The trio that entered the J Street Cafe turned plenty of heads: the dwarf Hecabano in horn-hiding logger's cap; horror show producer Ed, channeling Duke Nukem's upswept hair; and the vampire Cambris in specialized containment gear to survive the daylight--just another crazy virophobe to this crowd, quickly dismissed.
Their reserved table lacked its checkered cloth in the current disinfection hysteria. A waiter sidled up and muttered something behind his face cover.
Ed reached to tug it down, to the man's horror. "Can't hear ya behind that jock strap, Mumbles. Anyway, here's what we'll have." For Hecabano, it was the usual hoagie with large "suicide"--all sodas mixed together. Ed went light with a grilled cheese and bacon, because he wasn't here to eat.
"And the lady?" Mumbles said, having retreated behind his useless security blanket. His eyes took in the way her goggle bug orbs swept him appraisingly.
"The lady will pass," Hecabano said, "fortunately for you and your staff." He paused to make sure no one was eavesdropping behind the high-back booths. "You go to great lengths, Master Ed, to get yourself out of a scrape."
"Yeah, what's new." Ed slurped the coffee. "Ahh, that's good." He considered the immobile spacewoman across from him. At most, she could tolerate an hour of this before having to mist back inside the steel coffee mug on his belt. "That reporter from the lady's mag is good PR for us. Somehow she got the idea I'm a writer, and now she wants to see some poetry."
"Which is where Miss Cambris comes in." Hecabano eyed her in turn. "But why here? She can wax poetic anywhere."
Ed leaned back to allow room for the nervous waiter to deposit the food and scurry away. "Because I've always been moved by this place when there's a light rain. Reminds me of a sleepy town in South Carolina I once caught a train in. It's my kind of day."
"I abhor the day," Cambris said.
"Understandable," Ed allowed. "Attune yourself to the outdoors and gimme an impression."
"Swish of tires on wet street. Church bells wafting serene distant notes." She shivered in distaste. "Curtains aflutter in rain-cool breeze."
Ed wrote it down, looked up when a coed type stopped to admire the talking bio suit.
"Whoa--where can I get one of those?"
"Move along, Betty." Ed scanned his three lines. "These are good impressions, but I need to tie 'em together."
Cambris watched a city bus intrude noisily on the scene. "Ireful beast disgorges riders with impatient roar. Such inharmonic utterance befouls the damp foundation tiers of Castle Rotbone; insentient wail of the doomed echoes among the crypts."
"Uh, Cambris. . . ."
"Drained wraiths evanesce in misty vortex, shrinking away as the Brides awake--"
"Cambris!' Ed had stopped scribbling. "You're going the wrong way. This is supposed to be a feel-good deal."
Hecabano had finished his power munch of the sub, tossed down the wadded napkin. "Perhaps not, Master Ed. It's practically Halloween."
"Everybody and his cat is doing Halloween," Ed griped.
"A comparison, then. Portray this as the eve of Spook Night: tranquil by day, which we drink in before the freaks come out. Much like in the old Castlevania game, when leisurely exploring was out of the question when night fell."
Ed jotted it down. "You're a bit of a poet yourself, Hec."
The mercurial Cambris had had enough. "Remember our bargain: you will find me some scofflaws tonight." She melted into a mist that flowed across the table in search of the steel coffee mug on Ed's belt. Its drinking slot snicked shut. Luckily, no one had noticed.
"The queen has spoken," Ed said. "Too bad Emmy can't speak, considering how she loves the daytime." Emmy was the only one of the four brides who gleefully used the full hour of possible daytime outing.
On their way out, they were accosted by Mumbles.
"Big protest tonight," Mumbles mumbled behind the thick cloth. "Over in Bigley Park. Come on out if you want."
"Do tell." Ed lightly drummed fingers on the steel mug.