I woke up exactly two minutes after the moon had risen. The room was stiflingly warm, a result of the unusual heat wave going through the region. Week-old paint fumes still lingered in the room, making the air slightly toxic. I sat up, grateful that breathing was no longer an issue for me, and looked around. An almost impenetrable darkness spread out before me, cut only here and there by a few lines of light that broke through around the edges of the drapes. I could see the edge of the chair that I had thrown my duffel bag near and the soft light of the bathroom peeking nervously around the edge of the closed door.
I sighed heavily and thought about where I was. Hudson City. The equivalent of a third world country right here on American soil. I couldn’t believe I’d given up Chicago for this dump, but it wasn’t like I had a whole hell of a lot of choice. For a vampire, peace is never easy to find. Once your lair has been compromised, you need to run, fast.
I walked over to the window and flung open the heavy drapes. Bright light from the gigantic neon sign next to my room blinded me momentarily. Inadvertently I hissed, not from pain, but from disgust. Even when I was still human, I loathed the sight of any very bright light, especially sunlight. Now it seemed fate felt it necessary to put me in a condition to match my attitude. Unlike vampires in film, I don’t automatically burst into flames or smoke when first exposed to bright sunlight. Instead, I sneeze. And I need to find a job. Kind of blows that whole mystical vampire image out of the water, doesn’t it?
Well, welcome to the real world. I’ve been a vamp for ten years now and still, literally, live hand to mouth. I don’t have any great powers. The best I can do is talk the cute drunk co-ed and her friend into a kinky threesome in order to fill my needs. Sure, I’m a little stronger and faster than before, but I can’t even withstand daylight like some of the rumored old-timers can. Like I said, I get these horrible sneezing fits that last until well after I’ve found cover. If I’m exposed for too long… Well, I don’t even want to think about that. Some of the others can’t stand any sunlight at all. I figure it’s kind of like any disease or virus, everyone reacts with different side effects. The only thing I count as lucky is that I still pass for human. Most people can’t tell the difference, but I can, usually. My background probably has more to do with it than any supernatural powers.
I picked up the interview letter I had received a week ago. My appointment was set for midnight on the nose. The time was my idea, although the interviewer accepted it readily. That made me a little queasy. It's hard to find purely night work and, when you're a vampire, it can be kind of a necessity. I really get annoyed at these shows and movies where all of the vampires have immeasurable stores of wealth and unbelievable powers to procure more. Totally unreal. Most vamps I know are in the same boat as me. Unless you inherit it, it's pizza delivery time. So finding a job that’s eager to accommodate a schedule like that automatically sets off some alarms. Hey, a little paranoia can be healthy.
Most vamps aren't as lucky as I was to have useful skills before being turned. Many wind up on the other side of the law, doing some really risky and dangerous stuff. Your average vamps realistically only last about two or three years before they're either found out by hunters or run afoul of a more powerful vampire. Either way, they’re usually destroyed.
I'm lucky. I used to be a Chicago cop. Worked my way all the way up to Detective Two in vice. Other guys, they go for homicide or narcotics. Not me. I'm not the biggest fan of having the start of an investigation be a dead body and as for narcs, you can keep it. Too many idiots with too many fucking guns. Besides, I always got a kick out of harassing the local tricks and running raids into illegal casinos. It's a lot of fun watching John Q. Public try to explain about his wife and kids. My skills are still needed; the only challenge is finding the right job.
My watch chimed the hour. It was ten. Plenty of time for a shower and a bite to eat. The room was sparsely furnished and I could feel the beat of the music coming from three floors down. Normally, a place like the one downstairs would be perfect for a quick hunt, but I learned quickly that you don’t hunt where you live. And, for tonight at least, this was home. These accommodations were not my idea. I would have preferred the Holiday Inn Express or even that cheap motel I saw on the way in. But instead, my potential employers arranged for an efficiency apartment in this converted factory turned nightclub. Maybe they own it or something. Gratitude, I suppose, was in order. The room was clean and the sparse furnishings were new. At least that's what the manager told me when I checked in at three-thirty this morning. Odd one, him. He was huge, well over seven feet tall, and had a heavy Australian accent. When he heard I was coming from Chicago, he said, "Nice place. "
"Oh," I answered, "So you've been there?"
