By Keith Deem
Raven called, wanting to hang out. But I told her I was going to a party. She didn't like the idea, especially after I told her where it was.
"I think I know where that house is, Tomas. And a group of gangbangers called the Southside Los Cholos hang out there."
"How do you know that?"
"There's an Hispanic girl in one of my classes at West High who is always chatting it up with another girl about the Los Cholos and the party's they have down below the Salt River bed on 17th Avenue and Corona-they are always asking each other if they are going to Corona to have some Coronas with their vatos."
Great! I thought-more goddamned gangbangers.
After hearing this, I was even more determined to go it alone and try to talk Jessica into leaving. "I'm sorry, Raven, but a friend invited me, a friend who probably needs help. And if it's a gangbanger hangout, it'll probably be best if I go it alone." She still wasn't happy and invited me to go over to her house and play video games instead, but I felt I had to watch out for Jessica. The revelations of the past few days had given me confidence, even a sense of invincibility. Somehow, I just knew the party would be dangerous, and I wanted to be there for Jessica. Even so, I promised Raven that I'd wear the pentagram pendant on my silver chain.
"Good," she said, "it will keep you safe against evil."
If we were on clear status, we were allowed to stay out until 10:00 pm. As I was getting ready, Austin asked me to join him and Cody at the movies that night, a 3-D Transformers film. You really ought to avoid gangbanger parties, Tomas," said Austin, "you could get in a lot of trouble." But I declined his offer and reassured Austin that I could take care of myself. I slipped into a plain black T-shirt, some blue jeans, my favorite D-Backs cap, and my white Nikes before leaving for the party a little before 7:00 pm. Raven's sterling pentagram on my long sterling chain actually didn't look all that bad with the black T-shirt.
Jessica called me in route while I was still on the bus. "Hey, I'm going to be there a little later," she informed me.
"Maybe not until about nine o'clock or so."
I felt disappointed that Jessica would not be there when I arrived, but if she got there by nine, there would be time to convince her to leave and still get back to the residence. "Okay, I'll see you there."
"Don't leave. I want to see you."
"Sure, no problem."
I hated the thought of hanging out with a bunch of drunken gangbanger vatos for a couple of hours, but I ended up going to the house at Corona and 17th Avenue early anyway, just in case Jessica showed up any earlier than she expected. By the time I showed up, the neighborhood was already shrouded in darkness. Despite the dark, I could see the house was plain, two stories, dirt yard, and offered a sizeable back yard. That's where I suspected most of the party would take place, and I could see there were already some guests gathered back there drinking beers. To my surprise, Labron opened the door. Even more to my surprise, he was all smiles.
"Well, if it ain't my favorite peckerwood. Come on in, cracker, Jessica told me you was coming."
"Easy, dog, we cool. Jessica done paid off what you owed me." My muscles tensed at the mention of owing this thug anything.
"Ain't nobody gonna bother you here tonight, so chill out." He motioned for me to move closer. Check it out, dog," he spoke in a low voice close to my ear, "I might be needing some back up." He glanced over his shoulder. "We on some unfriendly turf here."
"But I don't even know anyone here," I answered softly, going inside. There wasn't anyone around at that moment except Labron and me.
"Ain't you friends with Jessica? And Jessica with me. The friend of your friend is your friend when you around enemies, dog." Labron looked around uneasily. "I wouldn't even be down here, but my dope boy say we got to make peace with these People Nation mutha fuckas. He got bank, and he need us all working together for some damn reason or ain't nobody getting they shit. And these fat-ass rolo-cholo mutha fuckas got even less love for white boys than my homies. And they gonna be a lot of these south side mutha fuckas here tonight-so I need every home boy I can count on."
Labron slapped me on the shoulder and laughed as a Mexican with a shaved head and an angry look went by. "You see what I mean. They ain't too hip to this peace and love shit either. Things could be ugly."
"Could this party be a set up?" I asked. "How well do you know this connection of yours?"
Another Mexican gangbanger with white sneakers, white shirt, black pants, shaved head, and a black bandanna folded over his shoulder walked by. "¡Qué pasa! Step aside, gringo, step aside, comin' through with the brew." This guy actually seemed friendly while another heavyset cholo strained with the load of a beer keg followed the first. Then men disappeared with the keg into the backyard. The Los Cholos in the place looked uniform and highly organized in comparison to Labron and his Crips.
