This was written in 2006 as a character background for a Vampire: the Requiem game that never got started. It was set in pre-Katrina New Orleans. There’s more that I’m still working on, and will (I hope) publish later. I’ve got my own ideas about vampires that aren’t borrowed from White Wolf, which merits the Originals tag.
Even at four-thirty in the morning New Orleans in August was still hot and sticky and not particularly inclined to sleep. There were bars open for the truly hardcore drinkers, but Rain was just grateful that all-night restaurants still served cold beer at this hour. They wouldn’t in Texas. She’d finished eating; the waitress had cleared the table and brought her a second bottle of Rolling Rock.
Only one other table in the restaurant was occupied, by three older men drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes almost continuously. After an initial assessment — Rain was the only white in the restaurant — they decided she was neither a threat nor very interesting and didn’t pay any attention, and the waitress did only when she waved her over.
None of seemed to notice the man who stood at Rain’s booth. “May I join you?” he asked, his voice rich and velvety-smooth.
Rain looked up at him and the scowl on her face melted away as soon as she met his eyes. All the reasons why she should say no flashed through her mind and failed to connect with anything. “Sure,” she said, marking her place in her book (Candace Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine) and setting it down. Before she finished saying the word, the man was sitting on the other side of the table, his hands folded delicately in front of him.
A tiny part of Rain’s mind noted that her agreeing to this was more than a little weird. So was the fact that she couldn’t possibly describe the man sitting in her booth. He took up space, he spoke, he was compelling in ways she’d never encountered before, but she had no idea what he looked like. Not skin color, not hair, height, weight, clothes, nothing. Was he beautiful? She couldn’t tell.
Rain herself was not what anyone, including (especially) herself, would call classically beautiful. At five feet five inches tall and a hundred eighty pounds, she was considerably heavier than was the standard for beauty in contemporary America. She had henna-red hair in Willie Nelson braids, unplucked dark brown eyebrows, and heavy-lidded gray eyes.
Her tattoos — all in black — stood out well against her pale skin. There was tribal scrollwork at the back of her neck and around her right wrist, the silhouette of a frog skeleton on her left wrist, and probably more where they couldn’t be seen. Small barbells pierced her right eyebrow, a pair of fat, heavy steel curved barbell rings hung from her earlobes, smaller rings pierced the cartilage of each ear, and a long barbell cut across the top of her right ear in an industrial.
Having come from a gig, Rain was actually dressed fairly well in a gray pinstripe men’s suit (the jacket folded over the back of her seat, at the moment), a faded red Clandestine t-shirt, a belt with two rows of chrome grommets running its whole length, and her favorite black/cherry red Doc Martens. A heavy chrome chain dangled from her belt to the wallet in her back pocket.
“My thanks,” the man murmured. He looked like he had always been sitting there across the table from her, as if he had never done anything else.
“Hey, no problem.” Without taking her eyes from his — she couldn’t have if she’d wanted to — Rain found her beer and took a long drink. “Can I help you?”
The man smiled and Rain felt a warmth low in her belly that had nothing to do with food or alcohol. “As a matter of fact, you can,” he said. “I’d like it very much if you’d tell me about yourself.”
A last, lingering part of Rain’s will stirred itself enough to ask, “Why?”
“There are those who have taken an interest in you, my dear. It falls to me to interview you, to find out more about who you are.”
That would have been worrying, if Rain still had the capacity for worry. “Oh,” she said, simply accepting the man’s words at face value. “What did you want to know?”
“Let’s start with the basics, shall we? What’s your name?”
“Reina Ivanova Vishnevskaya,” she told him, the Russian polysyllables falling easily from her tongue. Her accent usually placed her origins in east Texas, but when saying her name, she might have been from Saint Petersburg. “But most people call me Rain.”
“It is quite a mouthful,” agreed the man across the table. “Do you speak Russian?”
“Some. My Russian’s not as good as my English, but some,” Rain explained with a self-deprecating shrug. “I read it okay, and I read Russian newspapers on the net to keep in practice. I like being able to read Dostoyevsky without having to read him in translation. D’you mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all.” The man waved a hand (did he have long fingers?) in a gesture of indulgence.