"Not sure." He scratched his head and had a confused look on his face. "Not the kinda place you’d forget, is it? Sounds familiar – Windy City, ‘ome of the Cubs, deep dish pizza and all that. Maybe. No, come to think of it, I don’t think I ‘ave. Ah hell, I can't remember."
I had decided not to pursue the issue any further. It had been a long night and I needed to get a bite before sunrise. Luckily, I've learned a few tricks, so finding food in a large, strange city was relatively easy. I only had to make a short trip to the other side of town, and was fast asleep well before the first rays of dawn crept over the horizon.
After yawning and stretching a bit I pulled the best clothes I owned out of my bag. The suit was almost twelve years old and more than a little shabby, and my dress shoes were leftover from when I was a flatfoot. I walked into the small bathroom, hanged the suit on the back of the door, and answered the call of nature.
There’s another misconception about vampires. Somehow there’s this belief that ordinary bodily functions no longer apply to us. Wrong. It’s just different. All I need to survive is blood. As far as I can tell, that does not follow normal digestion. Blood feeds blood. However, I have an addiction left over from my human days. Coffee. Coffee with lots of sugar. I’m surprised I wasn’t diagnosed as diabetic before I died. That, as well as other foods, gets processed. Sort of. Since I drink a lot of it, I usually have to piss like a racehorse. Unfortunately, for liquids, it doesn’t look a lot different than when it went in. Oddly enough, solid foods come out liquid as well. I haven’t quite figured out why.
After I finished, I jumped in for a quick, hot shower. I knew the steam would take some of the wrinkles out of the suit that had been rolled up in a duffel bag for far too long. Just as I got out, there was a knock at my door. Please be a gorgeous leggy housekeeper. I really wasn’t in the mood to go out on the prowl again. After hastily throwing on the suit, I flung open the door. There, standing before me, was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She was dressed simply, in a pair of worn jeans and a halter top with her wavy, black hair bound in an elaborate clip. She surveyed me with cool, blue eyes, which locked level with mine.
“I’m from Murdock. Are you ready?” She had a strong, musky voice that carried the slightest hint of a Southern accent. Her nicely toned physique reminded me somewhat of a darker version of Linda Carter in her Wonder Woman years. She surveyed my clothes and smiled. “You needn’t be so formal. Casual dress is sufficient for tonight. I know I’m early. Go ahead and change.”
I looked at the condition of my suit and decided to save it some further wear and tear. Instinctively I reached into my duffel and pulled out a clean pair of black canvas pants and a shirt to match. A few minutes later I emerged from the bathroom much more comfortable than the first time.
She was seated on the rumpled bed. Before walking out, she stood with a sweet smile on her face and asked, “Are you ready, now?”
I nodded, trying to hold back my sheepish grin. She would definitely be perfect for a drop later. It wasn’t until later that I wondered why an interview would be casual.
I followed her to the elevator, all the while admiring the outstanding view. As we rode down, I looked her over and finally said, “Y’know, if you’re not doing anything later….”
She looked at me with a raised eyebrow and the smallest hint of a smile. The elevator settled and she opened the gate. “After you.”
As I walked past her I could feel her eyes on me. I liked this, a woman who could take it and dish it out. Most of the women I ran into took the leers and lines as insults, and lets face it, they are a little bit. But they’re also fun when taken in the right way. And she struck me as someone who definitely valued play.
We walked out the side door of the building. From my vantage point, I could see the end of the line waiting to get into the club - Raven’s Nest.
“Odd for so much business on a Wednesday,” I commented as I followed her across the street to a private garage.
“Not really,” she replied confidently, “with a university and a private college, the students tend to keep the place busy enough during the week until the plant workers and nine-to-fivers show up on the weekends.”