"Yeah, dog," Labron laughed, "It could damn sure be that way." He moved close again. "But I know the man pretty well, dog-so don't be all up in the kool-aid!" He glanced around. "I got a bad feeling, but it probably ain't nothing. And maybe I'm just tripping. So kick it tonight and be easy. But keep your eyes open and keep this where people can see it." He handed me a blue bandanna. "That way, people know who you with if some shit starts. Now, we cool?"
"You can count on me." I looked him in the eye, shook hands, and bumped fists. "Now, where are the Coronas?" I asked, wrapping the blue bandanna around my black and red D-Backs cap, which I pretty much always wore reversed.
We found a fridge filled with Coronas, Dos Equis, and Budweiser. I grabbed a Corona. Then Labron went off to locate the rest of his gang. I downed my first Corona quick because I knew I didn't have much time to drink. I had to drink early, clear my head, and get back to the residence sober without smelling like alcohol. I was supposed to be at a movie at the Arizona Center on 3rd Street and Van Buren. That's where Austin and Cody were. Anyway, I felt like I deserved a few hard-earned brews for all the work I had done the past few weeks. All work and no play sucks.
Shortly, a stocky Mexican guy came around and asked me for a ten-dollar cover charge. I was surprised but didn't argue and gave him a ten. I had just enough left after that to catch a bus home. An hour later, I had put away several more Coronas, feeling less guilty about drinking up now that I had pitched in for the price of a six-pack and then some. A lot more people began showing up, especially gangbangers. And, for every blue bandanna like mine, I counted at least two black rags. After that, a lot of hot chicas started to arrive. Some had escorts; others were without dates, and others were way underage.
By nine o'clock, the guest of honor and his entourage showed up. Everyone called him Angel. Unlike the Southside Los Cholos with their shaven heads, Angel's hair was long, and he wore a mustache with a thin, braided goat-tee. He was a tall, light-skinned Hispanic with darting brown eyes, a black leather greatcoat, black boots, and carried himself with regal dignity. Despite this dignified manner, he reeked of limburger cheese. In fact, the same reek clung to the entire entourage, as if they worked in a cheese factory down in Mexico, yet they all had too much; as Labron had put it, "bank." They were too well dressed to work anywhere for anyone. An Anglo-looking babe wearing a long black gown with long sleeves and arm-length black satin gloves escorted Angel. Two more eloquent looking women escorted two other men, both the men were light-skinned and dark-eyed, longhaired, bearded, and wore long black trench coats. The women wore long black long dresses-each tapered to reveal one leg and bordered with lace. And I had to admit they had some hot legs to show off, but no one else seemed to notice the reek of cheese. So I supposed it was just my own keen sense of smell. But it was a group of a dozen or so teenage girls following Angel's entourage that got my attention. Because within that group of girls walked Veronika.
At that exact moment, I received a text from Raven. "FYI, the Los Cholos are suspects in some local disappearances. And they have ties with a Mexican cartel. PS I sense danger all around you. Maybe you should bail."
I finished reading the text and looked up. Behind, Veronika, bringing up the rear of the entourage, was a group of three men, all of whom, including the one named Paco, I recognized from my last night at the Crips' house. The men looked like recent prison parolees or common street thugs. None of the men were especially large, but each carried a keg of beer, without any signs of strain. Paco with his angry-looking facial tattoos led the way into the back yard. Despite the beers fogging up my thoughts, I immediately recalled what Dr. Gascoigne had said about Veronika being under the influence of a vampire. I thought about how Paco seemed to have some sort of enmity towards me. I felt uneasy. Suddenly, Angel stiffened while sniffing the air. "¡Qué Verigas!" he almost snarled the words. Then he turned to see me sitting on the couch, and, in a flash, he stood directly in front of me.
"You! Who are you?" he asked.
"Tomas," I answered and offered him my hand, but he looked at my hand as if it was a rattlesnake.
"What are you doing here?"
I had gone from feeling relaxed to felt very uneasy. "A friend of mine named Jessica invited me."
"He with me," said Labron. "This white boy be with us. Can't you see his rag?"
"Yes, I can see." Angel answered through his teeth, eyes glaring. Then he turned to Labron. "He is your responsibility, and I will hold you accountable for any trouble he causes. Do we understand each other, Mr. Coleman?"
"Yeah, I got it. He ain't a problem."
"Just remember to keep this dog on a tight leash."
