Authors: Adrienne Barbeau
Tags: #Fiction, #Vampires, #General, #Fantasy, #Hollywood (Los Angeles; Calif.), #Mystery & Detective, #Contemporary, #Supernatural, #Motion picture producers and directors, #Occult fiction
Peter’s parents’ house was charming. On a corner lot, with a huge pepper tree shading the driveway and a white picket fence all around it, covered in climbing rosebushes. The fence wouldn’t keep out a wolf—hell, my twelve-foot wall hadn’t—but I didn’t think there was much danger I’d been followed. Still, I needed to keep my eyes—and ears and nose—open. And not let on to Peter what was worrying me.
There were more roses lining the brick walkway and a well-tended lawn. The house was two stories, with dormer windows above and a big bay window to the right of the front door. White wooden shingles and red shutters. Santa Claus was driving his reindeer and sleigh across the black shake roof. As we pulled up, I could see smoke coming out of the chimney.
Cars lined both sides of the two streets bordering the house. I pretended to notice them while I scanned the yards in the neighborhood. I smelled a long-gone skunk, but nothing lupine. No werebeast in hiding.
“It looks like someone’s having a party,” I said. “Look at all the cars.”
Three little kids came screaming out the front door and raced for Peter’s legs. “Uncle Peter! Uncle Peter!” The smallest one threw herself into his arms. “Did you bring us presents?!”
Peter said, “That’s not a party, Ovsanna. That’s us. Just my sisters and brothers. Hey, Sofia, Merry Christmas!” He swung her into the air, and she screamed in delight. “You know I brought you presents! Gobs and gobs of ’em.” He freed one arm to pick up one of the little boys. “Merry Christmas, Stefano.”
“Who’re you?” The second little boy looked up at me with the biggest brown eyes I’d ever seen. He could have modeled for one of those Keane paintings back in the 60s. “Who’s she, Uncle Peter? Is she your girlfriend?”
“No, Jeremy, she’s my friend. This is Ovsanna.”
“That’s a funny name. I can’t say that name. Did she bring us presents, too?”
“Listen, buddy, I’ll bet there are plenty of presents under the tree. And there’s a bunch in the trunk of my car. Can you help carry them in?”
Peter put Sofia and Stefano on the ground, and all three children ran for his Jaguar. “Just press the button on the back of the car and you’ll see them all.” He turned to me with a rueful grin on his face. “Sorry about that. I should have warned you. Imagine an Olive Garden restaurant ad with better food, and you’ve got my family. Think you can handle it?”
“I don’t know. I barely survived the
Night of the Living Dead
Smackdown we just went through. Is it going to be much worse?”
Peter laughed. “Only the noise level. Oh, and maybe my aunt Adelaide.”
He was right. As we entered the house, the noise was overwhelming. I damped down my hearing instantly. This was one instance when my heightened senses would only annoy me. Thirty or forty people screamed at one another from across the room. Bobby Helms was singing “Jingle Bell Rock” on the stereo, five children shrieked in a game of hide-and-seek tag, two more wrestled over the back of a sofa, and a baby covered in spaghetti sauce was pounding away on her high chair, with a spoon in one fist and a plastic sippy cup in the other. The decibel level rivaled a rock concert.
Until little Jeremy ran past us with packages in his hands and screamed, “Uncle Peter’s here with a lady and she’s got a funny name, but she’s not his girlfriend and there’s lots of presents in his car!” Every adult in the room turned to stare. And as soon as they recognized me, the room went totally quiet.
I should have thought of it before I walked into my mother’s house with a movie star. I was so busy worrying about how to deal with
Ovsanna was that I didn’t think to tell anyone
she was. I hadn’t even told my mother I was bringing someone with me. My family’s pretty cool, and God knows most of them have been around celebrities at the family catering truck for years. If I’d warned them in advance, they wouldn’t have reacted like thirty-five rubes outside Grauman’s Chinese. Instead, we were faced with dead silence and a lot of dropped jaws. I think my showing up with
was as much a conversation stopper as the fact that the woman I’d brought was who she was. But as soon as my mother crossed the room with her arms outstretched and gave Ovsanna a kiss on both cheeks, everyone went back to their normal screaming and the conversations picked up where they’d left off.
My mother launched into her story of meeting Ovsanna’s mother when Mom was catering the set food for
The Twilight Zone
. Mom couldn’t get over how young Anna Moore had looked at the time, even though it was toward the end of her career, and how much Ovsanna looked now the way her mom did then. Mom dragged Ovsanna off to meet my older brother, Connor, and two older sisters, all partners in the family business my mother started back in the 1960s: King’s Catering—The King of Caterers.
Then Connor introduced her to his wife, and Suzanne and Callie introduced their husbands, and then the cousins and then my younger sister, Quincy, and her partner, Deirdre. My uncle handed her a glass of red, and someone grabbed a picture off the mantel to show her my other sister, Rosalie, who’s hiking the Himalayas, and by the time I caught up with her again, my father had her corraled out in his workshop, where he was showing off his handmade chess sets. He’s a pretty talented woodworker.