Our footsteps echoed as we made our way through the almost empty garage. In fact, the place was almost totally deserted. Only two vehicles were parked there, side by side, in the middle of the first floor. One was an old pickup that was set up a little high and about eight different colors. It was quite an eyesore. The second was a sleek, black Firehawk. I could tell by the hood that it was sporting the top of the line package with the most power. It was a smooth ride.
Leaning against the truck and smoking a cigarette was the most menacing individual I had ever met. His entire presence throbbed with an intensity I had never experienced before. He was dressed in black from head to toe, and looked like a cowboy version of the Grim Reaper. All that was missing was a large scythe and a big, shiny belt buckle.
The woman walked up to him and said, “Please don’t lean on my truck. You might knock off the rust that’s holding it together.”
Obediently, the man shifted his weight, only slightly, but was standing fully erect. Even with the change in position, a shadow seemed to lurk, partially covering his face.
“Introductions are in order,” she smiled wickedly and shared a knowing look with the stranger that left me more than a little uneasy. “My name is Sarah Jane Crowe, and this is Wayne Stevens. We’ve been sent personally by Seana Murdock, President of Murdock, Inc. to meet with you tonight.”
I couldn’t believe it but he tipped his hat like he was Wyatt Earp or something, touching his finger and thumb ever so gingerly to the brim.
“Wayne,” She directed her attention to him, “this is Harlan Lee David. Generally speaking we are quite informal here so you may call me Sarah and Wayne, Wayne.”
“How’s it going?” I swallowed the word Tex, although I couldn’t quite hold back the amused look I had.
To my surprise, Sarah looked at Wayne and said, “See, it’s not just me.”
Wayne growled slightly. “Come on. We’re wastin’ moonlight.”
“A few things first, dear sir,” Sarah opened the driver’s side door to her truck and pulled out a file as thick as my arm. As she walked back, she asked, “May we call you Harlan?”
“Of course,” I responded and began to lean against the Firehawk. Swiftly, Sarah caught hold of my arm and jerked me forward.
“Sorry,” she said firmly as she helped me regain my balance, “But Wayne is very found of his anti-theft devices. If you had made contact with the metal, you’d have been tazered. “
“Thanks,” I held my voice steady as I looked him over, “Kinda settin’ yourself up for a lawsuit, aren’t ya?”
He only shrugged as Sarah further explained, “It’s supposed to have an earsplitting chime that goes off when someone’s come too near but, apparently it’s broken.”
I raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Sensing my nervousness, she added, “I prefer my anti-theft device better.”
She pointed to the driver’s side window where a weird mix of a dog was leaning out. He growled softly, but didn’t attempt to get out of the truck. He seemed almost as nervous as I was.
She flipped open the file and laid it across the tailgate. “Okay Harlan, what do you know about us?”
I wasn’t prepared for a quiz, but I gave it my best shot. “I know the basics, at least. I always research any potential employer. Murdock Incorporated is a multi-national conglomerate, consisting of Murdock Industries, Murdock Entertainment, Murdock Shipping, and Murdock Publishing, among many other holdings. You employ over 10,000 full-time workers, with many more contracted out at various projects. And, against the advice of several business consultants, your headquarters is located in Hudson City.”
“Very good,” she nodded approvingly. “I am head of security for Seana’s personal detail as well as being vice president in charge of security for the corporate headquarters here in Hudson City. This makes me your boss. Like Wayne, you report directly to me. Now, obviously a conglomerate our size has people in various positions of the same nature in different regions, but Hudson City is our home. The position you applied for, Law Enforcement Liaison, is local in nature. The dealings are mainly with those members of city, county, and state law enforcement rather than federal. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” The look of confusion on my face had to do with something she had said. That I reported directly to her. I had to ask. “You mean, I already have the job?”
Now it was her turn to look confused. “Yes, why wouldn’t you?”
“Well,” I answered, “I thought, interview and all . . .”
“Harlan, you did your homework on us, “ she flipped over a page in the dossier and showed me a picture of myself, years ago, in uniform at the beginning of my police officer career. “And we did ours on you.”
