Caine had no idea how to fold his tie. I watched him fumbling with it for about ten minutes. You would think that a vampire over a thousand would have, at some stage, needed to put his own clothing on.
We were slumming it in a three star hotel. The booking that I had made us for the Blue Cedar on the main street had vanished into the ether of the internet. This was literally the only place we’d been able to find at midnight on a Friday in a city playing host to the semicentennial for the Big-wigs of the undead the next day.
It wasn’t those of us attending the conference that filled every available hotel but our retinue and every average Joe Vampire who would also be in attendance, hoping to catch up with those who led the undead.
Oakley wasn’t a big city but for this weekend it had a bigger undead turnout than Woodstock.
“Jester, attend me,” Caine finally grunted.
I put my facepaints down, I was mostly done anyway, and stood up with the jingle of a dozen bells on my shoes and wrists. He’d been trying to do a Kelvin instead of a Windsor and I undid the tie, adjusted it around his collar, deftly redoing it in a pristine Windsor. Unlike Caine, some of us dressed ourselves in the evening.
Tonight I was playing the fool, a role my benefactor had little appreciation or need nowadays.
Caine grunted as I patted his chest and turned back to my preparations, “I think you look like a woman in a woman’s outfit.”
It wasn’t a sexual comment. Caine and I had never been in that variety of relationship. We are the sort of companions that don’t have to talk all the time; the kind of buddies that just ‘get’ each other, as the young say. We used to be comfortable with the term bosom-buddies, but now days folk laugh at such descriptions. Caine and I could say a lot to each other without actually exchanging words. Brothers in arms, I guess, if you must define such complex rapport as ours.
I frowned, “Legs?”
He looked down at my thin, girly legs and nodded. I let all the air out of my lungs.
Tonight I was playing a male role. Vampires as a society have outdated notions of how women fit into the world. I was a Dominus in my own right, and I liked the anonymity that being male gave me. Dominus females could be counted on my hand with fingers to spare- don’t ask me why, you won’t like my answers.
My charade was tolerated but it was up to me to maintain it.
The costume was going to have to go.
I opened my suitcase, all neatly packed and folded garments arranged inside. I grew up with an appreciation for neatly packing things and being proper with one’s clothing. I found the costume I was looking for at the bottom of my bag and stripped out of the pants and silk shirt I was wearing, hurriedly donning the rumpled one-body suit. I had no compunctions about my patron seeing me in the nude. I live a performer’s life. I don’t have time to be modest.
I sat back down at the mirror and put the last touches on my facepaint- a bloody tear on the right cheek, a black diamond intersecting my eye and brow on the left. My lips; black along the bottom and red along the top. I had just finished applying the grey smudges to my cheeks that forced highlights on the too-white plane, giving me an almost hollow look. When you have the complexion of the undead, white makeup hollows you out a lot.
I looked exactly like what I was- an undead clown.
The suit was old. I’d had it made in 1910, but it had weathered the years well and the colouring matched my face with black, white and red checker patterns at various sectors. My dark brown hair was braided and also chequered in black and red, a feat that involved a creative use of cardboard and temporary sprays to get the wavy locks under control. I pulled my hat on last, slipped into my belled slippers and struck a pose. Caine snorted, unimpressed by my appearance and by the time it took for me to arrange it. The man had no artistic care at all. I rolled my eyes.
“Can we go now?” He was checking his watch.
I nodded, yes; I was as ready as I could be.
He went to the door as I grabbed the last of my supplies: some brightly coloured scarves, juggling balls, a baton, and two thin wires.
My patron was a tall man with short trimmed black hair, the pale eyes of an elder Dominus and the fit, neatness of European heritage. His nose was too big for his face and his lips too thin to be perfect. But there was charisma in the way he held himself; command in his blue eyes that spoke of iron will. His suits were custom made by a tailor who hadn’t changed his methods in over two-hundred years.
Caine and I met in the early 1700’s, and I had thought it perfectly natural that a King would want a Jester in his court.
