Two guys walk into a bar. One's me- a five-foot eight vampire P.I. in a red leather trench coat and hat, with a cheap dark suit underneath. The other's a six-foot something old guy with a bald head, a handlebar mustache, a tan trench coat, and a rather expensive charcoal grey suit. The bar is dark, smokey, and filled with bikers playing pool. The group of four at the table closest to the door decide our looks need rearranging, and come stalking towards us.
"You two smell like pigs," says the first as the room goes quiet. "We don't like pigs." He swings and I mist, flowing around and between the group, solidifying behind them. They're startled, but too dumb to stand down.
They turn on my companion, two of them swinging pool cues at him simultaneously. One breaks across his chest, and the other breaks across his nose. He doesn't even flinch. Instead, he grabs a fist of each biker in his hands, and just squeezes. I'm honestly not sure if it's the bones or the pool cue handles I hear splintering as they go to their knees. The bald guy snorts smoke from his nostrils without having taken a drag on anything, and then lets out an inhuman growl that causes the other two bikers to grab their companions and haul them out the door.
The rest of the bikers in the room suddenly become very interested in their games, and the room climbs back to a low buzz as they mutter to each other and start clacking balls across the tables again. I see the guy I'm looking for sitting at the bar nursing a rum and coke. I nod to the bald guy, and we head over. I stop at a respectful distance, and say, "Are you Chris Bishop?"
The guy looks tired, and rather than turn around, he just glances at us in the mirror that's behind the bar. "Who's askin'?"
"The name's Solomon Seal. I'm a P.I.," I say, tipping my hat slightly.
"Hmph," the guy chuckles. "And a vampire."
Okay, he surprised me. "How did you--"
"--And you are definitely Heironymous," he says to the suit.
"Special Agent Heironymous," he corrects. "Buy you another drink?" the special agent asks.
"Nah," he says. "I just drink the one so the bikers don't harass me."
"Why not go to another bar then?" asks the agent.
He shrugs at the mirror. "Because I thought the biker fight would be more interesting?"
"More interesting than what?" I chime in.
He finally turns towards us, but looks no more interested than before. "Would you guys really have wanted to have this chat in my bedroom?" That's when I notice the laptop sitting in front of him, the light at the top indicating that he's recording with the webcam.
I'm not really making any sense of his answer, but "Guess not," I acknowledge.
"No," confirms Heironymous. Pointing at the laptop, he adds, "You mind turning that off?"
"I do," Chris says with a firm tone. "You don't like it, there's the door." Heironymous doesn't respond. "Look, guys, this is weird, and I'm tired. What the fug do you want?"
"Heironymous hired me to find you," I say to explain my presence.
"I just have some questions," Heironymous says gruffly.
"Psht," Chris huffs. "You have questions? Kevin," he calls to the bartender as he grabs his laptop. "I'm moving to table nine. Send me an unsweet tea, will ya?"
"Sure," says Kevin, flipping him off.
Chris ignores it. "You guys want anything?"
"You got Kentucky whiskey?" Heironymous asks evenly.
The bartender nods.
"Straight double then."
Kevin nods again and grabs a bottle, and points at me.
"Manhattan," I order. "Vermouth, Kentucky whiskey," I say in deference to Heironymous, "and your choice on the rest of it."
Kevin nods, rolling his eyes when he thinks I'm not paying attention. The three of us head over to the table, and a cute redhead with "Amy" on her nametag arrives with our drinks just after we're seated. Heironymous tips her a twenty, and says, "If you see our drinks run out, bring another. Otherwise, we need a little privacy, okay?"
Amy smiles at the twenty, and winks at Heironymous as she turns to walk away. "Sure," she says over her shoulder in an almost-sultry voice. The agent pays her no mind.
"You mind if I get right to the point?" Heironymous asks Chris.
Chris sets the laptop at the end of the table against the wall, the light still shining from the camera. He smirks. "Please do. There's only a little less than two hours until my deadline."
