An Excerpt From Dancing With Werewolves
By Carole Nelson Douglas
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My own mother wouldn't have known me when I arrived at the Inferno at 9:00 pm.
Not that I'd ever had a mother to know me, or to not know me.
The hotel-casino was a bat-winged swoop of opaque black glass towering fifty
stories or so. It was ringed with moats of fire and ice, with holographic
figures writhing in them like the naked babes in the opening credits to an old
James Bond movie. I always tried not to look at the naked and the dead if I
didn't have to. Something about both states was unnerving.
I was fairly self-conscious when I turned Dolly over to the valet parking
chap: he was a symphony of milk chocolate skin wearing a pleated white ancient
Egyptian kilt, shoulder-spanning beaded collar, gilt sandals, and a jackal-head
mask tricked up with really heavy eyeliner. At least he could remove his makeup
with the flick of a wrist.
Who was I to snicker at the underdressed help?
The last I'd seen of myself in the Déjà-Vous mirror, my
baby blues were hidden behind gray contact lenses. My
hair and skin had been deemed black and white enough
already for the silver screen. The dress du jour was a
floor-length black velvet thirties gown with a giant pair
of rhinestone clips on the shoulder. The severe neckline
cut across my collarbones but draped well below my
waist in backless splendor. I wore white satin pumps and
carried a silver fox stole that I was assured had died for
our sins eighty years ago, way before the animal rights
enlightenment, so why waste it? My hair had been drawn
back and coiled into a thick figure eight at the nape of my
neck, giving me a Spanish air that I sure wished Ric was
here to see.
Lots of lone women like me were ankling into the Inferno in various cinematic
get-ups swiped from the birth of film around 1900 to fifties' science fiction
thrillers. I'd never been a groupie before. It was unnerving, since I wasn't
sure who or what we were being groupies of. Or for.
My palms were a tad damp on the soft velvet bag that matched the dress. The
duds were due back at Deja-Vous in the morning, so I desperately didn't want to
get sweaty fingerprints on the vintage silk-velvet that went for hundreds of
dollars a yard now. That was the trouble: I knew how rare and costly vintage
clothing was, and we all shouldn't be traipsing around in this stuff like giggly
prom queens . . . because my partners in crime pouring into the Inferno were
definitely gigglers from ages eight to eighty-four. We fanned out through the
icy, air-conditioned casino that blasted screams and moans and flares of fire as
the slot machines swallowed bills and spit out mostly sound and fury, not coins.
Miniaturized versions of the mirrored balls from Jazz Age ballrooms floated
above and around us like flocks of intrusive heavy-metal bubbles.
The Inferno Bar seemed like a familiar refuge when
I first spotted its mirrored wall of endlessly reflected
liquor bottles. Then I noticed that the bar top was
polished exotic wood carved with exotic demonic
faces. It rested on a giant Plexiglas aquarium filled with
leaping flames and tiny capering devils. What were
these things? Fire lizards? Projections? Or slaves of the
dêcor? Some god-awful rock music was drilling through
the sound system, all wailing guitars, manic drums, and
The sight of a dignified figure in a well-cut tuxedo (with white skin, black
hair and pencil-thin mustache) was like glimpsing an angel on the threshold of
hell. He was holding forth between two barstools of red enameled steel, a
martini glass in one hand and a sterling silver cigarette lighter in the other.
(Gold, of course, would not match the strict B/W dress code.)
"Hello, sir," I greeted him over the racket, "your cousin Godfrey suggested I
introduce myself to you."
"Ah." His eyes were slightly bleary. "How is old Godfrey anyway? Still seeing
that dippy socialite?"
"No, he's . . . employed now."
"Sorry to hear it. Work will be the death of the leisure class. Martini,
"Not . . . yet. Godfrey said you could orient me to this place."
"My bar is your bar, sweet lady. Have a seat."
"There aren't any free."
"Oh, so there aren't. A shame you shall have to balance on those tricky
little evening slippers. I suppose I'm forgetting myself. I'm rather prone to
that." He put down the cigarette lighter after servicing ladies on bracketing
barstools. "Charles is the name."
