Detective Elena Dudovich, Chicago PD, pointed her handgun down the alley behind a small neighborhood grocery store. “Okay, where is it?”
A uniformed cop named Dieker pointed at a dumpster. “It was right there.”
“Hang on.” I tapped her shoulder. “Listen.”
Dieker was a big cop, with dark skin and a sleek buzzcut on his scalp. Another big cop stood right behind me. Both had their weapons drawn. I should have been far behind them. But Dudovich wanted me close to her. Not to protect her, of course. More the other way around.
Dudovich was short and compact, with brown hair and a blunt nose. And good ears. “What?” She lifted her head. “I don’t hear anything.”
The vampire leaped down from the roof. Long arms, a black leather jacket, fangs gleaming in the moonlight. It looked like a giant as it landed, legs flexing on the stained concrete behind us.
Dudovich whirled around as the cops fired. Silver bullets—yes, real silver bullets—flashed from their Glocks. The vampire staggered back, shock in its pale eyes. Weakened, not dead.
Dieker hit the stud on his flashlight and pointed the beam straight into the vampire’s face. Blood streamed down its chin. It forced a twisted smile. “You’re all dead. All of you. The king will—”
“Shut up, vamp.” Dudovich stalked forward, a long wooden stake in her fist. “Cover me while I finish this.”
Dieker and his partner held their weapons on the vampire. It closed its eyes. “I’m not afraid. I died long ago.”
“I’ve only done this once or twice.” I’d never seen Dudovich hesitate, but now she seemed nervous.
“Maybe don’t bother reading his rights.” We’d been tracking this vampire for hours. I knew at least one vamp who didn’t kill people, but this one had drained enough blood to fill a hospital. “Just do it.”
Dudovich smirked. “You’re the expert.”
She slammed the stake into the vampire’s chest.
TWO DAYS BEFORE
“Here’s the thing.” Dudovich sipped her coffee, grimaced, and then put her cup down on her desk. “There’s a vampire epidemic in the city. We’re trying to keep a lid on it, but they’re all over the place. No one knows why. And you’re the guy I know who knows more about vampires and supernatural shit than anyone I know. Do you want to help or not?”
I sat back in an unsteady chair in front of Dudovich’s desk at police headquarters on State Street. “Let me get this straight—you need me? You’re asking for my help?”
“Don’t be a complete asshole, Jurgen.” She tapped a finger on her computer keyboard. “I can pull up all kinds of charges we could bring against you. Obstruction, lying, concealing evidence—but I’ve been protecting you as best as I can. Now I need your help. And we can pay.”
Pay? That made a difference. “What are we talking about?”
“You’ll be a consultant with a monthly retainer for as long as the crisis lasts. Which might be a long time.” She scrawled a figure on a Post-It. “There. That’s not negotiable.”
I looked at the number. It was more than I made in half a year. Most years. “Okay.”
“So you’re on board?”
“Do I have to sign in blood? Or would that hit too close to home?” I held out a hand. “Happy to join the team, detective.”
She ignored me. “Tell no one. Well, maybe that girlfriend of yours. Rachel? Just keep her off my back.”
I stood up. “Do we have a cool code name? Like the X-Squad, or the Vamp Brigade? Or—”
A hand fell on my shoulder, and I turned to find Police Commander Daniel Hughes behind me. A tall African-American man who looked as if he could take out Godzilla with only his fists.
“Jurgen?” He shook my hand. “Welcome to the Special Team.”
Special Team? That’s the best he could do? But I wanted to start off right. Show him I was a team player. “Thanks.” He hadn’t been so friendly the last time I’d met him. “I’ll do my best.”
“I expect that. Dudovich?” His face turned stern. “My office.”
“Yes, sir.” Dudovich stood and rolled her eyes as Hughes walked away. “Welcome to hell, Jurgen.”
“I don’t believe it!” Rachel glared at me. “You’re a cop now?”
I was cooking dinner. Spaghetti, with my own special sauce. Which was mostly lots of garlic, basil, and oregano. Plus a secret ingredient.
