’d invest it and double my principal in six months,” Gerry said. “You’re a petty man, Chad Bowers.”
“You’re jealous,” Hinckley said. “You envy me the family love I’ve got in my life. You’re a sad, lonely man.”
He turned to go. Gerry followed.
“Wait just one minute, you assholes,” Chad said. “I saved your lives. That cash was collateral damage.”
“I’m sure it was, you jealous prick,” Gerry said. “Come on, Hink. Let’s get the fuck away from this little man before he drags us down to his level.”
“Yeah,” Hinckley said. “See you next Tuesday.”
“I’ll bring my hex wrenches,” Gerry said. “Yours suck shit.”
“Fine,” Chad said. “Get on out of here. Leave me to clean up.”
“Serves you right,” Gerry said. “You burnt up our futures.”
Chad watched their cars bounce up the mud track and vanish into the woods. Then he sat for a while, contemplating his situation. It took him another warm beer before he started seeing the silver lining. He hosed Hinckley’s piss off the vampire husk and picked it up. A few measurements and he felt like it was about right. If he could just find a way to cut it there was plenty here.
He might be getting those new tires after all.