“This place is pretty amazing,” Dwayne admitted as he sucked down his third beer. To their surprise, it had been fairly simple to get any number of illicit substances in Santa Carla. The three of them were now perched on the edge of the boardwalk railing watching an R&B group on an outdoor stage down on the beach. Marko was scarfing down his fourth piece of pizza.
David surveyed the land before them, taking in as many details as he could. There were hundreds of people of all ages - although they seemed to range from pre-teen to mid-twenties - all writhing together on a makeshift dancefloor around various bonfires. People were passing joints through the crowd in front of them. It looked as though many of them were under the influence of something much stronger. It would be easy pickings in this crowd. Most of them probably wouldn’t make it home that night anyway. How easy would it be to toss their corpses into the ocean when they were done? Or into one of the bonfires further out on the beach? This place was like a buffet. It was practically built to accommodate vampires, and yet they seemed to be the only ones around. Suspicious, but satisfying. They could easily rule this town with just a little bit of influence, but they had to be convincing. People couldn’t know what they really were.
David eyed Marko who was licking pizza sauce off of his lips and looking at the crowd with his eyes clouded with lust. “Marko,” he prompted, but the younger vampire didn’t respond. David wondered if a place like this was too much for them. Perhaps they weren’t ready to be the kings of Santa Carla.
Dwayne had better self-control. He had more life experience and a personality suited to regulate himself. Marko was just a kid. He would always be just a kid. Even though David loved that about him, he had the potential to fuck himself - and the rest of them - right over if he wasn’t watched.
“Let’s get fucked up.”
Marko hopped down from the railing and headed over to his bike. “I wanna get fucked up. I wanna get wasted and go to a club and just...do things.” His voice was soft and calm like always, but there was a little more mischief in his eyes than normal. “This is real freedom.” A devious grin graced his features.
David stood now too, and Dwayne moved in behind him, setting the two sides against one another. “In case you forgot, we still have to find a place to sleep before sun-up.” Pressing matters first. A conversation about self-control could come later, probably after Marko had done something rash and stupid.
“Max said we could stay with him.”
“You wanna get fucked up and go trudging back into Max’s brand new pad covered in blood and full of alcohol?”
Marko considered this for a moment and then shrugged. It was a signal of defeat. He hopped on his bike and kicked up the stand. “Can we at least check out the town?” he asked, laying a huge set of puppy dog eyes on the both of them.
Dwayne waited for David’s response, but he could feel the older boy’s relief. They’d have plenty of time to experience ‘real freedom’. They looked at their youngest brother and resolved at the same time, hopping on their respective bikes. “Sure,” David said finally. “But we find a place to stay. Tonight.”
The boardwalk was colourful and loud and full of people. Girls in short shorts rolled by on roller skates. People smoked on the corners. Dogs roamed the beaches. The attitude of Santa Carla was so different than Detroit. It felt like time was moving in slow motion. In a way, David understood why Marko was so eager to go out and do something. The inevitable draw of freedom seemed to seep into every action in Santa Carla. Absolutely no one was in a hurry, ever. David thought he could really like it there.
They walked down the boards, admiring different shops and different people. Dwayne paused to examine a display. A brunette woman - dressed in a red, floral dress, round glasses, and adorned with a white flower necklace - smiled at him with a hand on her pregnant belly from the wide-open facade of a comic shop. Dwayne smiled back. Even the people in Santa Carla were relaxed. It was infectious.
Marko gazed up at something in a kiosk store-front. David waltzed up to him and looked in the same direction. “I want that,” Marko stated as he pointed to a jacket that was hanging behind a cashier counter. It was plain denim, with one patch of a skull on the right sleeve.
“That one?” David clarified, pointing to the jacket. Marko nodded. “Okay.”
David jumped up on the counter and hopped down on the other side. Across the store, the clerk saw him, but David had tugged the jacket off of its high-up hanger before the man could get over to them. As David was climbing over the counter again, the man grabbed him.
“Sir! What...you can’t just take that!” he squawked, clearly appalled by the behavior. David wrenched his arm out of the clerk’s grasp and rounded on him, holding his gaze steadily.
“Sure I can,” he countered. His voice was calm. So calm, that the few people who had started watching the interaction quickly grew bored and redirected their attention elsewhere. So calm, that the man’s eyelids drooped slightly and his shoulders visibly relaxed. “You were going to pay for this for us...remember?”
The man gasped, and then slowly, he nodded. David smiled. “There we go.”