After the first six of the entourage went upstairs and the girls had followed the kegs into the back yard, Labron looked at me, "Sorry about that, dog. Remember what I told you, and keep it real from her on."
"Yeah, I'll do that," I answered, wishing that I hadn't already drunk so many beers. I had lost count of the beers I had drunk, but I had a good buzz going-a damned good buzz. I texted Raven, "Looks like I need a ride home if you can get your mom's car."
Her text came back, "Will do. I sense evil all around you. You should get out. Start walking. We'll pick you up on 19th Avenue."
Labron would not like the fact that I bailed on him, but I could care less. He sure as hell wasn't my friend. I texted Raven, "good idea. real a-hole just arrived."
I was about to get up when the Anglo-looking girl from Angel's entourage showed up with a pipe and sat next to me. "Angel sent me down to share this-with you." She may have looked Anglo with golden hair and eyes like blue fire, but she had a distinctly Spanish accent. "It is a peace offering." She extended her gloved hand. Even as I reached for her hand, I knew it was too late to be smoking up some weed, and I had been trying to avoid the stuff anyway. But I wasn't about to turn down the peace pipe after what had just happened. "My name is Isabella-Isabella Muertanegro."
I took her hand, expecting a shake, but she only allowed me to hold it; it was if she expected me to kiss it or something like that. When I didn't she almost seemed insulted. Then she lit the pipe and handed it to me with a grace of movement that conveyed a sense of royalty.
"So, who are you people, if you don't mind my asking?" I asked. Then I took a hit of the pipe and passed it back to Isabella.
"No, I do not mind. But may I first ask-who you are?"
I let out my smoke, "Like I told Angel, my name is Tomas."
"Please excuse my husband's rudeness; he wishes you to know that he regrets his impolite behavior." She seemed both eloquent and sincere, though in the back of my mind I wondered if her sincerity actually extended from Angel. "Forgive him, Tomas, he is an impatient man. And he is perfectly satisfied with short answers, but I am not. I wish to know your full name, Tomas." She gracefully passed the pipe back to me.
"Tomas Llywelyn," I answered, taking another toke. My head already swam with a buzz from the weed. "This is good stuff."
"You like it?" she asked with a friendly smile.
I only nodded, yes, as I held the smoke.
"It is my husband's private stash." He smile suddenly looked a little seductive. "My husband and I are honored to have you as a guest at our party." I tried to pass the pipe back to her, but she held up her hand. "No, please, you enjoy. I must now get back to my husband. It was a pleasure to meet you, Tomas Llywelyn." She then walked away and back up the stairs without telling me another word about herself or Angel.
It was nine-thirty, and Jessica still hadn't showed. I tried to call her cell but got no answer. The pot was hitting me way hard to have been just plain weed. I thought for sure it had been laced with PCP-angel's dust. I smiled, thinking about the irony-angel's dust, compliments of Angel himself. As I sat there tripping, I knew I had to get back to the residence, but I didn't care. All I really wanted to do was get to the back yard where the sounds of the party were heating up, even though I wasn't usually a big fan of gangsta rap, that's where I wanted to be, right beside a friendly keg of beer. But I was already so trashed I couldn't even get off the couch. Then Jessica arrived.
"What up, bro," she said with a lit up smile. She was obviously just about as wasted as I was. So much for my plan to rescue Jessica from herself. I needed rescuing as much as she did.
Despite her smile, Jessica's face was thin, her eyes sunken. Her clothes looked ragged. She was missing a front tooth and looked like she had been living the life of an addict. Before she could get over to talk to me, Labron caught her attention with some heroin. She has come for a fix, I thought. Here and there, all around me, people had begun shooting up.
Jessica eventually made her way over to sit next to me on the couch, holding a loaded syringe. To me, the syringe was nothing but a rattlesnake, filled with deadly venom. I tried to ignore what she was doing and again apologized for the night at the hardware store.
She blew the apology off, "It wasn't your fault," she used the syringe to draw heroin from a spoon through a cotton swab, "and besides, who really gives a shit anyway." She nodded at the venom. "This is where it's at." Her eyes had a lusty sheen, "you should try this," she was about to shoot up, right in front of me.
I wouldn't have been more horrified if the syringe had really been a rattlesnake, despite my buzz, so, out of fear and desperation, I grabbed her arm. "Don't! I really don't want you to do this," I pleaded.
"What's your fucking problem, Tomas?" She pulled her arm away. "I came here to party." She looked me over judgingly. "You're fucking wasted. So why the fuck can't I get high?"