“May I ask then if I have the job, is the interview a formality?”
“This isn’t an interview,” she responded.
“Then what is it?”
“Introductions, preparations,” she answered. “A briefing.”
“Seana and I decided that with your background and contacts in the Hudson City police department you would be ideal for this position.” Sarah explained. “You hail from Chicago, which is almost as rough as H.C., and weathered a tough police job with numerous commendations. After a nasty run in with a local crimelord, you faked your death and changed your name. Since then, you’ve been doing personal security, bounty hunting, and various other similar jobs. You have had thorough training and are very good at what you do. We checked your references. It’s okay, anyone in our business understands the need for anonymity. So, after a thorough background check we decided you were the man for the job.”
I hoped my jaw hadn’t dropped open. They knew all about me. Well, not all. They thought I faked my death. Still, that was some good investigative work. I was hoping for a good interview, not the actual job offer. I didn’t know what to say. I needed money and a place to set up for hunting so badly, and purely night jobs in my field were so hard to come. Most employers asked far too many unanswerable questions. Now I had a job. And, there was more.
“Of course,” she added, “Seana and I decided it would be unfair to hire you without you being able to test the waters tonight . . . a sort of in-basket exercise if you will. You should know what you are up against before you decide if you want it. If, after tonight, you don’t think that this is the right job for you, we can part ways amicably. Otherwise, the job is yours.”
“Thank you,” was all I could manage to say.
“Did you bring any weapons?” She asked.
“I wasn’t aware I would need any.” I answered and jerked my thumb in the other direction. “I have a Glock in my room.”
“Not necessary,” Sarah pulled out a beauty of a Berretta from the back of her waistband. “It’s my spare but it’s in great condition. Wayne’s got extra ammo if you need it. Return it when you get back, but only use it if you have to.”
I took a deep breath out of habit and slid into the passenger seat, feeling a little lost, but happy. I expected the car to have modifications, but, when he started the engine, it was absolutely silent. Apparently the job needed subtlety as well.
“Special design,” he answered my unasked question. He deftly maneuvered out of the garage and onto the street in a matter of seconds.
As we flew down the road, I could easily sense that Wayne was the kind of guy that just loved small talk. You know, someone chattering the entire time, filling the depths of silence. So I obliged him.
“So, how long you been working for them?”
“Little less than a year.”
“What do you do?”
“Anything I’m told.”
“Is that your job title?”
Insert irritated look here.
“Okay. Well, I’m a Law Enforcement Liaison, whatever that means.”
“Means do what you’re told.”
“So, I guess, you’re the same thing.”
“Federal, not local.”
“Ah. So you were on the job. Where?”
“Somewhere else. Long time ago.”
“Ok… Was someone else in my position before?”
“Why’d she change?”
“I see. Anyone else apply?”
“They didn’t survive the audition.” His voice was dry and I suppose he said it to shock me. But he spoke the truth. I could sense it.
I leaned back in the seat. I wasn’t too worried. I was already dead. We rode the rest of the way in silence.
We pulled up to an abandoned section of the railroad yards. It would be the kind of place in Chicago for drug deals and gang executions. Even the homeless, so in need of the shelter that the rusted boxcars provided, would steer clear of it. Wayne pulled in as far as he could and cut the engine, coasting the last few feet. He got out and walked to the rear of the car. I followed suit.
“Hope you don’t mind getting dirty,” he stated as he opened the hatch. He pulled out a long duster like the one he had on and handed it to me. I shook my head.
“No thanks,” I smiled, “I have style.”
“Put it on,” he ordered, thrusting it into my hands.
It was far too heavy to just be canvas. I felt around the front. Two plates of armor were sewn into the fabric. The fabric felt odd as well. I looked up at him. “All right, what’s goin’ on? If this is something seriously illegal that I’m gonna have to square with the cops, then I ain’t doin’ it.”