"Deadline?" I ask.
Chris just looks at the agent. "Seriously? You didn't tell him anything?"
"What?" I ask, now completely lost.
The agent's mustache twitched, which I think was him glowering at Chris. He cut his eyes at me, then definitely glowered at Chris. Chris just looked back at him patiently, but clearly still tired. The two said nothing for a few seconds, then Chris just shrugged, and reached for a couple packets of Sweet & Low. Ripping them open, he dumped the contents into his tea, and stirred it with his straw, giving Heironymous a bored but expectant stare. "You know I'll win," he said. "Weren't you getting 'straight to the point?'" he mocked dryly.
Heironymous growled in mild frustration, then looked at me. "Solomon Seal, meet our maker."
I craned my neck back sharply. "Say what?"
"Look, we're characters. Created by this guy," he says as he points at Chris.
Chris just gives me a mirthless, closed mouth grin.
I look back at Heironymous like he's lost his mind.
"Your life's just 'one bad joke after another,'" he says, quoting me. "Before you became a vampire, how much do you recall?"
I open my mouth to answer, but close it again, looking at the ceiling as I realize I don't remember anything before Jeanine Fairchild bit me, other than vague memories of a flirty history between us.
"How many cases do you actually remember?" he asks me.
I look at the table while I wrack my brain for an answer. I can only remember hiring a few doctors to try to find a cure to vampirism, and then having to immolate them after things went south. That was over a course of months though! Between that... I look up at Heironymous. "I've got nothin'." Then I look at Chris. "What the hell?"
He just looks at Heironymous.
Knocking back his whiskey, he says, "That's pretty much where I was going to go with this too. So," he says as he leans forward slightly, "what the hell?"
Chris gets defensive. "Whattaya mean? You've had several stories!"
"The damned things are all over the place!" countered Heironymous. "First I'm an Escort for a princess in some vague location. Then I'm fighting some former president lizard man in Chicago. Then I'm in Indigo City with a partner that was never mentioned before, fighting a ninja in high tech samurai armor. Then I'm in New Vegas giving Roulette the lay of the land. Then I'm in the City of Dragons, and I'm the princess' father. Then I'm in Norfolk fighting another dragon and a jinn!"
"You forgot your fight to save Lincoln, and the excursion with the Vikings," Chris says with a smirk.
Heironymous ground his teeth so hard I could hear it from across the table. "I decided to omit the ancient history," he said testily. He calmed when Amy brought over another whiskey. "Thank you. Go ahead and bring me another, please," he requested, knocking back the second drink.
Chris shrugged. "Look, I know- your continuity doesn't flow well. You were an experiment on Comic Vine!" he protests.
Heironymous cocks his head, looking unamused. I just took a sip of my Manhattan, and listened.
Chris sighs. "At first, I wasn't going to name any of my characters. Partly because I wanted to keep my ideas to myself, and partly because it makes the writing harder. I wanted an exercise in writing without names, but eliminating 'he said/ she said' as well."
Amy brought the agent's third drink, and walked away again. Chris looked over at the bar, and Kevin was typing on his own laptop, and laughing. Chris' laptop dinged, and he checked the site he had mentioned. "Damn. He's posted again?" He looked at Kevin, the bartender laughed, and they flipped each other off. Kevin went back to typing, and Chris just shook his head.
Thinking for a few seconds, he said, "I gave that up pretty quickly, and decided to give you a name."
"Why Heironymous?" the agent asked pointedly.
"It sounded old," Chris said flatly, "like something out of Lincoln's time. Which is what I needed. And there was this story I read as a kid- my first story about dragons, I'm pretty sure- and it said that no one could ever know a dragon's true name, because then they could control it. That's been in the back of my mind, so I've always figured Heironymous probably isn't your real name."