Rain picked a brown-papered cigarette out of its cardboard box, lighting it with a skull-adorned Zippo. The smell of cloves almost overwhelmed the tobacco. She relaxed visibly, letting out the first lungful of smoke with a happy sigh. The man sharing her booth smiled and refrained from commenting on the health risks of smoking.
“How old are you?” he asked, returning to his interrogation.
“Thirty-two,” she replied.
“Where are you from?”
“And where do you live now?”
“I’ve got a place in the Dillard neighborhood.”
“Do you rent or own?”
“I own it.”
“Tell me how you came to have a Russian name and an East Texas accent. It’s charming, but you must admit, a bit curious.”
“I guess. Dad came over in the early seventies as a petrochemical engineering student and decided he liked the States better than the Soviet Union and asked for political asylum. He and mom met at UT and moved to Houston after he got done with grad school. I grew up there.”
“And your parents are?”
“Ivan Dmitriyevich and Mary Ellen.”
“Do you have any siblings?”
“I’ve got an older brother, Pyotr. He goes by Pete.”
“Are you close to your family?”
“They don’t approve of some of the choices I’ve made.”
Rain took a long, last drag on her cigarette and crushed it out. Strangely compelling men or no, this was uncomfortable territory. She sighed and toyed with her lighter, spinning it on the table. “I quit a promising and lucrative career to play bass for a living. It doesn’t pay well. It’s not exactly a respectable profession.”
“Why did you?”
“Short version? Because I decided I wanted to be Amy Lee when I grew up.”
“Lead singer for Evanescence. She doesn’t play bass, though.”
“What’s the longer version?”
Rain pursed her lips. “A few years ago I was a CPA with Deloitte in their corporate auditing division, doing a lot of traveling. I’d been promoted to a supervisory position, so I was making pretty decent money. My folks were happy about that, but I was miserable and getting worse. With all the traveling, I didn’t have a home, I just had an apartment in Dallas where I kept my stuff. I didn’t know anybody, not really. Even at work I didn’t know that many people. There’s always a lot of turnover in public auditing, so my team changed faces a lot. I didn’t have a lover, I didn’t have friends, I didn’t even have a cat.
“When I saw my folks, all they ever asked about was my job. ‘How’s the job going?’ ‘Have they promoted you yet?’ ‘Are you networking the right people?’” Rain rolled her eyes and lit another cigarette. “I don’t want to be the kind of person that uses ‘network’ as a verb.”
“Do go on,” the man said, encouraging.
“I was in Chicago on yet another audit when I got in a real bad car wreck. The guy who hit me was drunk as hell, had a big-ass Chevy to my little rental Toyota, and he hit me just about head on. Even with the seat belt and the air bag I got knocked out, got a nice concussion, broke both my legs, and generally felt like hammered shit.”
“I can only imagine.”
“So yeah, that sucked. What sucked more was someone from work bringing me a new laptop — mine got trashed in the wreck — so I could still work. From the fucking hospital.” Rain glared at the end of her cigarette as if it was the thing that offended her. “I had a lot of time to think while I was learning how to walk again, and I decided that I really didn’t want to die an accountant.”
Rain’s scowl softened into a faint smile. “I’d played bass while I was in school, so I went back to my parents’ and got my bass and the equipment out of the attic. I got my cello while I was there too, just for the hell of it. Traded in my Lexus and got a truck with a camper shell that I could lock, and thought about where I’d like to live. Growing up and going to school in Houston, I’d pretty naturally spent a lot of time in New Orleans, coming for carnival for a few years. It seemed like a good place for a wanna-be Goth rocker chick to be. My insurance settlement just about covered the cost of the house, and the rest came out of my savings.”
“But you play jazz, too. Like tonight.”
“Well, sure. I play whatever gig is paying.”
“You don’t have a band you play with?”
“Not yet. I’ve auditioned for some, but never got the job.”
“Do you make much?”
“Not really. I’ve got a day job at a Starbucks out in the suburbs. That pays the bills — well, mostly it does — gives me health insurance even though I’m part time, and I’ve still got my retirement from Deloitte sitting in an unmanaged S&P 500 index fund. I add to my Roth IRA when I can.” Rain laughed, a little, and added, “There’s still some accountant left in me. I can’t help but try to plan ahead like that.”