To my surprise, his face softened slightly, very slightly. Overall it still held the same irritated expression he had worn since we met. “What we are doing isn’t illegal. In fact, there are absolutely no laws covering it. Put on the duster and follow my lead or walk back.”
He proceeded to make his way through the railroad graveyard. My gut told me something bad was about to go down and secretly I wondered if I had fallen into a pack of hunters. Perhaps this is how they lured in unsuspecting vampires. They could be using Murdock, Inc. as a front. Hell, with computers these days anyone can pretend to be anyone else. Hunters were known for their clever tricks. Most of them were trained by fanatic groups, ready to do anything to wipe out the supernatural wherever they encountered it. My paranoia had kicked in again. They probably didn’t even believe in vampires. I put on the duster and followed his lead, ready for anything.
He was two yards from the target, a very old, unkempt caboose, when he unslung a shotgun he had hidden in his coat. I looked, but no such luck. I pulled out the Beretta and checked the magazine. It was fully loaded and the chamber was clear. I guess that was a good sign; why give a target a loaded gun? Still, Wayne looked like the type who liked a challenge, so I wasn’t taking any chances. I chambered a round and waited for his signal. He motioned me to approach from the back.
I climbed the back steps, ready for assault on any side. None came. Cautiously I slid open the door and looked in. Wayne was on the other side looking back at me. The car was as silent as the grave. I shrugged. It appeared to be abandoned.
Suddenly there was a loud crash and the car landed on its side. Both of us were thrown, but, to my amazement, Wayne had already recovered and was chasing whatever had upset the car. I sped up to follow. By the time I caught up with him he had a teenaged kid laying prone, his face in the dirt.
“Put your hands behind your back.” He ordered, his shotgun directed to the middle of the kid’s back.
“You asshole,” the kid answered. “When my father hears about this . . .”
“He’s the one that ordered it.” Wayne answered. “Harlan, in your right pocket you’ll find some zip cuffs. Lace him up.”
I stashed my pistol and asked, “Why?”
“Later. Right now, do as you’re told.”
“No. I wasn’t hired to be the member of some brute squad rousting runaways.”
“Do it, now!”
His eyes flashed angrily at me, but I was determined not to yield. This hesitation on both parts turned out to be almost disastrous. In the blink of an eye a figure appeared behind Wayne. Wayne swung around and waylaid the intruder. Even now I am not sure what it was. It was big, and ugly, and strong. The kid hopped up, but, instead of running away, leapt toward me with his fangs out and his claws bared. I had been mistaken. This wasn’t a teenaged runaway. It was a full-fledged vampire.
Well, if the cowboy didn’t believe in vampires before, I’m sure he would now. I didn’t want Wayne to have any evidence that I was a vampire, so I let my cop training take over. I pulled off two rounds from the Berretta, but the kid didn’t even slow down. With a quick swipe, he knocked the pistol from my hand. I slid out of the way of his next swing, but tripped over something and landed on the ground. It was an iron spike from the rails. He leapt in the air again, this time to crush me with the full force of his weight. I snatched up the spike and threw it, a little too hard. It caught him in the shoulder and flung him across the air and nailed him to the side of another boxcar. Whoa. Sometimes I forget how strong I am now.
I climbed to my feet and recovered the Beretta. With my sights trained to his heart I approached, but he merely twitched against the boards of the car. As I got closer, I realized I had hit him in the heart. He’d be virtually paralyzed until it was removed. Or until he was finished off.
Feeling confident he would be staying there, I went to find my companion. He was easy to find. All I had to do was follow the path of destruction. Two more rail cars had been tipped over, and several crates had been shattered. As I rounded the corner of one of the boxcars, I saw him.
He stood toe-to-toe with the creature. The creature gave no sign of yielding. It swiped long talons at Wayne. I thought for sure his head was taken off, but it was just his hat. Wayne had dodged as fast as any of the Masters I had trained with. As his hat hit the ground, something shiny and silver fell out. Upon sight of it, the creature disappeared into nothing. In the blink of an eye, it was gone. Wayne said a few colorful metaphors and scooped up his hat and the item and put them back into place. He walked past me and grumbled something like, “Let’s get him down and back to Sarah.”