Rachel’s got red hair and hazelnut eyes. Plus, she’s sort of psychic. So she helps me on some of my cases involving the supernatural.
“I’m a consultant.” Why was she so mad? “Dudovich recruited me herself. There’s a vampire problem in the city. I can make more money—okay, maybe not that much more, but it’s a steadier income. I don’t have to wait for the next workers comp case, or whoever’s cheating on their wife—”
Rachel glared. “All this time they told you you’re crazy, and I had to bail you out in the middle of the night? And you told me they’re idiots who didn’t believe you? But now ... ” She paused for breath. “Now they’re your best friends?”
“What’s the problem?” I stirred the sauce.
“You’re not one of them!” Rachel slammed down in a chair. “More cilantro.”
That was my secret ingredient. “I’m just trying to help. No one ever believed me before. Now they do.”
The rain killer. The dogs from another dimension. The ninja who walked through walls. I was tired of having cops snicker at me when I told them the truth.
“It was Dudovich?” Rachel snorted. “She hauls you downtown every chance she gets.”
“She helped me with the Lamia, remember? She believes me now.”
Rachel shook her head. “You’re not a company guy, Tom. You won’t fit in. You’re better off on the outside.”
“So I shouldn’t help? Is that what you mean?”
“You should ... hell, do whatever you want to.” She stood up. “I’m not hungry.”
“Wait ...” But she walked out of the kitchen and out of my apartment. “But I’m making my special pasta sauce! With the secret ingredient!”
“I’m going to bed.” She slammed the door.
* * *
I met Rachel when she was leading a support group for victims of vampire attacks. She lived upstairs from me. The apartment building landlord was nervous about all the people coming for the meetings, and also about some strange sounds coming from outside the wall.
A vampire was stalking the group. Like most vampires—but not all—it needed permission to come into a victim’s home, so it waited on the wall, listening, then targeted a vulnerable member on his or her way home. I had limited experience with vampires at the time, but a lot of experience with the supernatural in Chicago. Rachel knew more about vamps than me, so once we figured out what was going on, we set a trap—and managed to destroy it.
Rachel let me take her out to dinner. And she let me make her breakfast the next morning. Although, being vegetarian, she skipped the bacon.
Our relationship was complicated. We argued a lot, but she helped me with some of my cases. For a long time she wouldn’t admit to being my girlfriend, unless another attractive woman was close by. Lately she’d been more comfortable, and we’d occasionally said we loved each other—mostly by accident.
Neither of us wanted to get married. I’m divorced, and that still burned. Rachel has ... trust issues. But I thought we were together. Maybe not forever, but for the foreseeable future.
Now? I suddenly wasn’t sure.
* * *
The morning after killing the vamp in the alley I walked into Dudovich’s cubicle carrying two cups of coffee. “Good morning, detective.”
Dudovich leaned back. “Is one of those for me?”
“One of them has lots of cream.” I set both down on her desk. “The other one doesn’t. I forgot how you like it.”
She took a sniff of the cream-filled cup. “Smells good.”
I sat down and opened my black coffee. “So what have we got today?”
Her lips curled in a smile. “We’ve got a lead on the vampire king in town.”
“There’s a vampire king?” The vamp last night had mentioned one—right before Dudovich had staked him.
She nodded. “We’ve got one in lockup, and it’s talking. Hank Mendoza got it in the leg with a silver bullet last night.”
Wow. “You closed the blinds, I hope.”
She snorted. “There aren’t any windows where it is.”
“And he says there’s a vampire king.”
“That’s what it says. Hughes wants intelligence. Last night was good, but we need more than just dead vampires. You want a crack at it?”
No. And yes. But mostly—“What happens to him when we’re done?”
Dudovich shrugged. “We can’t exactly put it on trial.”
Maybe Rachel was right. But Dudovich had a point too. “How the hell are you keeping this out of the press?”