He hopped back over the counter and tossed the jacket to Marko who eagerly tugged off his tattered, stolen leather jacket, placed it on the countertop, and pulled the new one over his cropped white tank top. “You can keep this,” he said to the store clerk as he patted the old biker jacket.
The bikes bounced down the steps to the beach and the boys sped along the shoreline, avoiding bonfires and swerving in and out of groups of party goers. After walking along the boardwalk for a few hours, the piers had started to close for the night and the crowds began to die down. Security guards had started to spread out to usher people back to their homes. It was three in the morning. Time to find a place to sleep.
Where the fuck are you taking us?
Dwayne had told them he’d had an idea and the three of them had sped off toward the edge of town. Behind him, David could hear Marko howling, his voice carrying off into the wind and filling the air around them. He sounded like a wolf. David smiled.
After several minutes of driving, a lighthouse came into view. It sat on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. The boys pulled up to the cliffs and parked. Dwayne was the first to dismount. The ground was staked with many signs warning the residents of Santa Carla that the area - apparently called ‘Hudson’s Bluff’ - was closed.
“No trespassing,” David said, reading one of the signs aloud. “Hudson's Bluffs Sea Cave is closed due to unsafe conditions.”
“Home to many endangered and threatened species such as the yellow-billed cuckoo,” Marko added as he read another sign. He looked around. “I don’t see any fucking cuckoos.”
Dwayne lifted a chain that was blocking an old staircase and peeked over the edge down onto a platform below. “There’s something down there,” he said. The other two came up behind him and peered down. Waves violently licked the shore at the bottom, but there was certainly something down there. “It’s a hotel,” Dwayne clarified as he took a book out of his pocket.
“Fucking stupid place for a hotel,” Marko muttered.
David looked at his older brother. “How do you know this?” He eyed the book.
“Max gave me this earlier,” Dwayne explained as he held the book out to the others. They closed in for a better look. The light from the distanced lighthouse was barely enough to see. It was clearly a tourist brochure, but it looked very old. Some of the pages were dog-eared. “Used to be the ‘Santa Carla Hotel and Casino’ back at the start of the century before an earthquake killed it.”
David looked over the edge again. From on top, he couldn’t see anything more than the rickety staircase and an old wooden bridge. “Well, let’s take a look then.” All at once, they leaped, flying through the air to swoop down below. There was an opening in the rock that had been crudely boarded up by a makeshift fence that was surrounded by metal scraps and large, jagged rocks. A large ‘Danger - do not enter’ sign hung over the cave’s entrance.
They landed just inside the entrance and found themselves standing at the top of what had been, in its heyday, a beautiful grand staircase. Now, it was just a pile of rubble that made a steep incline into a sunken, rotten foyer. All three of them grinned. Despite the ruin, the place was resplendent and beautiful. Many of the decorations still stood. Great, sweeping archways mostly held the elaborate, vaulted ceilings in place. Vines had grown in from above, intertwining with moth-eaten curtains and marble carvings that adorned every pillar. Some furniture remained, broken and ripped. The front desk remained mostly intact, complete with a small service bell and mailboxes for the guests. The biggest attraction, however, was the center of the foyer where a huge, round fountain sat empty and dry.
They split up, examining every part of the old hotel, scouring through every crack and nook like rats ferreting for refuge. An hour later, after shouting to one another, dragging one another to see different rooms, pulling at vines, throwing broken pieces of furniture, they met up in the foyer once more.
“This place is fucking perfect.”
“Did Max know about this?”
“Did you see the rooms upstairs?”
“These caves go back forever. No way sunlight can get back there.”
The three of them looked at each other, grinning like idiots.
“We could stay here,” Marko suggested. “It’s got everything we need.” He hopped up onto the fountain and balanced himself with arms out as he toed his way around the perimeter.
Dwayne wandered off toward a large, torn piece of fabric on the wall that seemed to be draped over a painting.
David was skeptical. A building so perfectly hidden away that no one would go to? How did a place like this just fall into their laps on the first night they were there? It just reinforced that Santa Carla was practically created for them.
“Hey boys,” Dwayne called. “Check this shit out.” David and Marko headed over.
He pulled down the remaining shreds of fabric and revealed a majestic looking painting that sat over an elaborate fireplace on the far end of the foyer.
“You gotta be fucking with me.”
The painting was eerily familiar. It was a professional portrait, early twentieth century, that presented a well-dressed man wearing a suit and looking quite proud. The boys had seen its subject countless times in their lives.
“Is that Max?”
In fact, it was. Underneath the portrait was mounted a tiny, tarnished plaque that bore the inscription: Maximus Lawrence - Proprietor.