“Peter, these pieces are remarkable. I love this one especially. Your dad did all the famous silent film stars—and look, he’s even got my mother as a queen.” She had the oddest glint in her eyes, and when I looked down at my father’s latest collection of carvings, I saw he’d used Orson Welles as a king. Orson was one of Ovsanna’s vampyres, and the last time I’d seen him, just two weeks before, he was a werebull with huge, curling horns—and he
“Well, my wife was a big fan of your mom’s, Ms. Moore. She’s the one who suggested this whole set. They sell a whole lot better than the presidents. I don’t know if Peter’s told you, but Angela has a big collection of movie memorabilia. I used some photos she has of your mom and Mr. Welles to copy the likenesses.”
Ovsanna picked up the rook. It was Peter Lorre, another of her Vampyres of Hollywood. If my father only knew what he’d chosen to re-create, he could devise a whole new marketing plan.
“I’d like to buy it, Seth,” she said, admiring the expression Dad had captured around the eyes. “Not only because it’s my mother, but because some of these actors you’ve carved were friends of hers. I knew them when I was growing up.” She put Peter Lorre down and picked up a pawn. Gloria Swanson. I wondered. Another vampyre? Ovsanna gestured to the whole set. “I’d really love to have this in my home. And you have to call me Ovsanna. Please.”
Ma had food on the table from the time we walked in the door: antipasti, stuffed mushrooms, fried artichoke hearts, marinated mozzarella, clams oreganata, breadsticks, Parmesan crisps, roasted peppers, caponata, tapenade, aioli, chips and dip for the kids, and a wheel of provolone. At seven thirty, she served the first course—farfalle in pesto, linguine in white clam sauce, gnocchi in red sauce, eggplant Parm, manicotti, and vegetarian lasagna for my cousin Camille. Of course, Ovsanna didn’t know that was just the first course, and when the turkey and dressing came out, she looked at me as though
were the ones who weren’t quite human.
It was all buffet. Everyone was so busy piling up food, no one noticed when Ovsanna put down her plate and excused herself to go to the bathroom. By the time she came back, Aunt Adelaide and my mother were going at it.
“Where’s the thirteen fishes, Angela?”
“Nobody eats them all, Addie, I only made seven this time.”
“How can you only make seven? You gotta have thirteen! What, you wanna burn in hell?” Adelaide is my ma’s older sister. Way older.
“It’s a stupid custom, Addie, and it’s gonna go the way of purgatory and fish on Friday. And that last saint they decided wasn’t really a saint.”
“Madre di Dio!”
My sister Suzanne chimed in. “Oh, Aunt Addie, it doesn’t have to be thirteen. It’s just got to be an uneven number. Look, Ma’s got baccalà, clams in the shell, white clam sauce, scampi, peppers and anchovies, fried oysters, lobster fra diavolo—it’s enough already!”
Adelaide’s face was getting blotchy. I couldn’t tell if it was the wine she was drinking or a stroke. “
There were twelve apostles and Jesus, that’s thirteen at the Last Supper, there’s gotta be thirteen fishes! Let me tell you, Angela, if Ma were alive, God rest her soul, she’d be turning in her grave!” It was the wine.
Ma said, “What the hell does the Last Supper have to do with Jesus’s birth? We’re celebrating Christmas, not the end of his life!”
“Hey, the paper the other day said it was supposed to be seven fishes for the seven sacraments.” This from my cousin Tony, who should have known better than to get involved.
Adelaide started yelling, “Ah, you can use that paper to wipe my ass! What do they know, are they in church on Sunday? No! They’re too busy printing lies in the paper!”
Ovsanna put down her plate. “I don’t know anything about Christmas in Italy, Aunt Adelaide, but I can barely hear anything in here. Let’s go outside. I’d love to hear the story of the fishes.”
And it was over as fast as it started. Adelaide followed Ovsanna outside, and I watched them exclaiming over the fruit trees. Ovsanna seemed a little antsy; she kept looking around as though she expected to see someone she knew. She explored the yard while Addie continued ranting about sacraments and sacrilege. I watched them through the kitchen window. Finally Ovsanna put her hands on Addie’s shoulders, stared into her eyes, and spoke so softly to her that I couldn’t hear what she said. And Addie calmed down, just like that.
My mother shot me a look. Even if Ovsanna weren’t a movie star, she’d just passed some kind of test.
“She’s a nice girl, Peter,” my mom said. “A little old for you, maybe, but an awfully nice girl.”
I couldn’t believe the dinner Mrs. King served. The last time I’d seen that much food on a table was in 1575, in Kenilworth at the Earl of Leicester’s feast for the queen. I was only twenty-five at the time and hadn’t had much experience hiding my true nature when it came to feeding, but there were so many revelers that no one noticed the food I didn’t eat. Or the footman I did. That feast lasted seventeen days. Looking at Peter’s mom’s table, I think she had just as much food as they did at the castle.
