Just for the fans for Halloween!
CANDY FROM A VAMPIRE
Leo stood outside the Royal Mojo Blues Company, a bucket—a cauldron, really—that was filled with individual servings of candy, in front of him. Each piece was wrapped in paper, or foil, or foiled paper, with the ingredients in tiny print on back, showing calorie content and fat content, which was significant, and nutritional value, which was negligible. He had always thought that was the point of candy, that it was to be nothing but sugar and fat and delicious. A treat, back in his day, a sweet that was earned when he had done something good, like staying on his pony through a trot, over small fences, or translated a particularly difficult Latin tale into the French or Castilian or Greek, as his tutor demanded. His hand beaten with a thin strip of wood when he failed, and his presence at dinner denied. Treats when he succeeded. It was the way of his father’s house. Carrot and stick. Or candy and stick. It had been effective then. Now children could have sweets at every meal. And on All Hallows Eve, so much the more.
It was scarcely past sunset and the streets were filled with adults in various stages of inebriation, accompanied by various stages of nudity, the closer to Bourbon Street one drew. Costumes that did far more than hint were everywhere, even here at the Mithran Council Chambers. But here, as tradition dictated, there were children. Many, many children.
Halloween in the French Quarter of New Orleans had been changed forever when Marilyn Monroe had attempted to turn John Kennedy in the Oval Office and been staked for her troubles. That next year, 1963, Leo had appeared for the first time, in full tuxedo and a black cloak, with scarlet silk lining, to hand out candy. Personally. The children had been bussed in from all over the city at Mithran expense. And back then, a parent thought nothing of putting children on a bus and sending them off for a party, which was what he had put on for them, all along the street in front of the chambers.
There had been witches in every doorway, some with hot cauldrons full of liquid pralines which they ladled onto waxed paper and gave away, others giving away popcorn balls or caramels. Jugglers, clowns, artists of every stripe were encouraged to display their wares. Musicians stood on every street corner, with baskets or open instrument cases before them for tips. There were pony rides. The press wandered among the crowds, taking photographs for the Times Picayune and to show on CBS or NBC or ABC, all across the nation. The party had been a ploy to turn public opinion favorable to the newly revealed Creatures of Darkness, as described by a young, up and coming newsman whose name he had long forgotten.
The street party had been successful at the time. Now, fewer parents allowed their children onto the chartered busses, throwing parties for them in the safety of their schools or in private homes. And when they did allow the children aboard, the parents came too, holding the child’s hand.
There were fewer and fewer newsmen and women on the streets to photograph the decades-old tradition. Perhaps in a few years, he would discontinue the party, or perhaps make it bigger. He could add wine tasting and beer tasting, and persuade restaurants bring their foods to taste, in order to attract an older, more sophisticated crowd.
But there were still a few here tonight. Children and reporters both. Enough each year, to brave the Quarter for the joy of taking candy from a vampire. And this year, one of the candy makers was a real witch, one he recognized from her dossier. He nodded his head regally to Suzanne Richardson-White, an earth witch with a gift for making pralines that rivaled Aunt Sally’s. It was a sign of improvement between the races that she was here, in public, sharing a street with a Mithran. On All Hallows Eve. She nodded back, an amused expression on her face.
A little girl with bright red hair raced up to him, her brown paper sack held out in two tiny fists. “Twick or Tweat, Mr. Pewisir.”
“Oh, please. No tricks tonight,” Leo said, reaching down and lifting up enough candy to turn the little girl into an instant diabetic. He let them all fall in a cascade of shushing sound into her bag. He felt the moment the cameras focused on him and the little girl and he smiled his public smile, toothy but totally human, the smile that the whole world knew.
“Thank you, Mr. Pewisir,” the little girl said, before racing away to the next candy station.
“You’re welcome, my dear,” Leo replied, thought she was no longer there to hear, and a tiny tot in a cowboy suit took her place, his father standing behind, smiling, as if remembering the time he took the bus to this section of the French Quarter to receive candy from a vampire.
The hours wore on, and the crowds thinned. The moon rose in a hazy night sky.
Suzanne dipped up the last of the candies and closed up her booth. She packed her mini-cauldron and the brazier that had kept the melted sugar hot. He watched from beneath the streetlight as she moved, her body encased in a corset, the laces holding and reshaping her curves, her breasts thrust up high and rounded. Her flowing witches’ dress was made of silk and netting, the fabric catching the night breeze as if a spell caused it to float. She wore ankle boots with tiny spike heels and the kind of old-fashioned buttons that had to be closed with a hook. He had always loved taking such shoes off a woman. And corsets.
Leo smiled. The girl was all of twenty, a college student at Tulane. He had learned that acting on such thoughts was considered improper for anyone, especially for an old man such as he. Jane Yellowrock had made him rethink many things that he had once taken as his due.
“Shall I pack everything away?” Del asked, interrupting his reverie.
Leo turned to her and smiled his non-public smile, the one he kept for retainers and blood-servants, especially those he depended upon for security and a pleasant life. “Thank you, Del. Yes, It’s late.”
Del spoke into a head-piece, calling in the menials who would clean up and take down the candy stand. She was efficient and beautiful and far too bright and accomplished to be acting as caterer, though as Primo, that was part of her job from time to time. Perhaps too often.
“Del?…” She looked up at him, instantly alert for any need he might have. He studied her in the wan yellowed light that tried unsuccessfully to replicate gas streetlights of his early years in New Orleans. “You look lovely tonight. Are you happy in my employ?”
Del’s blond brows went up in surprise, wrinkling her forehead. “Thank— Sir?”
She sounded … nonplussed. As if he never asked such things of her, of any of his dependents. And perhaps he had not done so, not in a long while. Had ruling made him hard and insensitive? Jane had insisted this was true, the last time he called her for some small service. Her exact words had been, “Do it yourself your Royal Fangyness. This is my day off. And maybe it’s time to stop being such a royal ass.” She had hung up on him. And while he had raged, he had also enjoyed the exchange, her indifference, her rebellion, her refusal to bow before him.
To Del, Leo said, “I have been remiss in asking. I want you to be happy, in my service, Del. I want you to find joy here, in New Orleans, fulfilment. What can I do to make certain that happens?”
Security closed in around him, their small crowd moving down the street. A limo pulled around the corner. Behind him, the kitchen servants began to tear down the candy stand. He and Del walked toward the approaching the limo, their legs illuminated in the headlights.
“I don’t know what to say,” Del admitted as the limo slid to a stop beside them. The door opened and Derek Lee, head of security, stepped out, scanning the darkness for threats. Del slid in, her blond, upswept hair and pale skin catching the light. But her eyes were brighter than he had seen in some time.
Yes. Jane was right. He had been more than remiss. “Well, think about it. You are not a menial, but skilled and capable. Your legal degree and aptitude make you too valuable to waste on tedious and humble tasks. You have proven both ability and loyalty.” He smiled again as Derek took his place across from them and closed the limo door. The armored vehicle pulled into traffic. “I am prepared to entrust my personal legal affairs to you. Perhaps I shall also ask you to oversee the financial affairs of the city and the clans. Such jobs as these,” he indicated the darkness and the stand that fell behind them, “could be better administered by a secretary or personal assistant.”
Del’s eyes lit up. “I know just the woman. She’s bright and sharp and detail-oriented.”
“I trust your decision.” He waved languid fingers in the air. “See to it. And for her first task, have her schedule a meeting with you and my law firm.”
“Yes sir.” Her voices sounded breathy. Excited. “Thank you, sir.”
“Think nothing of it. Happy All Hallows Eve.”
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