Caine did not see the humour of it, but since he was generally viewed as a sour and serious old Dominus with no known hobbies, he had been willing to take me in for the sake of giving his reputation and his holdings the conferred “goodwill” that seemed to follow the acquisition of a Jester. The rich have always liked to support the arts, I guess to make themselves feel as if all the gold in their vaults hasn’t sucked their souls out completely. Even if the King had little want or need of a Jester; he had to have one or all the other vampires would gossip. One couldn’t have that.
Oakley City, Nevada was not the most hospitable of cities; the sprawl of the business district had eaten into suburbia, and there were few decent hotels. We’d ended up at the Swan Hotel and Resort Spa halfway across town. The building was bland with grey wood everything, and smelled of chalk and sweaty feet. It also had some of the cheapest paintings I’ve ever seen in a hotel; mostly just poorly reproduced knock-offs and cheap backroom sculptures that I expect turn up in five-dollar shops. I’m not a snob, just still in a sour mood after our original booking had died to a computer error.
We met two young vampires down in the lobby of the Swan, they were unimaginatively dressed like Caine in plain black tuxedos and had that excited, nervous air about them that teenagers get on prom night. The sort of anticipation that told myself and Caine just how young they were.
They didn’t wear the tuxes like Caine, he was King for a reason- he had the ability to look at people and make them feel the inferiority in their bones. I had asked a few times if he practiced that look. He’d never admit it, but I think he liked it when I annoyed him like that.
There was nothing joyful about the conclave tonight; it was the feeding of sharks, favours were the fish. Their Dominus had sent them in his stead, probably to avoid the inevitable conflicts that always sparked at these things. This was my bread and butter. I needed to be seen and admired to keep my own reputation.
I received a pair of matching sharp looks from the two peons. They obviously had no theatre tastes or were too young to know me from my touring days, since anyone who knew me by reputation would have realized who I was immediately; there were few vampires who attended a major social gathering dressed as a clown‒it was kind of a one-man signature. However, they did not know me, and reacted as one might suspect.
“Are you wearing that to the gathering?” Alonzo sneered as we entered the limos. His English had an Italian snip to it and he smelled like he was wearing too much cologne.
I nodded. My role was silent tonight and I was already settling into character. The literal mask of paint over my face helped. A true artist could buffoon someone without speaking a word. I’d decided to be a little nostalgic today; reminding people of the mirth from the times when a Jester was seen and not heard.
Too much modern humour was loud and obnoxious, relying on bland shock tactics to get a reaction from audiences.
“But you won’t even get in the front door. It’s disgraceful,” The blonde next to Caine growled. I think his name was Luke or Louis, he was barely sixty years undead and had hair combed back in a style that matched his age.
He was dressed in a stiff, ill-fitting formal tuxedo and had gone so far as to wax his shoes first thing yesterday.
“This is a serious event. The council is only called once every fifty years,” This from Alonzo.
We’d met them yesterday evening, loitering in the lobby and chatting about the event. Caine had politely offered to share his limo with them. It was a very Caine thing to do.
“Gentlemen, I believe I said this when we first met at the door, but perhaps we should keep to ourselves this evening, no?” The King murmured from the cushions. He had crossed his arms over his chest, eyes closed in silent contemplation.
I shuffled forward in my seat and opened the minbar in the middle of the car, shifting my weight as the vehicle turned a sharp corner. I pulled out the miniature bottle of scotch and poured it into a glass. I passed the glass to Caine.
He frowned without opening an eye, “Don’t start on me.”
I gave my patron wide, innocent eyes that said, “Who, me?”
“You know I don’t care for these silly theatrics, Jester,” He hit the button on his window and threw the alcohol out the window.
I took the glass back and placed it back in the fridge, empty.
“What on earth was that about?” the blonde simply could not keep his mouth shut. It was disgraceful that he had been sent at all. Any child of mine would not have been allowed out of the city at such a young age. He was too easy, the conclave was going to eat him alive.
I looked at Luke, then at Caine, then at Alonzo, then down at the bottle in my hands, then finally back at Luke and smiled. Newbies were so easy to tease without them knowing it.
“Why aren’t you talking?”
“Jester, leave him alone,” Caine’s growl was a warning this time. I stiffened.
I closed my eyes and sat still for the rest of the journey. I knew better than to piss off my patron when he was hungry.
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