For Old Time’s Sake (2024)

by Brian C. Mahon

Beatrice’s chuckle tinkled through the Ciao’s Italian dinner murmur. She dotted her mouth with the corner of napkin, leaning in to say with a touch of amusement, “Vampires aren’t real.”

Beatty swirled a quarter glass of Merlot beneath his nose. “Might not be. Used to be, my sweet.”

“We’d know about them, dear,” she replied, dabbing a slice of bread into olive oil. “Evidence.” Beatrice eyed him.

“It was a long time ago, time enough for a lot of evidence to disappear.” He shrugged just as matter-of-factly as his tone.

“Okay, so… what happened to them?” She asked, punctuated with an unassuming sip of water.

“I think they died fighting. Maybe not all of them, love. It’s a very troubling idea, I say, but one I do not entirely doubt,” he demurely offered, followed by an uptilt of his glass and a sip of wine.

“Oh, that sounds silly!” The sudden uplift in her tone startled Beatty. “What would vampires be fighting if they existed? Vampires are supposed to be secretive, shadowy isolationists, right? And most importantly: non-existent. Oh Beatty, dear, I’m in need of something other than bread and a different topic. Please see to them both, or I may actually start thinking you a lesser man.”

Beatty put his hands up in mock defense, then reached for the basket between them. “Bea, my love, you asked. I answered.” Beatty looked about for any staff to wave down. Seeing none, he leaned in and whispered, “Besides, what vampires are is cold-blooded.” He crisply tore a piece of bread in half, flicked the crumbs onto his plate, then said flatly, “And they did fight.”

Beatrice pushed her bare shoulders into the mauve cushioned booth, her white halter dress catching against leather. “Still sounds silly. Repeating yourself won’t change that.” Her hazel eyes locked on and into Beatty’s baby blues, and she sat up, lengthening her white neck. “Lucky you’re handsome.”

To that he laughed, taking up his glass and holding it in front of his face to hide an almost-blush. “And you’re lovely, Bea, but I am serious! This is all… I hate the term pre-history, but what else would you call history before human civilization?”

“I would call it whatever it takes to get to the point. Listening,” she curtly responded, crossing her arms.

He sopped his bread into the oil until it dripped, then said, “I have, you see, a working theory, based on research of course. I’m not some idle daydreamer. See, there wasn’t one sequential evolution of human civilization. There were two! Two lineages of human history, separated by one event which wiped out everything humanity knew!” He paused, raising his eyebrows, searching for a reaction. Beatrice only pursed her lips and nodded. Beatty continued, “The Great Flood. The one in the Bible? Exists in written records and oral histories on every continent?”

Beatrice grabbed her half-filled water glass and looked around. “Still listening,” she chimed.

Beatty frowned sourly, hoping she would have reacted with a little more enthusiasm. He sighed, continuing, “Imagine, before the flood, there were the true first civilizations, older than those of the ancient world you learned about in secondary education.” Beatty set the oil-soaked bread back down onto its white, gold-trimmed plate. Beatrice lowered her chin, arching her left eyebrow. “Kingdoms like ancient Assyria or even Rome – incredibly large, well-developed infrastructure, interconnected. Human.”

Beatrice smiled and rested her right hand on the tablecloth. “Human? Shouldn’t they normally be human? Or are you differentiating from vampires?”

Beatty huffed. “Nearly there. To be clear, these first civilizations weren’t the first of all civilizations. Simply they were the first human ones.”

“Beatty? I’m getting hungry and losing interest. Finish your story or find the waiter. Both preferred.”

“Yes, love.” He looked around for their waiter, any waiter. With a sigh, “As soon as I see one, I’ll fetch one. May I continue? You have me started now, Bea, it’s only polite to indulge.”

“Be indulged. My stomach will allow,” she imperiously declared.

“I shall, sweet. Now ask yourself, does it make sense there would only be one intelligent biped?”

“I don’t know if I can find an intelligent individual working for a tip.”

