Don’t be a fool for the Devil, darling.Anne Rice
By Michael Conroy
Delilah watched Peter Valensky from a rooftop in the Meatpacking District. No binoculars. No need. She let her hair down and tied the ribbon around her neck. Gift-wrapped. Valensky hurried along, although the street was entirely deserted. He kept glancing over each shoulder — watching his back.
A great metal shutter rattled in the wind. Steaming manhole covers breathed ectoplasmic vapour. Valensky sniffed a gram and pressed the big red game show buzzer. Password: Red Queen.
The black-shirted security guard crossed off Valensky’s name for that night’s intake and let him inside. Not his first evening out at the White Rabbit Club. Six months ago, Valensky’s boyfriend Patrick Dean had skipped town, but she was certain he’d never left.
Sweet conversations and caustic police sirens lingered on the breeze. Delilah zipped up her leather corset jacket and snaked down the fire escape. The cold didn’t bother her anymore, but she’d grown accustomed to wearing items with laced-up sleeves. A little everyday bondage.
Swirling white chalk marks gleamed on the broken road. The alchemy of the streets. Subway trains rumbled under the concrete. If she closed her eyes and listened, she could map the tunnels and sewers that ran beneath the city.
Delilah hit the buzzer and the shutter went up. She saw the pores in the strongman’s nose.
“Password.” Not a question.
Wink. “Red Queen.”
He checked the list. “Name?”
She touched his arm and watched his pupils dilate. “I’m on the list, darling.”
Long pause. “You can enter.”
She blew him a kiss. “See you later, Samson.”
There were only three buttons on the mahogany elevator panel, so she hit the lowest one and braced for the ride down. She had an irrational fear of being buried alive. Nailed shut in a coffin. Oh the irony.
Valensky’s work history looked like a crossword puzzle of New York’s worst hospitals. Time spent caring for cancer patients and sick children at Elmhurst and Weill Cornell with a stint at Bellevue Psychiatric before they closed it down.
He’d arrived in New York fifteen years ago on the Athena, a cargo ship bound from Serbia carrying non-ferrous metals. Russian by birth. He was once fired from a blood bank for gross misconduct. Two words: bite marks.
The security camera tilted her way. Its blinking red eye made her shudder. She pulled a sad puppy face as the chrome doors shunted open.
Crimson strobe lights red-washed every inch of the club. From the sunken dance floor with private candlelit booths to the top-shelf bar along the wall. The bass brought back memories of drums and cannon fire.
Tassled burlesque dancers did the can-can for the glam karaoke madam performing ‘La vie en rose‘ onstage. Pencil-thin eyebrows like Edith Piaf; the biceps and Adam’s apple of Marcel Cerdan.
Delilah slipped past drunken trust-fund socialites and small-fry heroin pushers and tried not to look shifty perusing the wine menu. The air tasted of expensive liqueur and cheap thrills. All strictly legal – the liqueur licence hung on the wall. Not a white rabbit in sight, although the black velvet curtain looked too tempting to ignore.
A yuppie in a button-down shirt slipped his arm around her shoulders and asked her poison.
She brushed him off. “It’s been a long time since my last drink, darling. I’m saving myself for the right man.”
“What’s your name?”
He combed his hair back. “You’re not a cop, are you?”
She tossed her hair in turn. “Not exactly.”
He pressed a handgun into her stomach and fiddled around in her pockets. “I don’t remember seeing your name on our payroll,” he said, brandishing the police badge she carried for convenience’s sake.
Sigh. “I know you’re not going to believe me but that isn’t mine, darling. Honest.”
“How’d you get it?”
Wry smile. “It fell into my lap. I’m like a magpie that way.”
He chuckled, fingers wandering south past her swashbuckler’s belt. “Maybe we can work something out.”
Rebuff. “I don’t play for your team, darling.”
He grabbed a handful of hair and tugged. “You’re coming with me, hot stuff.”
She touched his hand and looked deep into his eyes. “How about you show me the VIP rooms first? I’m searching for a friend.”
He chuckled. “Nice try. Let’s move.” Strong will. She loved a challenge.
One swift elbow and his nose was hanging clean off his face. She snagged his gun, threw him down, and dived for cover. Tables turned over as fireworks erupted on all sides.
Tank top cartel enforcers opened fire on turtlenecked Bratva boys drinking white Russians, but Yakuza swordsmen drew steel and turned them into udon. The mafioso drag queen whipped out a Tommy gun and mowed down the competition like Al Capone’s queer wet dream.
Blinded by gun smoke and sequin shrapnel, Delilah crawled through the firefight and slipped behind the black velvet curtain. She followed the mood-lit corridor and splintered the last door frame on the right. Stage name: Rudolph. But not for the reason you might think.
Inside, she found unmade bed sheets dusted with cocaine. The air stunk of chloroform and ejaculate. Something sweeter too. Blood, what else? Not the love bite Rudie had been expecting. She sniffed again. There, hiding behind all the violence and fornication… The scent of dirt, gravel, rust, smoke, and some acrid, heady aroma… Diesel fuel. She hoped she wasn’t too late.
Steel cranes towered over the flat rooftops and empty billboards of the South Bronx as the night breeze whispered through the freight train yard. Graffiti gleamed against bare brick walls under the floodlights. Hunts Point had a lascivious reputation, but she wasn’t one to sell herself short. Then again, twenty shillings bought a lot more in those days.
Telephone wires buzzed from pole to pole, current surging through the city faster than a steam engine. Delilah parted the barbed wire fence, crossed the deserted train tracks and flung open the carriage container door.
She raised her eyebrows. “Think you’re Jack the Ripper, do you?”
Valensky shrieked and dropped the blood vial. It smashed and the red stuff spattered Rorschach-like on the floor. She couldn’t help but inhale. Sweet, metallic, savoury, violent, subtle, orgiastic. So many flavours.
His groggy, shirtless dance partner Rudolph – incidentally, a rather handsome Valentino lookalike – was strapped to a stolen hospital gurney. Midazolam dripped into his cannula. Cotton wool was taped to the other wrist.
Valensky brandished a scalpel. “Day bahg.” He spat out his white plastic fangs. “Stay back…”
“Someone’s been a very naughty boy. Stealing cattle. Tut-tut-tut. You can’t imagine the bollocks I’ve put up with tracking you down.”
Valensky kowtowed. “We can share him. His blood is warm and sweet. Look!”
He pulled back his sleeve and showed off the ink-black ouroboros on his forearm, so she flashed her wrist in return.
A coiled dragon squatted below her palm: it matched the insignia tattooed behind Rudolph’s ear.
Valensky’s rodent features did somersaults before settling on terrific humiliation. “You’re an enforcer?” he gasped. “But they promised they’d turn me!”
She unfastened the ribbon around her neck and tied her hair back into a ponytail.
“I swear, I didn’t know he belonged to your people…”
She steepled her fingers. “The council aren’t happy, Peter. Lots of hungry mouths to feed. We don’t appreciate familiars like yourself interfering with our food supply. Do you get off on pretending?”
Valensky knocked over a tray of syringes. “Please, don’t hurt me,” he begged, backing up against the grey container wall. He slid down onto his haunches and cowered in a puddle of fetid urine.
Delilah rolled her eyes, grabbed him by the neck and lifted him off the floor. “How about I show you what a real pair of fangs looks like?”
Header image from Pixabay.
Copyright © ‘Food Supply’ Michael Conroy 2020