"Nice to meet you, Charles."
"No. The surname. Charles. Nick Charles."
I got the vintage film reference right away. "Not the famous detective from
the pen of the man who created Sam Spade? You solved the Thin Man case."
"Well, I and my wife Nora did. And Asta, our intrepid wire-haired terrier.
And a few bottles of Gilbey's. Have you ever heard of an intrepid wire-haired
"No, only of an intrepid Lhasa apso."
"Don't know that breed. Sounds rather Shangri-La, something chichi the ladies
always go for."
"As a matter of fact, the breed was sacred to the Dalai Lamas and forbidden
to leave Tibet, but an Englishwoman smuggled out a breeding pair decades ago."
"Ah. The English make the best spies. Look so harmless, don't you know? 'A
breeding pair.' I'm always in favor of procreation, so long as it doesn't result
"This was puppies."
"Noted. What do you wish to know?
"What is this noise?"
"I quite agree." Nick Charles took a long swallow of his martini. "I prefer
Paul Whiteman. That 'noise,' I fear, is at the behest of our host and my
"Christophe, of course. Showy fellow, but low-brow. I imagine the man never
owned a monkey suit." He spread his arms to display his handsome tuxedo. "After
six there is nothing else I'd rather be seen in, except a bathtub full of gin."
"Godfrey said you could show me around the Inferno. The less public areas."
"I'm supposed to anchor the bar, but I might be able to slip away for some
detecting work. Even better, I have a reliable chum who might be up to an easy
He gave me a friendly and totally gin-disabled lascivious once-over. "Poor
fellow. He is always overlooked and eager for recognition. Speaking of which--"
Nick Charles ran his glance over the line of female CinSymbiants lining the bar.
"Where's Nora? Nora should be here. She always sees to me and my martinis."
Several slinky dames in gowns like mine presented unlit cigarettes, many in
holders. Nick Charles dutifully lit them in turn, if a bit shakily.
Where was Nora Charles? That woman was the pepper to his salt, Myrna Loy to
William Powell, his sophisticated wife. But now William Powell was a
split-screen personality: Godfrey at Nightwine's place, the Good Time Charles,
Nicky Charles, at the Inferno. And no one had thought to give either Powell
CinSim the women made for them in the movies: Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy.
I felt a chill of apprehension and indignation. Nightwine was right. The
CinSims shouldn't be up for sale, ripped from their film environments and
partners, doled out among Las Vegas hotel-casinos and clubs as enslaved
attractions, without free will or a say in their own usage.
Before I could launch into a barside invective about that I noticed that
Nicky Charles had ebbed away down the polished if perverse wood.
"I've been waiting for you," a velvet basso voice said behind me, close
enough to send a subtle vibration from my ear down to the soles of my dancing
slippers. It was a stage voice, all timbre and open throat and intimate
At least he hadn't added the hokey "all my life."
I turned around to eyeball him and then I wasn't sure he had a life.
He was as white as a corpse . . . whiter. He had white-as-marble clothing,
skin, hair. He seemed as tall as the white cliffs of Dover and I was wearing
high heels. The only thing dark on him was the rimless sunglasses that obscured
"Dance?" he asked. "The floor is solid black walnut and very smooth." When I
looked around to see some couples in motion around us, I was in sudden motion
too, my white-gloved right hand in the custody of his left, my feet forced to
retreat to a rhythmic advance.
No. The eyes behind the glasses wouldn't be white. They'd be pink. Mr. Foxy
Fox Trot wasn't the walking dead (maybe). He was an albino.
"I don't usually do the senior shuffle," he murmured into the coils of my
fancy bun, behind my left ear, "but I had to get my hands on that magnificent
And he was doing just that, getting his dead-white hand on my naked back as
we danced. His temperature felt neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. His oddly
callused fingertips (maybe horny in both senses of the word) played my spine
from nape to bottom curve like a musical instrument.