Unfazed, Beatty continued, “Evolution made swimmers, flyers, crawlers, and runners in every major class of animal, right? After a few hundred million years, it put a thinking biped on this planet,” His voice lowered, “One before mammals.”

“Oh no,” Beatrice’s voice plummeted, her lower lip drooped in sudden feigned disgust. “You’re talking about lizard people! Real tinfoil hat type lizard people! Do you believe in lizard people too? Have you been one of those people this whole time? Oh, Beatty! Oh, my love! My world! Not you!”

His eyes went wide. “I mean,” he faltered, “y-yes, I am one of those people, Bea, but bear with me, please! Please?”

She crossed her arms and gazed toward the main dining room.

“Imagine what happens when a smart, growing, and,” putting his palms up, “arguably violent species moves in on the territories of an older, established peoples?”

She smacked her lips in a dour boredom.

“Conflict! However, victory tends to go to the more advanced and organized cultures, so when the elder race rallied to defend itself, the humans had no answer.”

Her mouth dropped again, cherry lipstick catching his attention under lamplight, then slid to a smirk. Beatrice started laughing and raised her hand, craning her neck to look out toward the rest of the dining room floor. “I, oh Beatty! I don’t know what I’m going to do if this waiter doesn’t take our order soon! Keep talking though, maybe your cracking sanity will keep my mind off things.”

“No, really! The fighting went on for, oh, six maybe seven centuries? The human nations of Embry and Akkunat splintered into city-states, but Ernak held on.”

“Ernak.” Beatrice rolled her eyes, muttering the word flatly to herself.

“Yes. Ernak’s rulers chartered terrible research and concocted a recipe.” Beatty grabbed the edges of his side plate, staring at the remaining crust, rotating it back and forth. “Unimaginable, really. That they managed to pull it off. Well, just as terrible and frightening as unimaginable. The first vampires. Put to the task of winning a war.”

“Vampires. Vampires were made by the ancients of ancients to fight lizard people. Okay, well, Beatty beau, you are clever. Was it your plan to coyly charm me into attachment before introducing me to this side of you?”

He snorted an echo of a laugh. “I’ve been a gentleman all this time, don’t you forget! You got it though, er, about the vampires being made by ancient ancients. Please though, let’s refer to the ‘lizard people’ as reptilians. It’s more respectful.”

“Reptilians, beau.”

“Thank you, love. Imagine how frightening the really is. A cold-blooded human, no traceable body heat, impeccably silent, active only at night when temperatures dropped. Sustenance at every fresh kill, no need for supply lines. Vampires were a perfect match to the reptilians’ very weaknesses. The reptilians literally could not see them coming. Turned the tide.”

Beatrice’s attention again turned toward the dining area, her face lighting up at seeing their waiter out on the floor. “He’s almost here! Oh! This wait has been ridiculous! Are you going to take this out of his tip?”

“I thought you had the- anyway.” He removed his fingertips from the plate. “Anyway, that’s it. Any questions, dear?”

“Questions? That’s it? What an abrupt ending. So, you’re saying the vampires died fighting reptilian people? Did the reptilians die out fighting vampires?”

“Mostly. The wars mostly did both of them in. Ernak stopped converting people at the petition of the remnant human societies. Some vampires tried to make their own kingdom and were destroyed for it. The rest of them, I don’t know. Went off to become secret, shadowy stories? Like I said, maybe went down fighting, maybe waiting.” Beatty picked the glass of merlot by the stem and swirled crimson around the glass. “So I’ve heard,” he said quietly.

His eyes focused on the thin, red film made with every swirl until a voice jostled him back to awareness: “Sir, what may I get for you this evening?”

Beatty sat straight up while the glass stem slipped between his fingers, its descent arrested by tablecloth with a muffled sound and spilling a few drops. “I- er, I’m sorry. You snuck up on me, somehow.” A sudden anxious strain in his throat squeezed his voice. H took a breath to steady himself. “Um. Hm. You snuck up on me. Sorry, I’m usually much more perceptive.”