I grabbed hold of her arm again-this time I used more strength. "I'm sorry;" I tried to explain, "I'm so trashed." I tried to find words, but my head was swimming. "Just, don't do this-please."
"Ouch," she winced. "Let go of my goddamned arm, Tomas," she snapped, angry gleam kindled in her eye.
"No!" I tried shaking the cobwebs from my head. "I won't let go till you promise me you won't do it."
From out of nowhere, Angel suddenly appeared in front of me, looking angry. "Is there a problem?"
"Yeah! There is. This is bull shit," I said, wresting the venom from Jessica's hand.
"Very well, then." Angel whistled to the trio of tattooed ex-cons that had brought in the three kegs. "Paco, Chico, Jose, get this drunken dog out of here." The men had been standing by the back door but had both my arms locked in their cold grips before I could move. He whispered into Paco's ear, "Take him to the gravel pit." Paco nodded back with some silent understanding passing between the two of them.
"Take your fucking hands off me, assholes." I tried to pull away, expecting to toss the smaller men around as if they were footballs, but to my surprise, the men were much, much stronger than they looked. Their grips were vices, and they held their ground as if their feet were anchored to the by steel talons. Chico and Jose twisted and held each of my arms in while Paco led the way out the back door.
I tried to stop and my size and strength managed to halt them shortly. "Let go of me, mother fuckers," I growled.
Paco then turned around and swiftly delivered a hard jab to my stomach. The punch knocked the wind out of me. Never in my life had I been hit that hard. I swear it would have lifted me off the ground if the other two men had not been holding me. Chico and Jose twisted my arms to the breaking point, putting me in agony. Paco then grabbed my right leg and held it bent upward behind me, so that I had to scoot along on one leg. Then they proceeded to dragging me out the door again.
"Hey, you guys, chill out; it's okay, I'll work things out with him," I heard Jessica say over my back.
They ignored her and drug me to the back door. Jessica started to follow, "Where are they taking him?" she demanded. But Labron grabbed her arm and pulled her back to the living room.
"Let it go, Jess." I looked back to see Labron talking with her, "them's Angel's people."
"What are they going to do?" she demanded.
"Don't know, but we got to stay out of it. Your peckerwood on his own now. Ain't a goddamned thing we can do."
The men forced me out the door. I couldn't believe that guys so much smaller than me could be so strong. Something wasn't right. Then it hit me even through the alcohol and PCP clouding my thoughts. It was their smell, the smell of soured milk, their light skin, their unnatural strength, the cold in their cold hands, and Veronika's presence at the party reminding me of Dr. Gascoigne's warning. I suddenly knew what Angel and his crew were; they were all vampires, real vampires, and they had me. And I was too freaking trashed to fight anybody. With that awareness, a thousand icy needles suddenly stabbed me in the heart. My spine shivered. And I began to burn with a feverish heat.
The vampires shoved me out the back gate of the yard north towards the Salt River bed. A storage facility sat directly in front of us, and other large commercial properties filled the area. Before crossing Broadway Avenue, they held me in the shadows of a building where we could not been sighted from the road. When the coast was clear, they rushed me across into the shadows of a large vacant lot where there were no street lamps. Although several blocks from the party, the vampires maintained their cold, iron grips. They were not just removing me from the party; I knew, at that point, my life was in danger. Again and again, I used my size and strength, kicking and pulling to slow them down, but they would not relinquish their holds, moving me in twists and turns past the gnarled steel of a salvage yard and the silent fleet of a trucking company. The demons pulled, tugged, and dragged me ever closer to a barren, rocky pit located in the river bottom where a gravel company quarried for rock during daylight hours. Unless I could escape, that quarry would be my grave.
I had no weapons. I had no way out. At times, my strength even lifted my captors off the ground despite their painful, twisting grips on my arms, but no matter how hard I struggled, I could not break the vampires' grips. I could picture the cold fingers of death ripping out my heart as surely as I could feel the cold hands of the vampires holding vice-like to my arms. My mind screamed with scenarios of them ripping me to pieces and drinking my blood. I bit an arm, drawing blood, and that earned me a serious blow to the head that nearly rendered me unconscious, but I still raged against the vampires. My body continued heating up and my breathing came in short pants. Down we went. We passed a storage facility and struggled all the way to the dry river bottom.
That's when it happened.