"I kind of ignored your first two 'no-name' stories, and decided you'd be my crossover character. So you had stories with Terminator, Predator, Savage Dragon, some time-travelling Vikings I made up, the post-apocalyptic Fallout, the world of 5th Column Comics, and even some Real Life Super Heroes." He shrugged. "It just seemed like fun." He fidgeted nervously, then said, "But I kept thinking of bits of continuity, and I tried wedging them in there, and... agh," he trailed off in frustration. "I don't know. It's not really working. I keep thinking I need to go back and tighten it all up. Make your story your own- get rid of the crossovers that have others' copyrighted stuff, and rework them to make them all mine. I've got so much more story in mind for you."
"Do tell," said Heironymous expectantly.
Chris wagged his finger, "Now now. No spoilers."
"Nice try though," Chris said, not worrying about the agent's frustration. Then he looked at me. "What about you?"
I just raised my eyebrows in surprise.
"Any questions?" he prompted.
I laughed. "Yeah. Lots." Taking a big gulp of my drink, I sat it aside and thought.
"Look, I'll give you two," said Chris. "The deadline's getting close, alright?"
"That deadline again. Is this a story?" I ask.
"I'm trying. One question left," he said tiredly.
"Oh, come on," I protest.
"Okay, fine," he says, waving me down. "Get on with it then."
His computer dinged, and he checked the site. He rolled his eyes, and looked across the bar. He and Kevin flipped each other off. "Guy's a damned machine," Chris muttered before looking back to me expectantly.
"Okay, why the red hat and trench coat?" I ask, waving a hand over my coat. "Kind of conspicuous for a private investigator, don't you think?"
"Yeahhh," Chris sighed. "I can't get the danged color out of my head. I haven't mentioned it in a story until now, because I'm trying to let sense win out, but I think we're going to have to go with it. In my head the tone of your stories is really a cross between Hellboy and Dick Tracy. So as much as I've tried to fight it, we might just have to roll with the matching hat and coat."
I started to say, "That's it?" but I didn't want him to count it as a question, so I just nodded instead.
"Simple as that," he answered anyway.
"Hmph," I chuckle. "Okay. Then what about my name? Why 'Solomon Seal?' Alliteration from a writer I get, but 'Seal' just seems like an odd choice." Before he can can say anything, I add, "Let me guess, you like the singer?"
He gives a non-committal look, but says, "It didn't hurt, but actually, your name has more to do with my grandmother."
"She liked flowers, and often spent hours reading the dictionary. I kind of picked that habit up as part of my search for character ideas. I ran across 'Solomon's seal' in the dictionary. It's a kind of plant in the lily family, and the dictionary I had at the time described it as having 'circular scars' on the stalk, if I'm remembering it correctly." He shakes his head, and says, "Anyway, 'circular scars' made me think of 'vampire's bite,' and 'Solomon's seal' - alliterate, as you pointed out- sounded like the down-to-earth type name a private eye of the forties or fifties would have. So," he shrugged, "that's how you got to be a vampire P.I."
I grunted. "Well, how 'bout that?"
"Alright, guys, I hate to wrap this up, but time's wastin'. What's the point of all this?" he asks, finally taking a pull on his straw, draining about a third of the tea.
Heironymous knocks back his last drink, and when Amy starts over, he holds his hand up, and makes a check mark motion in the air. She nods and goes back to the bar. "I just want my damned story straightened out," he says gruffly.
"Oh, wah," says Chris. "I'll get to it, okay?"
"When?" demands Heironymous.
"When I get to it," Chris says, now clearly annoyed. "Don't make me write a mystical weapon through your heart, okay?"
The agent grunts, but decides to leave. He stands, reaching in his coat for his wallet as Amy approaches. When she gets to the table, Chris snatches the bill before Heironymous can take it. "Dude, I've got it. Your money's not real," he says, making a shooing motion.
Heironymous glowers, then nods at me before heading for the door. I look at Chris, and say, "Don't get up," before misting my way out of the booth, and falling in step behind the agent. As nights go, this has been a weird one.