Doc waited patiently on the bed, watching Patrick comb his hair. The sounds of the street could be heard through the open window of the hotel room, horns blaring and people shouting, already drunk well before sunset.
“We’re gonna turn this place inside out, Doc,” said Patrick. He gave a final affectionate pat to the elaborate wave on top of his head and threw the comb onto the bed beside Doc.
Doc stood up and walked over to the window. The hotel was in the seediest location imaginable, rendering its attractive rate package considerably less appealing. Directly below the window, a group of boys were squaring off with knives and tire irons. A matching group of girls watched the action from across the street, nubile vampires hungry for the first drop of blood.
“Are you sure you want to go out there?” said Doc nervously. Patrick was pacing back and forth, tugging at the waistband of his tight jeans.
“I played the tuba for a year just to go on this trip,” snarled Patrick. “You can stay in the hotel all weekend if you want, but I’m ready for some action.”
Doc watched one of the street kids gracefully plunge a knife into another boy’s stomach. A chorus of choked sighs arose from the girls as blood trickled from the boy’s mouth.
“Maybe some famous Broadway producer will see me and cast me in his next play,” said Patrick hopefully. The new wardrobe his mother had bought him for the band trip was certainly fashionable enough to capture the most discriminating eye. “I could be a star.”
Doc hunched his shoulders noncommittally and turned his back to the window. “Somebody just got stabbed down there, Patrick. Why don’t we just order room service and call it a night?”
“Now you’re acting like a tourist, Doc.” Patrick headed for the bathroom for one last check on his physical appearance. One never knew who might be out and about on the streets.
Patrick grinned intro the mirror, wishing that his braces could have been removed before this weekend, then closed his lips tightly to practice the sullen, worldly look that had been so successful for his high school yearbook photograph. As always, he was dressed in perfect style, the open neck of his sport shirt revealing a tantalizing glimpse of the tiny thatch of hair that had recently sprouted on his chest. The gold chains around his neck were really plated copper, but no one else had to know that.
When he turned around, Doc was standing in the bathroom doorway, looking as out of place in a New York hotel room as he did everywhere else. With his thick glasses and short, formless body, Doc was hardly a fitting companion for a debauched night on the town, but he was the only person on the band trip malleable enough to go along with Patrick’s schemes.
“We’ll have a great time,” said Patrick, trying not to sigh too loudly. Dracula had his Renfield. Patrick had Doc.
“I need fresh virgin blood,” Patrick said in his deepest voice, fixing Doc with a perfect preternatural stare.
Doc shrugged. “I need to study for my Geometry test on Monday,” he grumbled. “It’s not like the Band is my life, you know. Some people want to go to college.”
“Are you still going to be a heart surgeon?” said Patrick, taking Doc by the upper arm and pulling him out of the bathroom. This is the first step in mind manipulation, he thought. Get your person so busy talking about himself that he doesn’t know where you’re leading him.
“That was in ninth grade,” said Doc. “The real future’s in genetic engineering.”
Patrick felt the familiar pang of defeat gripping his belly. For some reason, Doc’s dumpy body was not cooperating with Patrick’s subtle efforts at mind control. Much to Patrick’s surprise, he discovered that Doc had pulled away from him and was heading for the stack of textbooks piled on his bed.
“What are you doing there, Doc?” Patrick hovered directly over Doc, addressing the back of his head.
Doc peered suspiciously at Patrick from the corner of his eye. “Patrick, back off a few steps. You’re making me nervous.”
“It’s time to go out and paint the town red, Doc.” Patrick moved closer and stood on the tips of his toes so he could manage to tower over Doc. Step number two: Gain a Physical Advantage.
“If ABA equals PC and FE bisects PC, what is the area of ELF?” Doc traced a rough triangle in the air for Patrick’s edification.
“You’d be better off slicing into someone’s aorta,” said Patrick. “Forget that stuff. It’s getting dark outside.”
Doc straightened slowly and pulled a lemon yellow cardigan from his suitcase. “All right, Patrick. I’ll go. But we have to be back in a couple of hours. I don’t want to blow my chances of a scholarship over a stupid band weekender.”
By the time Patrick and Doc had walked three blocks from the hotel, Doc was sweating profusely. For a day in early spring, the streets were incredibly steamy and the strange men in long robes who repeatedly tugged at his sleeve were beginning to get on his nerves. Every restaurant and diner they passed was filled with dangerous looking people. Doc was becoming desperate for a simple cheeseburger from a place where he would not have to sterilize the meat before putting it in his mouth.
Patrick was also becoming desperate, his head swiveling about in search of a bar that might serve two underage foreigners from the Midwest. From the corner of his eye, he could see desire in the eyes of the women on the street. They had obviously never seen the likes of himself in their city. He actually pitied the poor wenches slavering after his hard, unobtainable flesh. Perhaps when the night progressed to a fine peak of madness, he would throw them Doc as a consolation prize for their patience.
Patrick elbowed Doc in the ribs and boldly pointed to a woman standing at the entrance of a hotel even dingier than their own. “Look at that skirt, Doc,” he gasped. “It looks like it’s made out of rubber. And it barely covers her you-know-what. You don’t see too many pieces like that back home.”