Dudovich shrugged, “Every once in a while we have someone shoot a black teenager.” She held up a hand. “Bad joke, I know. Mostly the attacks happen out of sight. No witnesses. Cause of death, blood loss and stabbing. Lots of victims are homeless or don’t have anyone who cares enough to make a stink. But we both know that’s not going on forever. You want to talk to this vamp or not? You’ve got the experience.”
Unfortunately I did. “Will he be restrained? And do you have a cross? A big one, silver if possible.”
“Don’t worry.” Dudovich stood up. “We’ve got all that covered.”
The vampire was in the basement, in a small locked room. I thought of all the torture complaints about the Chicago PD that had sprung up over the years.
Two detectives from the Special Team—I had to get Hughes to come up with a better name—spun keys in three separate locks. They had me stand back as they slowly pulled the door open, their Glocks ready in their hands.
The vampire sat in a small metal folding chair, its arms wrapped around its back and its legs in thick chains.
Male. In his mid-thirties, at least at the time he’d changed. Face pale, unshaven. Eyes red. Teeth yellow. Fangs ... long and sharp.
The two officers—Hank Mendoza, a tall, slender Hispanic guy, and Anita Sharpe, a hefty African-American woman—spread out to opposite corners of the room behind me for a clear field of fire in case they had to shoot their prisoner.
A bandage, bleeding pink, was wrapped around one knee. The vampire didn’t struggle or lunge. He just looked up at me, licking his dried, chapped lips. “I’m never getting out of here, am I?”
I’d questioned witnesses, clients, victims. But I’d never interrogated a prisoner before. Much less a vampire. “That’s not up to me.”
“It doesn’t matter. I died a long time ago.”
The vampire last night had said the same thing. “My name’s Tom. Who are you?”
He frowned. “I don’t remember. I probably had a name, but it’s gone now.”
I looked him over. His skin was pale and his muscles were slack. “You might have died a long time ago, but a lot of people have died since. Because you wanted their blood. Right?”
“I needed their blood. To live. Everyone does what he has to to live.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.”
He snarled. “You’d drive a stake into my heart in a minute.”
Most of the time I get answers by asking questions, being sympathetic, and just listening without judgment. That was harder now. I wasn’t playing the good cop. Not with Mendoza and Sharpe ready to take the vampire down. I could only be honest.
“Yeah, I might.” I jammed my hands in my pockets. “But you’d kill me in a minute too if you could, right? Maybe less.”
He stared at me. “I’m dying without blood.”
Too bad. I leaned against the wall, trying to gather my thoughts. “I can’t make any deals about that. I’m just looking for information. If you want to sit here and wait to die, well ... the only thing I can offer you is a chance to talk.”
He laughed. “Talk? About what?”
“I want to know about the vampire king? Like, is that a thing now?”
“You have no idea.” The nameless vampire stared at me with hollow eyes. “He will lead his army down the streets of Chicago in a parade of midnight terror.”
Wait—what? “Wouldn’t that be kind of stupid? You’ve survived for centuries by convincing everyone you don’t exist. A victory dance would put your kind front and center.”
He opened his jaws to display his sharp, yellowed fangs. “Oh, you don’t know, do you? It’s a new world now.”
Yeah. Donald Trump was president. “What’s his name? Does he have one?”
“Asmodeus. King of demons.”
Asmodeus? I remembered that name from the one time I played Dungeons & Dragons in college. Only because a hot girl was the dungeon master. “So where is he hiding?”
“He’s everywhere. And nowhere. He’s in the dark, behind the light—”
“Fine.” I straightened up from the wall. My back hurt. “I’m done,” I told the detectives. I hated to do it, but I had nothing left. “Do whatever you want with it.”
“Wait!” Suddenly the vampire seemed scared. After Dudovich, Hughes, and everyone else who’d presumably threatened him? Maybe because I wasn’t a cop.
I hesitated at the door. As dangerous as vampires are, I didn’t really want the detectives to just kill it on my say-so. And I figured they wouldn’t do anything without orders from Hughes. But the vampire didn’t know that.
I crossed my arms. “Look, I can’t get you out of here. We can’t give you a trial. What do you want?”
