CHAPTER 1

WAY MO' SHEEP


It was harder to sing with the vampire teeth than I thought it would be. I was rehearsing the role of Farina LeBleu, a Cajun vampire trolling the desolate platforms of Grand Central Station by night and selling one-way tickets out of town on the main concourse by day. New Yorkers leaving the station at midnight—Farina had sold them their tickets—were her victims.

That there was a never-ending stream of New Yorkers purchasing one-way, midnight tickets out of town on a daily basis was a hole in the plot that had never been filled. That I was a vampire working in a train station ticket booth in broad daylight exclusively selling one-way tickets out of Manhattan was a leap of faith that Dennis, the writer-director, and Posey, the composer-producer, were certain the audience would take once they felt the power of Farina’s internal conflict.

My victim was Roger Platt, whose name in the play was Orlando Bilzi. Roger was a twice-divorced, fifty-two-year-old, part-time janitor in a mid-town high-rise. He also sold cars in Queens and delivered frozen shrimp in Staten Island, stitching together enough income to keep acting, although if you asked him, he would say he was an actor and not anything else. At this moment, he was an actor on the verge of hysterics. His face was blown up like a red balloon about to burst. He’d heard me rehearsing the song at the piano earlier. He knew what was coming.

“I am Farina LeBleu,” I said, though with the plastic teeth it sounded something like “Siam Hyena Baboon.” I stalked Roger around the stage, preparing to pounce. All around us, the late-night lost souls of Grand Central skulked in the shadows, awaiting their cue to join in the closing number of the first act, a barn-burning ballad called “Railroad Street.”

It was a lament, “Railroad Street.” Farina was a reluctant drinker of blood. Deep in her cold vampire heart, she wanted to sing, dance, and live the life of a cabaret star, but when the sun went down and the ticket booth closed, her thirst overcame her, and she found herself once more on Railroad Street in search of a warm neck.

“You sold me my ticket,” Roger said, laughter leaking through his nose. “You’re the vampire of Grand Central Station.”

“And do you know where we are?” I said, moving in for the kill as Posey played the first notes of the ballad.

Roger was ready to explode but knew his cue, even if what I’d asked had sounded like, “Ann voodoo no hair Eeyore?” His answer would propel us into the song, and then all bets would be off. “Railroad Street,” he said, already laughing.

“Yes,” I sang. “Way Mo’ Sheep, Way Mo’ Sheep, I’ll drink the blood of Way Mo’ Sheep.”

All the members of The Schmidt and Parker Players stopped acting and started laughing. Roger fell to his knees on the stage, the air gushing out of him. Everyone in the loft lost their minds and busted their guts—except for Dennis and Posey, who stopped playing the piano.

“Kate, when you sing, ‘Way Mo’ Sheep, Way Mo’ Sheep, I’ll drink the blood of Way Mo’ Sheep,’ the audience is pulled out of the reality of the moment,” Dennis said.

He was sixty-two years old, five feet three inches tall in his boots, and as thin and limber as Joel Grey, who he dressed like, looked like, acted like, and sounded like.

“They’re with Farina, sweetheart,” Dennis said. “They’re feeling Farina’s pain. They’re rooting for Farina to give up her bloodsucking ways and become a nightclub singer, and then, at the first-act curtain, they’re wondering, ‘Way Mo’ Sheep? What does that mean?’ They’re turning to people in the next seat, people they’ve never once seen in their entire lives, and asking them, ’Do you know what that means, Way Mo’ Sheep, because now I’m confused. Are there sheep in Grand Central Station that I don’t know about? Is she asking for more sheep? Why does she want more sheep? Maybe she should stay a vampire after all or become a shepherd. Maybe nightclubs aren’t in Farina’s future.’”

“It’s the teeth, Dennis. I’m still getting used to them. They’re on the big side.”

“Would you like a moment to adjust them?”

“That would be nice.”

“Ten minutes, people.”

I stepped off the stage and walked to the bathroom at the far end of the loft, a large, open, industrial space with a rectangular floor plan, fourteen-foot ceilings, and ten-foot windows. There were two rows of steel columns running the length of the room; their dual purpose was to hold up the building and block audience sightlines. The heating and air-conditioning systems were exposed and commercial lighting hung down below the ductwork. Dennis and Posey had inherited a big chunk of change, bought the place, built a stage, installed theatrical lights, and the D-Cup Musical Theater was born.

