Niles Gule simply couldn’t understand his partner’s excitement, or why half the inhabitants of a small island held a daily party at sunset. The vampire and Mariella Cruz, on a week’s leave from the Baltimore PD to aid victims of Hurricane Irma in Florida, had found themselves in Key West. They’d dragged Cruz’s elderly aunt to safety from her beach front trailer (currently out to sea somewhere near Bermuda) then helped move refugees back to their island homes in the Keys. This was the last day of their adventure. Tomorrow, they needed to return to Baltimore where, their supervisor told them, evil events were afoot that needed their attention.
Cruz, a rambunctious Latina with more energy than sense, had insisted the party at Mallory Square was not to be missed. How she knew this when she, like Niles, had never been to Key West, he didn’t know, but she was determined to join in. So, dragging her reluctant vampire colleague with her, she arrived at the westernmost point of the island where indeed a party was in progress.
Squinting against the brilliant sun, which, contrary to legend didn’t vaporize him, it merely gave him an intense sunburn, Niles trailed Cruz through the raucous crowd of artists, musicians, dancers and tourists. Food trucks pumped out a plethora of aromas while the various clubs around the square pumped out a variety of music, though most of it was that strange gumbo known as troprock made famous by Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney. Cruz bought herself dinner from one of the carts, but Niles, a strict carnivore, found his stomach roiling at the smell of grease in the air. He’d squirreled away a couple of raw steaks in the minibar at his hotel he could munch on later. He just hoped the maids didn’t poke into the fridge and wonder what the heck the tall, pale, blond man in room 312 was doing hoarding raw steak.
Niles had to admit he would have enjoyed the party had the sun not been shining. Unfortunately, the whole purpose to the event was to watch the only sunset over the sea that could be viewed from the east cost of the United States. So when Cruz tugged him to the edge of the square where the Gulf waters lapped against the wall, the vampire held his hand up before his eyes and squinted at the setting sun. The giant orb of blazing yellow seared his skin but fortunately was weak enough at that point in the day that he didn’t smoke. Not, he thought, that these people with their crazy clothes, or in some cases, lack thereof, would probably notice a smoking vampire in their midst. They were having too good a time.
He admitted the view was spectacular as the sun slowly sank beneath the horizon. Cruz wanted to catch a glimpse of the green flash which supposedly came at the very moment the sun disappeared beneath the waves, but her sigh of disappointment told him it didn’t come. He wasn’t able to see a thing. Even the final fraction of that ball of light blinded him.
“Well, it was worth a try,” Cruz said. She tugged on his arm. “Let’s go.”
Still blinking spots, Niles stumbled after her, grateful she’d grasped his forearm. He might have gone down otherwise.
“Where are we going?”
Her chuckle was warm and sensuous and it moved things in the vampire’s soul. He wanted to wallow in that warmth which was so alien to his cold, sterile existence. Everything about Mariella Cruz was warm and cuddly and begged for him to …
Mind back on business, Gule. She’s your partner and can never be anything other than that.
Clearly Cruz had another destination in mind because she headed east down Duvall Street.
“We’re not going back to Aqua, are we?” Niles protested. He’d already been to the drag theater where the owner tried to convince him to perform his “vampire act” on stage.
Cruz’s laugh sounded sly. “Oh no! We’re going somewhere much better!”
After a few minutes, Niles’ eyesight cleared and he was able to walk on his own. Cruz continued forthrightly on until they faced a white building with a balcony around the second floor and a fringe of palm trees on the roof. The first floor held an English style tavern named The Bull written in black letters against the white.
“One cannot visit Key West visiting the Garden of Eden,” Cruz insisted as she dragged Niles inside.
As they passed through the bar, Niles wondered why. Seemed like the average Key West watering hole to him. Cruz didn’t stop, however. Up the stairs she went until they came out onto the roof.
This was dance club under the stars. A warm breeze whispered through the palm fronds, barely discernible above the thump of the music. A crowd of people were dancing. Others sat at the bar and talked. A circle of people ringed the parapet, holding their glasses as they watched the dancers.
“Ok, it’s another club.” Niles looked around, wondering what made this particular spot so important. To have the stars overhead as their ceiling was pleasant but it didn’t account for Cruz’s excitement.
“This place is famous, Gule.” Cruz propped her hand on her hip. “Innagoddadavida?”
Niles blinked. “Geshuntheit?”
Cruz burst out laughing. “It’s not a sneeze. In the seventies, Iron Butterfly came here. The lead singer got so trashed when someone asked him where he’d been, he said innagoddavida. In the Garden of Eden. The band named an album after this place.”
“Huh.” Niles still wasn’t impressed. He hadn’t cared much for heavy metal music. He’d still been adjusting from swing to the Beatles. Iron Butterfly had been too far a reach for him.
Cruz’s luscious lips curved into a smile. “You really don’t know about this place, do you?”
As Niles shook his head, she pointed to the bartenders, two young ladies in their twenties who were… dear God! Topless!
Niles froze, his blue eyes captured by the girls who were raking in tips from the men at the bar by the fistful. When he forced his gaze away, he realized the place was clothing optional. An older couple, who had nothing to flaunt, danced near the bar. Other, younger people were scattered around topless. Several were buck naked but painted to look like mermaids. While most of the clientele was dressed, perhaps a quarter were in some state of dishabille.
Born in Victorian Boston, Niles had never lost his dated mores. Appearing in public nude was just not done. As he started to protest, his eyes flew wide. Cruz tossed her shirt into the air, followed by her bra.
The vampire allowed himself one brief, enjoyable look before he sputtered in horror, tore off his jacket and threw it around her. At first Cruz must have thought he was joining the fun until she saw the look on his face. Then she tried to squirm free of his grasp. Niles was a vampire, however, with a vampire’s outlandish strength.
“Not on your life!” he hissed, pulling her around so that his body hid hers from the crowd. “You are not prancing around without your clothes on, Cruz!”
She continued to squirm, torture to the vampire. “Why not? Loosen up, Gule. It’s just for fun. You look incredible naked. Give the crowd something really fantastic to gawk at.”
Niles managed to snag her shirt with one hand while he hustled her towards the exit with the other, all the while keeping his jacket around her. The bra, he decided, was lost to the crowd.
“A lady does not appear nude in public,” he protested. “Only one man should see you like that.”
Cruz stopped on the stairs and took back her shirt, donning it at his glowering look. “And who would that be?”
She gave him a sly look. “I don’t have a husband.”
Niles shoved her ahead of him down the stairs. “As soon as we get back to Baltimore, I’m finding you one. For the sake of my own sanity!”
© 2017 Newmin