“I apologize, sir,” replied the waiter, standing erect at the table’s edge. He wore crisp black slacks, a white, cleanly pressed buttoned shirt, and, fastened by a gold clip, a crimson tie that seemed to draw the color from his face. “I did not mean to startle.”

“That’s fine, really,” Beatty replied hastily.

“It has been a busy night, sir, I apologize for the wait. We have quite the delectable fare this evening. May I present our specials for the evening?”

Beatty, blinking, glanced toward Beatrice, “Dear, what would y-“

“-I want the linguine pescatore with the soup, not salad, and more bread, please. And a glass of the Bertocelli zinfandel. And please, please tell the chef to not take his time with it. Thank you.” She promptly handed him her menu and gestured to Beatty to order as quickly as possible.

“Yes ma’am, and sir?”

Beatty sucked in a breath, then murmured, “I will have the Palermo-style steak, medium-rare please, with the salad, and another glass of merlot. Thanks.”

The waiter lingered at the table, long enough for Beatrice’s mouth to twist in irritation; a twist arrested with a snap of his fingers. Beatty’s jaw slacked, and before he could speak, the waiter leaned in with a hand cupped to his mouth to whisper, “Sir, I understand how rude this will sound. I am personally embarrassed to even mention it, but the owner is an unreasonable man. You see, it is a very grave affront in our culture to let people of your, er, persuasion eat red meat. The optics of one like you eating a mammal, uh, it recalls bad blood, so to speak. I overheard the owner say he will kick you and your lovely partner out if you eat red meat. I am incredibly sorry, but I think you truly understand, no?”

“N-, well, yes. I do.” Beatrice, Beatty noticed, failed to react to any of this.

The waiter, noticing where Beatty’s eyes went, snapped again, and Beatrice’s cherry lips finished twisting into an impatient scowl. “That was rude of me too, I apologize sir, it is, ah! Such a busy night! I hate to make such a lovely couple wait!” He looked at Beatrice, to Beatty, and back to Beatrice, then smiled broadly. “What a day and age, no? What we can transcend with the right music and atmosphere! Ah, most things, at least. Please, let me recommend, we have a wonderful zuppa di pesce and amazing, amazing wood fire grilled tilapia. I will even offer you a side of calamari on the house. Seafood is better for your health, no?”

“Um, how about…”

“Beatty, you hate complex dishes. No zuppa. Sir? He’ll have the tilapia. Please place the order now. With the calamari, thank you, we have waited long enough.”

The waiter bowed sincerely and briskly walked towards the kitchen, Beatrice’s eyes following every step. When he disappeared behind the maroon curtain, she growled, “Sherry and I have been here twice before, and the service has never been this bad! We are never coming here-” She rolled her eyes and groaned, then leaned in, placing her elbows on the table. “Beau, I’m sorry! I was so irritated seeing him stand there after you ordered that when he started offering other options, I just said the first thing that came to mind! I’m sorry. That was rude. I shouldn’t order for you. This is the last time I’m coming here. I’m sorry for suggesting it. They’ve always been much better.”

Beatty, relaxing into the pocket of the booth, rolling his shoulders to reposition his blue blazer, watched the wait staff glide effortlessly around the dining room, and grinned loosely. “No, love. That’s alright. I’m sure tonight is a fluke. Let’s come back here, for old time’s sake.” He reached across the table to offer her a hand.

She ran her fingers along his and murmured, “Your hands are cold again, beau. If you want to come back, fine, but we are not staying here for dessert. Though, I do want something sweet. Do you want to go to Burbank’s to top off the night?”

“Sure thing, Bea.”

“Hey, Beatty?” She ran her fingertips across his palm.

“Yes, Bea?”

“Do you actually believe there was some reptilian civilization?”

Beatty enclosed his hand to hold onto hers. “I think all things are possible with enough time. Thank you for being with me tonight. I love you, Bea.”

She wrapped both hands around his, warmly. “I love you too, beau.”