It was called the D-Cup because the loft was the third floor of what was once a three-story bra factory. Some of the exposed brick walls still had large, faded pictures of women’s torsos wearing old-fashioned brassieres. An industrial elevator with sliding cage doors opened right into the space. A bell rang when it was on its way up, sometimes in the middle of a show. It rang as I walked by.

The former men’s room for the bra factory workers (now a unisex facility) was tiled by European immigrants three-quarters of a century ago and had two urinals tall enough to stand in, two toilets, and two sinks. Dennis and Posey added a shower.

I shut and locked the door, moved to the sinks, looked in the mirror, adjusted the plastic teeth, put them back in my mouth, bared my fangs, and sang the first lines of the chorus. “Rainbow Seat, Rainbow Seat.” Better, I thought.

I was in the seventh grade when I dedicated myself to acting. It was after my first musical, Bye Bye Birdie, in which I played the role of Kim MacAfee, the lucky girl from Sweet Apple, Ohio, who gets chosen to kiss Conrad Birdie on The Ed Sullivan Show before Birdie heads off to the army. We had sold-out performances with standing ovations every night. So what if it was our parents? I was hooked.

But the acting career path I was planning took a sharp left turn when I got pregnant at sixteen and gave birth to a boy, Matthew, exactly on my seventeenth birthday. The young man who assisted in getting me pregnant left immediately for San Francisco to be, among other things, gay.

I was a seventeen-year-old single mother in Manhattan with my sights set on the stage, which, I figured out fast, was one of the greatest moving targets of all time. Still, I kept aiming for it. I dropped out of high school and went to endless auditions for late-night local television commercials promoting shady used-car dealerships, ambulance-chasing lawyers, desperately empty eateries, and laundry detergent that could remove blood—good news if you were a hit man or a vampire, which, poetically, I now was.

I acted in mini-budget independent horror films and micro-budget experimental plays that included incomprehensible dramas with music, and inconceivable musicals with drama. There were comedies that weren’t funny and tragedies that were laugh riots.

Some were paying gigs but not enough of them to keep Matthew and me housed and clothed and fed. So to keep the ship afloat, I went to work.

I worked as a waitress, a trade-show hostess, a secretary, a bartender, an acting coach, a line cook, a bank teller, a lingerie saleswoman, a tour guide, a house painter, a used-book seller, a dating service coordinator, a bagel-maker, a retirement home entertainer, a convenience store clerk, a grocery store checker, a law firm receptionist, a medical office receptionist, a dental office receptionist, a real estate office receptionist, a publishing company receptionist, a computer company receptionist, an advertising company receptionist, a construction company receptionist, an art gallery receptionist, a public relations company receptionist, a fashion company receptionist, an investment company receptionist, a museum security guard, and, for a short but memorable time, an exotic dancer.

I also worked—between gigs, when I had nothing else happening, usually kicking and screaming—for my father’s New York City private investigations company, doing surveillance and other PI particulars for Jimmy, my father.

All of which left me, at age forty-five, adjusting plastic vampire teeth in the former men’s room of a 1940s bra factory on the last Friday night in July. I put them in my mouth and sang, “Mailroom Pete, Mailroom Pete.”

“Kate.” It was Posey, knocking at the door.

“Yes, Posey.”

She was fifty-five, the spitting image of Liza Minelli, who she emulated in the same way that her husband channeled Joel Grey. Except for the fact that Posey was perfectly round, there was the constant feeling that we were in a never-ending loop of Cabaret as soon as we entered the D-Cup.

“From out here that sounded like Mailroom Pete.”

I took the teeth out, reshaped them. “Are you spying on me?”

“Yes and no.”

“It can’t be both.”

“Yes, I’m spying. And no, there’s a man here to see you.”

“Who is he?” I put the teeth in.

“His name is Barnes.”

I sang the chorus. “Fat Toad Creep, Fat Toad Creep.”

“That sounded like Fat Toad Creep,” Posey said.

I took the teeth out. “Can he wait until after rehearsal?”

“I don’t think so, Kate. I’m afraid it’s bad news.”

“About what?” I said, unlocking and opening the door.

Standing beside Posey was a fire hydrant in a gray suit.

“Your father,” Posey said.