I suggested we find something to pull the stake out with, but Wayne yanked the kid down, stake and all. As he dragged the boy back to the Firehawk, the little prick managed to summon enough strength to inform us, “You’ll get yours.”
I followed, careful to pick up any evidence we may have left behind. Wayne stuffed the kid into the trunk and we rode back in silence. My mind raced. Wayne has said the kid’s Dad had sent us. Why? Were they trying to cure vampires? Is that even possible? Or had I just joined a hunting sector? If I had, how would I get out of it without being destroyed? Then my mind grasped it. Of course. Sarah had said I could leave if I wanted. They had no idea I was a vampire. But Wayne probably knew now. There was no way that kid would have wound up ten feet off the ground pinned to a boxcar without supernatural intervention. I glanced across the car at him. His look of disgust told me enough. No, he knew. I wondered why he hadn’t tried to take me out yet. Probably had to report and get orders from his superiors. I thought, “Maybe I can kill him before we get there?” Too late. We’d made it back. Damn he drives fast. I figured I could play it cool. Maybe he wouldn’t say anything. Maybe I could make a break for it before it became too hairy.
Sarah was sitting on her tailgate, enjoying something from a bright silver flask and watching her dog chase his tail around the empty garage. Wayne retrieved the kid from the trunk and threw him over the side of her truck as he complained.
“You sent me out after this little punk,” he threw the kid so hard the truck bounced as if for emphasis, “with this rookie who can’t take orders.” He jabbed a thumb back at me. “There was an Oni waiting for us, you know.”
“Well, his Dad did say he’d gotten involved with a shady bunch,” Sarah commented with a smile.
Wayne gave her a dirty look and continued. “If you keep him, you’d better fill him in on the way things work around here.”
Sarah slid off the tailgate and walked over to him. She pressed her forehead against his and gently said, “Wayne, you’re boring. Why don’t you go out on patrol and let me talk to our new partner?”
He stalked past me and slid behind the wheel. Within seconds the Firehawk disappeared from the garage. Sarah giggled slightly as soon as the car hit the street. “Care for a drink?”
She passed me the flask. Usually I don’t drink, but after the screwed up night this was, I thought, “why not?” I took a large gulp and almost choked when I tasted what it was.
“Blood?” I asked as the thick, viscous fluid clung lovingly to my throat. Was this some kind of test to see if I really was a vampire?
“O,” she answered. “I like it better than A or AB. Not so metallic tasting, don’t you think?”
“But this is blood,” I said as I passed the flask back to her. To my surprise she nearly inhaled a large drink herself.
“Of course it is. What else are we suppose to drink?”
“Vampires, and don’t try to play dumb. I can tell.” She examined my shocked face then realization set in. “You can’t tell, can you?”
“I can,” I answered indignantly, and after a pause added, “usually.”
“It’s alright,” she smiled. “Let me explain. Nowadays, it is difficult to tell vampires from humans. It’s our own evolution aiding our survival. Hudson City has a large population of vampires. Somehow, it has fallen to Seana to oversee their activities. As for Wayne and me, we’re like her pit bulls. We go to oversee any questionable vampire activities in person and remind them of Seana’s presence. For this job, people of intelligence and skill are needed to ensure that our activities go unnoticed by mortal society.”
I looked at her with disbelief. Organized vampires that not only look out for themselves but also look after each other? It was incredulous. Impossible.
It is not, Mr. David, a voice answered in my head. It was beautiful and melodic and instinctively I knew it was Seana’s. Have a toast with Sarah and welcome to our family.
“Welcome to town, Harlan,” Sarah offered me the flask again.
I took the flask, raised it into the air, and gulped down the salty contents. Who would have thought? In one night I had gone from being a drifter to having a new, well-paying, steady job in a new city. I guess Hudson City isn’t really that bad. Is it?
(Copyright © 2002 Gina M. Wood - Random Quote Productions)
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