“Get me some blood.” He leaned forward as far as he could in his chain. “Just one cup. Human blood. One last taste.”
“In exchange for what?”
He grinned. “A location.”
“Give it to us now.”
He shook his pale head. “No. The blood.”
“We’ll get more of its kind.” That came from Sharpe, her Glock steady in her hand. “No deal.”
I could have argued. But I didn’t really want to. She had a point. Plus, she had a handgun. “Sorry, uh—whoever you are.” I put a hand on the door. Not right now, I thought. Please not right—
“Ashton Park fieldhouse!” The vampire rolled forward, toppling his chair over, slamming facedown to the floor. “He’s there! He’s there! Just give me some blood! Please, just give me some blood!”
Mendoza laughed. “I’ll see what I can do, asshole.”
We met in a conference room: Me, Dudovich, Hughes, Dieker, and the rest of the team. A cop named Hawkins—I’d met him one time I’d almost been killed by dogs possessed from another dimension, and we’d sort of worked together to find the Rain Killer last year. I knew the names of some of the others. A few of them even said hello.
“So, Ashton Fieldhouse.” Hughes tapped a laptop, and a map of Chicago flared on a screen at the rear of the room. “It’s right here, west side, and we’ve got blueprints for the whole place. Study them. We can get there—Yes, Jurgen?”
“Can we have a new name for the team? ‘Special Team’ is just so generic. How about ‘V-Squad’? Oh, no, that sounds wrong. Wait, I have some other suggestions here—
Dudovich kicked my ankle. It was almost like having Rachel here. “Shut up.”
I winced. “Or ‘Silent Force’? That’s cool, and it doesn’t give anything away.”
The room was silent. But I saw Sharpe hide a grin.
“So we go in at noon, which means ...” He looked at a wristwatch. “Two hours. Silver bullets and the whole drill. You can stay here if you like, Jurgen.”
“I’m all about supporting the team, Commander.”
Hughes nodded. “Good. Check your GPS, go to church, do whatever you have to do, but be ready to go—”
I raised my hand. “Uh, Commander?”
Hughes glared. “All right, Jurgen, We can be the Silent Force if you really want. The commissioner will have to OK it, but since we’re secret anyway—”
“Sorry, I wanted to say something different.” I slid my chair away before Dudovich could kick me again. “I just want to consider—so, the vampire down in the basement mentioned an army. He might mean twenty vamps, or a thousand, or anything in between. I mean, I’d bet on the lower number, because if Asmodeus or whoever he is has thousands he’d already be making his move, don’t you think? But what happens if we kill him and the rest of his minions just start doing whatever they want?”
Mendoza chuckled quietly at the word “minions.” I’d seen the movie too. Those little guys were cute.
Hughes shook his head. “We cut off the head. The snake dies. They’ll scatter. They’ll be someone else’s problem.”
“But if they’re here—” I could feel Dudovich’s eyes burning into my neck. “—and this king is controlling them, what will they do if there’s nobody to hold them back?”
“Holding them back?” Hughes’ neck seemed to grow thicker. “We’ve had 20 vampire attacks in the last two weeks. If that’s holding them back, I hope we don’t find out what ...”
He stopped. “Goddamn it. You’re right. We take out gang leaders, but the gangs keep on going.”
“So what the hell do we do, Jurgen?” Dudovich stared at me. “We have to hit at the heart, don’t we?”
“We have to take him down, yeah.” I rubbed my eyes. I hadn’t slept after Rachel left last night—and I hadn’t eaten much since then either. Most of the pasta went into the trash. I’d grabbed a granola bar on the way out this morning, but the police station coffee was worse than anything I’d ever gotten from an interstate gas station. “Yeah. But it won’t necessarily end the problem. It might make things worse.”
“Well, thanks for that.” Hawkins folded his arms.
Hughes sighed. “No. Jurgen’s right. We have to take this thing down. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be over today.”
He shut off his laptop. “Let’s be ready to move. Two hours.”