Catching the boys’ stares, the woman smiled languidly and unbuttoned her blouse, exposing flattened breasts and stiff, rouged nipples.
Doc cocked his head quizzically to the side and kept on walking. “That was a pretty friendly thing for her to do,” he said over his shoulder. There was a hotdog vendor on the next block who had infinitely more appeal to Doc at the present moment.
“What’s wrong with you?” shrieked Patrick, almost tumbling to the ground as he raced to keep pace with Doc, while at the same time keeping his eyes fixed on the woman’s bare breasts. “Can’t you see she wanted us?”
“Will you sell me a hotdog with mustard, please?” said Doc when he reached the vendor’s cart.
“You’re from out of town, aren’t you?” said the vendor, reaching a filthy hand into a steel compartment filled with chunks of meat and other unrecognizable objects. “I lost my tongs somewhere. You don’t mind if I use my hands, do you?”
“We’re not from out of town,” snarled Patrick, suddenly appearing from nowhere to take charge. “We grew up right around here. Now shut your fucking mouth and give my friend his food.”
The vendor stoically smeared mustard across the top of the hotdog and handed it to Doc. “That’ll be ten dollars, kid,” he said.
“I don’t have ten dollars,” said Doc, stricken. “I never heard of anyone paying that much for a hotdog.”
Patrick glared at Doc and reached into his pocket for the roll of money his mother had given him before escorting him onto the chartered bus. He pulled a bill from the roll and threw it onto the cart, refusing to make eye contact with the vendor.
Doc trudged off before any more insults could be exchanged, taking large, hungry bites of the hot dog as he struggled for some plausible excuse to return to the hotel. Several seconds passed before he realized that Patrick was once again at his side, hissing viciously into his ear.
“Don’t you know that you have to act like a native to survive around here,” lectured Patrick wildly. “You’re going to get us both killed. Just watch the way I act and follow along, Doc. You saw how I got that hotdog guy under control in no time.”
“You paid ten bucks for a rotten hotdog. No hotdog’s worth that much money.”
“This is New York,” said Patrick patiently, amazed at Doc’s sheltered upbringing. “Things are expensive around here. That’s exactly what I meant by acting like you’re from out of town. Hotdogs naturally cost more in a big city. I know about these things.”
Doc finished the hotdog and tossed his paper napkin onto the street. “The sign on the cart said a dollar.”
“What sign?” said Patrick.
“The one on the side of the hotdog cart. It said ‘Hot Dogs: $1.”
Patrick stopped abruptly and glared at Doc. Things were not going according to plan, and he was sure that Doc was somehow to blame. “Why didn’t you say something about it, then?”
“I thought you had everything under control.” Doc shuffled back and forth in place, wondering if there was any place in this city where he could get a decent meal without first obtaining a large bank loan.
“The trick is to let these people know that you can handle them,” continued Patrick, recovering somewhat. “They’re all like animals. If they detect the slightest trace of hesitation or fear in you, they move in for the kill.”
“Then why don’t we just go back to the hotel? The people there seemed harmless enough.”
“It’s all a facade, Doc,” said Patrick sadly. “They just wait for you to leave your room so they can break in and steal all your valuables.”
“I don’t have any valuables,” said Doc nonchalantly before a sudden burst of panic seized him. “What if they steal my geometry book, Patrick?” Doc moved closer to Patrick and slung his arms around his friend’s neck in misery, desperate for reassurance of some sort. “The school charges you if you lose your textbooks. I’ll bet they’re worth thousands of dollars.”
Patrick rapidly disentangled himself from Doc’s clutching embrace, worried that he might be establishing the wrong kind of reputation on his first night in a strange city.
Doc walked on alone, pulling at his lower lip with his teeth in despair. He came to a halt in front of a pretzel vendor, briefly debating whether he should try to dominate the elderly Korean woman standing there with a barrage of obscenities.
“How much are those?’ he said instead, pointing at a pile of pretzels stacked in the glass case that was attached to the side of the cart.
“Those not for sale. They very old. No good.”
Doc leaned closer and propped his elbows on the cart. He could barely understand what the old woman was saying to him, but knew that it was of vital importance that he establish a rapport with her.
“Will you sell me a pretzel?” he wailed. “I’m very hungry. I’m a tourist and I’m scared to death.” Doc anxiously looked around for Patrick, who was nowhere to be found. “I’m here on a weekender with the McKinley High School Marching Band.”
The old woman nodded sympathetically and handed Doc a pretzel. Doc wonderingly took the pretzel from her wrinkled hand and sank his teeth into it, almost gagging from the heavy layer of rock salt.
“I saw someone get stabbed right in front of our hotel,” added Doc, mumbling through a full mouth. This is the worst pretzel I’ve ever tasted, he thought, looking into the woman’s bright raisin eyes.
“Delicious,” he said. “You’re a fine cook, ma’am. Could I have another, please?” Patrick seemed to have been swallowed up somewhere on the street, and the pretzels, though stale and disgusting, were oddly comforting. Maybe city life wasn’t so bad after all.