There was nothing vintage about this dude, except maybe glam rock 'n' roll
from the seventies. His white hair, shoulder-blade-brushing long, looked
spun-glass soft. Spun fiberglass had been called "angel hair" when it decked
fifties Christmas tree angels until recognized as a health hazard and taken off
the market This image fit a guy wearing such opposite attire as a loose white
poet's shirt that would have done Byron proud and supernaturally tight white
leather pants that a young Mick Jagger would have killed to have six pair of in
bad-boy black. The obsidian sunglasses added a Blues Brothers note and hid any
creepy rabbit-pink eyes.
"And by whom do I have the honor of being fondled on the dance floor?" I
inquired in Jane Austen diction.
"Gives great grammar too," he said. "Call me Snow, sweeting." His accent was
part Brit, part indefinable European. "I'm the lead singer for Seven Deadly
Sins." He gestured at an empty stage visible over a mob of bobbing heads between
the bar and the distance stage.
"And which deadly sin are you?" I asked politely.
"Oh, all of them right now, I imagine," he purred. That
baritone voice could indeed purr. "Pure Lust and Gluttony
at this moment, can't you tell? I'll be mortal Envy if I
learn you're taken, then Anger. When I get you into my
bed I'll be Sloth incarnate, because we won't leave it for a
month. I'll be sheer Greed for you the entire time."
This was flirting in hyper drive. Flirting was against my religion, but I
realized that I could now get all the wrong frissons in all the right places
since Ric and I had literally connected over the dead bodies in the park, not to
mention certain dances with werewolves. As for dancing with Snow, his commanding
lead made my two left feet into twinkle toes. But this guy was so over-the-top
sexy and amusing that I couldn't take his line personally. A slinky Nora Charles
gown had been inciting men on and off the silver screen for decades. Not to
mention that I was getting the best back massage of my life. Well, the only back
massage of my life.
What was it with men in Las Vegas? First Ric, then Nightwine, now this.
Snow's fingers made a sensual glissando return trip up my spine to my nape, then
began pulling out the industrial-strength bobby pins that held my chignon in
place. My hair, like the walls of Jericho, came tumbling down.
"You're ruining the CinSymbiant illusion," I pointed out.
"Illusions are for small-time players. Reality rocks. What's your name?"
He gently tugged down my hair. What a cinematic game this was! I knew he'd
really get off on it, so I spoke slowly through a Mona Lisa smile, like Lauren
Bacall taunting Bogie with her "put your lips together and blow" how-to-whistle
line in To Have and Have Not, a bit of dialogue supposedly written by either
Hemingway or Faulkner. Who knew what those old lit guys could get up to?
"Ah, De-lie-lah." My dopey name sounded delicious in
his hybrid accent. He was pulling my hair and head even
farther back, almost like a vampire--a rather bloodless
one--baring a throat. But a throat wasn't his thing at the
"Instead of lusting to cut my hair," he said, "I suggest that you grow
He released it and finger-walked down my spine again until his hand slipped
under the draped velvet curtain of the gown. "When we make love under a curtain
of black and white locks it will look very sexy in the Venetian glass mirror
over the bed."
Okay, he was hinting he wasn't a vampire with that mirror reference, but he
sure was a sensualist in my book. I stared into the disconcerting rimless black
sunglasses. What's a pseudo-film goddess to do with a line like that?
"You might want to rethink that mirror, Snow. With me, I mean. I have a way
with mirrors." I was bluffing, but my close recent encounter with the witch in
the cottage mirror had made me cocky.
Maybe I wasn't just a medium, but a silver medium. I seemed to be sensitive
to anything made of silver . . . a silver-screen movie strip, mirror backing,
sterling jewelry . . . now, mirror-shade sunglasses.
Snow lifted one almost-invisible white eyebrow above the right dark sunglass
lens as his hand polished my shoulder blades with my own loosened curls.
"A way with mirrors? Should be interesting. Gotta run, Delilah. I'll see you
in your dreams if not in my mirror."
He left as swiftly as he had appeared. The air around us had been electric,
charged, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, and always just right, like Baby Bear's
bed was for Goldilocks. Except I was closer to Snow White and bears could eat up
a girl abandoned in the woods as easily as they could gobble porridge.
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Copyright © 2007 Carole Nelson Douglas. All Rights