The vampires lost their hold of my arms because I had no arms to hold. I glowed blue. I was suddenly a blue light. The cold hands went harmlessly through me as they would a ghost, a phosphorus blue ghost. I was free. I was one with the universe itself; I was the fourth dimension, for only a flashing moment as my cell phone and all my clothing, except the silver chain with Raven's pentacle fell to the ground. The flash had lasted long enough to escape the vampires' grip. Then I was whole again, and my teeth clasped firmly on the head of a screaming vampire. Chico howled like a banshee as my teeth sank with crushing force into his skull. I bit hard. I bit with fury and fear, and I felt bone crack and pop, then the taste of blood squirting into my mouth. Then pain. One of the vampires had struck me with such force that I was knocked into the air and over thirty feet away.
I landed with a thud in the gravel pit but quickly gained my feet, the vampire's head still in my mouth, and, thirty feet away, two glowing red-eyed vampires stood side by side, facing me. The headless, corpse of their companion rested between them. But I was no longer myself.
I stood on all fours. I was a wolf, a great, huge, golden wolf. I felt strength in my muscles and anger in my veins. I felt power. I dropped the head of their companion on the ground in front of me and snarled. I wanted them to see what I was going to do to them. In front of me were my enemies-they were cold bloods, I could tell because I could see their body heat. Their stench filled my nostrils. They were my ancient enemies, and I knew this by instinct. I hated them, and I challenged them again, baring my fangs. The cold blood with the painted face hissed back at me, showing me his fangs. The white face next to him looked ready to pounce, but the painted face held him back. I growled and snarled my fangs, daring them to attack. I wanted their cold blood.
They wanted my blood too. I could see hate burning in their red eyes, but they did not attack. They were afraid. I had already killed one, and the taste of its blood, still fresh in my mouth, made me lust to taste more. I tired of waiting for them to move. I would charge them, and then I would tear the flesh from their faces. But then, a ringing sounded inside my head. A friend's voice spoke on the other side of the ringing, but I could not make out the words. And out in the city, beyond all the noise of dogs barking, gunshots, and sirens, I heard a familiar sound in my ears-a far off howl. It was the call of my pack leader; he called me away.
The leader wanted me to flee, to run away, far away, to where he was. But I did not want to run; I wanted to taste more blood of my enemies'. My leader did not agree; his angry voice finally burst into my mind through the ringing, "run," he screamed into my thoughts. "Run, Tomas-run as fast as you can, run you fool." The power in his voice pulled me away, and I turned and fled down the river bottom as fast as I could run.
My enemies followed. At first, they almost caught me, pulling tuffs of fur from my tail and scratching cuts into hind legs. Even with these injuries, I pulled away from them as I gained speed. But the cold bloods were fast, and I was slowed by pain in my ribs. The blow of the cold blood with the painted face had injured me, and their cuts slowed my hind legs. Every bound stabbed me with more pain. Each bound was slower than the last. My enemies gained as I ran through the dry river bottom and into a wide barren field. Out in the darkness of the field, I could see two figures in hooded capes moving toward me. I could tell by the glow of their bodies that they were warm-blooded. I could tell by their smell that they were females, and as I moved closer, I could see they were both dressed in black. More enemies have come, I thought. I must find the safety of the trees. I must run until I find my pack leader; he will lead me to the forest. I must escape the new enemies, but then one called to me.
"This way, Tomas."
The voice was familiar, the voice of a friend. My friend will help me, I thought, and then we will kill the cold bloods. I ran toward the warm females in black. Then I recognized my friend with red hair. Her mother stood next to her. Now my enemies will die, I thought. The mother of my friend has power. In front of my red-haired friend, I turned to face my enemies, but the cold bloods had already retreated. I growled and barked at them for being cowards. I wanted them to come back and fight.
My friend put her hand on my shoulders and rubbed my coat. She gently tugged the chain around my neck and rubbed the little star attached. Then she returned to rubbing my coat. Her mom stood alert nearby, holding a long and sharp shiny fang, watching for the enemies to return, but I could still hear their footsteps moving further and further away, back the way we had come.
After a few minutes, I tucked my legs under my body and rested with my head still in the air, my ears alert, my eyes looking toward the direction I had come. Something in my blood slowed my heart and made me sleepy and dizzy. My friend's mother rested a hand where the painted face had struck me. Her hand produced a warm sensation, making the hurt go away. My head spun with weariness. The enemies were gone, and I yawned. Then I rested my head and let sleep wash me into dreams.