I couldn’t believe myself, either. Normally I would have had a shrew like Peter’s aunt Adelaide for lunch. Drained the damn bitch until she was too weak to complain. Instead I was acting like Emily Post, making nice and calming the waters. Well, I did mess with her mind a little when I got her alone outside, but only with the suggestion she back off on the annoyance factor. And when no one was looking, I gave her a mild bite wound on the back of her arm to keep her occupied. She didn’t remember a thing, but she spent the rest of the evening itching and scratching. But I didn’t do anything else to the old biddy. I wanted Peter’s family to like me. Hell, I wanted
to like me. I already had a couple of strikes against me, not least of which was involving him in the monster massacre in Palm Springs. I didn’t need to make any more problems for him on Christmas Eve.
Peter and I were seated at the kitchen table, chatting with his mom while she wrapped the leftovers. She’d already served enough desserts to feed an entire movie crew. Things I’d never seen, even living in Italy a few hundred years ago: sfogliatelle, cassata, pandoro, pasticiotti. And then the ones I did recognize: cannoli, tiramisu, zeppole, and struffoli. She had gelato for the kids and a bûche de Noël. I guess Peter’s side of the family didn’t carry much weight when it came to their national dishes. That was understandable; egg whey and blackberry suet pudding don’t sound too festive.
Mrs. King had just offered me a double espresso when a beautiful, blond Valkyrie walked into the room and I was saved from refusing. The woman must have been six feet tall, and she had the most remarkable blue eyes. I knew we’d met before, but I couldn’t place her.
“Well, Merry Christmas, y’all,” she said, leaning down to give Mrs. King a hug. “Ooh, Angela, did you save all of this food for me? Now, ain’t you just the best mom in the whole world?” She popped a shrimp into her mouth, tail and all, and kept on talking while she chewed. “Peter, you know how lucky you are to have your mom for a mom? And to have me for a friend?” She turned to me. “He is one lucky son of a gun. Hey, how ya doin’, Ms. Moore?” She had a bottle of wine in one hand and a shopping bag of gifts in the other, so she didn’t attempt to shake hands, which was fine with me. Physical contact with strangers brings on a bombardment of impressions I can usually do without. “You prob’ly don’t remember me, but I wrangled your snakes on
Bride of the Snake God
. I’m SuzieQ, and I live in Peter’s guesthouse, and it’s sure nice to see you again. You were pretty good in that movie, too.”
As soon as I heard her voice, I remembered her. It was four years ago; she’d had a python named Spiro Agnew and another snake named Dick Nixon. We’d hired her and her python for a movie I was starring in. She’d been on the set for a couple of weeks, but most of her work had involved my co-star, Bruce Campbell. She’d done a good job handling the snake. And Bruce, too, for that matter.
“I do remember you, SuzieQ. You’re a dancer, too, aren’t you?” I remembered Maral mentioning that the cast was going to watch her perform at some Moroccan nightclub. Maral didn’t want me to go. She used the excuse that I wouldn’t be comfortable having to eat with my fingers, which was a little lame when she knew I wouldn’t eat at all. She was just jealous of the striking six-foot blonde.
“Oh, I do just about everything. A little of this and a little of that. Anything short a lyin’ on my back with my legs in the air. Gotta pay this man the rent, ya know.” She handed Peter the bag of presents. “Here you go, sugar. There’s something there for each of the young’uns, and that one on top is for you. Angela, you and Seth get the wine.”
We moved into the living room so Peter could give SuzieQ’s gifts to the kids. There was a flurry of tearing paper and thank-yous and “Look, Mommy, what I got!” Somebody opened a Jeff Gordon NASCAR Barbie doll, and then rubber snakes appeared and Nerf darts started flying.
I blocked out all the noise and concentrated on the conversation that was taking place across the room. Peter and SuzieQ had moved over to the Christmas tree. I was curious about their relationship. They were obviously close friends. I wondered if it had ever been anything more.
“Sugar,” SuzieQ was saying, “what’s going on? Why in the name a Jesus have you got Ovsanna Moore standin’ in your mama’s kitchen? Two weeks ago you were on her ass for bein’ a suspect in all those murders.”
Peter looked over at me, probably wondering if I could hear them. We hadn’t had time to talk about anything personal since he’d learned what I am, but I was sure he’d been reading everything he could get his hands on about vampyres. I wondered if he’d seen
Vampyres for Dummies.
One of the New York Ch’lang Shih clan was the author—his genus unbeknownst to his publisher, of course—and he’d put in just enough misinformation to cloud our discovery for another hundred years. Made me laugh.
“She wasn’t a suspect, SuzieQ,” Peter whispered. “That was her assistant we were looking at, and besides, neither one of them turned out to be involved. Not really. I just happen to find her attractive. And she was alone for the holiday, so . . .”
“Oh, Peter, you are in way over your head. That woman runs a movie studio, sweetpea. She could eat you alive.”
I couldn’t keep from smiling. If she only knew. I caught Peter’s eye and mouthed, “She’s right, you know.”