“What kinds of music do you like?”
“Wow.” Rain settled back in the booth and let out the smoke in her lungs in a thin stream. “I like pretty much everything, really. Metal, jazz, hip-hop, classical — when I feel really shitty I like to put ‘phones on and blast the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth into my head — some country, Afro-pop, Euro-pop, electronica, opera, chorals, experimental, gospel….”
The man at Rain’s table smiled and gestured with one hand. “I think I get the idea.”
“It has to have an edge, though. I don’t like safe music. So Eminem would be edgy, being a white guy in an overwhelmingly black genre — and he’s funny, which I like — but all the gangsta thug dudes all kind of blend together after a while. Snoop’s got his own sound, so he’s cool. And the old-school guys that made the scene in the first place: NWA, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan.”
“Yes, I understand completely.”
Rain grinned. “Yeah, so I like music. I like to talk about music. It’s like an ATM. Push button, get babble.”
“Are you religious?”
“Not particularly. Unless music counts as a religion. The Soviets didn’t encourage people to go to church much, and mom and dad couldn’t agree on where to take us to church. Mom was a Methodist, dad was sort of Russian Orthodox without a whole lot of conviction in it. We ended up not going to church a whole lot as kids.”
“Where did you go to school?”
Rain looked faintly embarrassed and shrugged. “I went to private schools through high school, then got a BS with a major in accounting from Rice.”
“Why are you embarrassed by that?”
“It’s such a whitebread life. I mean, I had the plaid kilt schoolgirl uniform, black and white saddle shoes or penny loafers, the whole bit. I feel like such a poser coming from a background like that.”
“Everyone walks her own path, Rain,” the man said. Rain felt better about herself without knowing why, except that the man’s approval was more important to her than it should have been.
“How’s your love life?”
Rain laughed again, though without much humor, and shook her head. “Grisly. I broke up with my girlfriend about a month ago. I have cats.”
“So you’re gay?” The man didn’t seem to care if the answer was yes or no — it was just another bit of information to him.
Rain’s forehead wrinkled in a slight frown. “Oh, mostly, but not quite. I like men too, some of them.”
Rain flashed her teeth in a grin. “I like to think of myself as versatile.”
The man laughed, and Rain felt a rush of warmth at having pleased him. She found herself biting her lip, hard. And blushing, damn it all. The man across the table had the grace to not notice. “Fair enough, Rain. So what do you do when you’re not working?”
“Different stuff. I practice a lot, of course. I read—”
“What do you like to read?”
“Science fiction, fantasy, comics. I try to stick to women writers, but they’re few and far between in the comic industry. I want to have Grant Morrison’s babies, though. And Jhonen Vasquez’s. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac made me laugh till my ribs hurt the first time I read it.”
“What else do you like?”
“Oh.” Rain smiled and fidgeted with her lighter. “Playing cello naked. Watching movies with lots of explosions in them. Seeing how big I can stretch the holes in my earlobes. Yoga. Cruising for someone cute to break my heart with. I have a thing for suits and ties. I like doing all the stuff the owner’s manual says to do to keep my truck running, changing my own oil. Trying to fix up my house. I have about a dozen home improvement books by this point. You know, stuff.”
“I see.” The man was quiet for a while, and so was Rain. “Yes, I do see. Rain, dearest?”
“Would you do me a very big favor?”
It never even occurred to Rain to refuse him. “Sure.”
“Please forget our conversation. Forget I was ever here. You ate your supper, alone, and went home. If you must remember me, remember that you dreamed me.”
And there was only Rain, the three older gentlemen at their eternal gin rummy game, and the waitress. Rain had a vague feeling that she’d missed something, but couldn’t for the life of her think what. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be that important, could it?
Nah. She was just tired, that’s all. Time sometimes got a little bumpy when she was that tired.
“You need anything else, cherie?” The waitress, having noticed that Rain’s beer was empty, had come over to the booth.
“Huh? No, just the check, thanks.”
“How was everything?”
“Good. Everything was real good.”