I tried calling Rachel. She didn’t answer.
Starving, I went outside and found the nearest Subway. Somewhat satisfied by the biggest and meatiest sub they had, I went back to the station and set up my laptop at the desk they’d given me.
A search for “Asmodeous king of vampires” only got me a few Wikipedia pages devoted to Dungeons & Dragons and a lot of fetish fanfic. Rachel could probably have gotten me the information I really needed—she has friends in weird places—but she still wasn’t answering my calls or texts. I stopped after sending 23 messages. I didn’t want to come off as a stalker.
Dudovich came by. “You all right?”
“I got ‘Silent Force’ approved, didn’t I?” I sipped some more police station coffee and grimaced. “You guys drink this all day?”
“No, we usually hit the Starbucks down the street.” She perched on the corner of the desk. “How’s your girlfriend doing? You usually call her for help with stuff like this, don’t you?”
Ouch. “We had a fight.”
“You? I can’t believe it.”
I leaned back in the chair they’d given me. It creaked like the back staircase in a haunted house. “She thinks I’m selling out or something, working for the cops.”
She rolled her eyes. “And she probably calls the police every time she hears somebody scratching at her window.”
“She doesn’t like authority. I don’t either, that much. I just didn’t think this would be so much of a problem.”
She rapped her knuckles on the desk. “I don’t like people who think the rules don’t apply to them. But I’m willing to work with you.”
“But you never believed me.” I kept my voice low. Hawkins was close by. “For years you called me an idiot, a liar, delusional—and now you want my help. That’s what she’s mad about. I don’t exactly blame her.”
“I don’t care about your precious feelings, Jurgen.” She glared down at me. “I’m a cop. I do my job and I’ll work with anyone who can help me do my job. If you expect a goddamn apology from me, don’t hold your breath.” She stalked away.
Hawkins looked up. “Trouble in paradise?”
I sighed. “You have no idea.”
So the Silent Force—my name!—rolled into Ashton Park on the west side of the city in three vans, followed by three official police cars. The uniformed cops cleared the kids, moms, dads, and nannies out of the park.
I was riding in the back of the lead van. Hughes was driving. He opened his door and looked back at me. “You want to come? You can stay. Monitor from here. If you want.”
Dudovich was unbuckling her seatbelt right next to me. I shook my head. ”No. I want to be there.”
We stepped down from of the van. The playground was empty. The sun glowed between a few fluffy clouds.
Dudovich marched forward, her pistol in her hand, flanked by Hawkins and Sharpe. I stayed back, keeping out of their way. The rest of the team surrounded the fieldhouse, weapons drawn. Silver bullets loaded.
Mendoza and Sharpe carried a big battering ram. Hughes tried the knob, just in case the vampire king had forgotten to lock his front door. But the door held, and Mendoza picked up his side of the ram.
Hughes nodded. They swung the ram at the door. One, two, three, four ...
The door crashed open on the fifth blow, hanging from its metal hinges. Mendoza and his partner dropped the ram and crouched down.
Dudovich looked back at me. “You ready, Jurgen?”
Huh? I went to journalism school, not the Navy SEALS training course. “Oh, sure. Bring it on.”
Hughes went in first, followed by Mendoza and Sharpe. Dudovich was right behind them. Along with the rest of the squad.
I waited outside, listening for gunshots. Or screams. Instead I heard grunts and stomping boots.
“Room one, clear!” Mendoza’s voice roared through the doorway. “Moving into room two ...”
“Coffin!” That came from Sharpe, loud enough to ring outside. “We’ve got a coffin!”
I plunged inside.
Room one was just a coatroom. The clock on the wall hadn’t been changed since last year’s Daylight Savings Time switch. A wide door in front opened into a basketball court.
But Sharpe was shouting through a door to the right. “In here! Circle up, cowboys! We’ve got him!”
I stepped inside, clutching the silver cross in the pocket of my windbreaker.
The room looked like a place for snacks: A soda machine stood in one corner, next to a machine that sold chips and candy bars.
Hughes stood with Dudovich and Sharpe and three other cops whose names I didn’t know, surrounding a narrow plywood box that lay on top of a long wooden table.
Blinds on the windows were snapped tight. Folding chairs were scattered across the floor. The paper towel dispenser over the sink had been hammered almost flat.
But the coffin? “Wait!” I held up a hand. “This isn’t him.”
“What?” Dudovich glared over her shoulder. “What are you talking about?”
Voices crackled over everyone’s radios. “Gym area, clear ... bathrooms, clear. Checking out the basement behind the gym ...”
“Look at it!” I pointed at the box. It looked like something an amateur carpenter would build with cheap paneling—not a resting place for a dangerous vampire. “You could break that in two with your bare hands! Hell, I could—”
“You two!” Hughes waved a hand. “Take care of the rest of this place!”
Two cops left to support the other officers. That left me, Hughes, Dudovich, Sharpe, and one other cop.
“Hi.” I held out my hand. “Tom Jurgen. Vampire consultant.”
The cop grinned. “Dmitry Smith. Cop.”
“Shut up, both of you.” Hughes pulled his handgun. “Let’s check this box out.”
“Jurgen’s right.” Dudovich sighed. “That’s too flimsy. And right inside the door?”
“Just do it.” Hughes pointed his handgun at the box. “We’ve got to check.”
Dudovich reached down into her belt for a jagged wooden stake. “I’ve got this.”
“Wait.” Who said that? Me? “You’ve all got guns. I’ll open it. And then I’m on the floor. Nobody shoot me, please.”
Rachel would have punched me. But Rachel wasn’t here. Dudovich smiled. Hughes nodded. Smith just pointed his handgun at the coffin, steadying it with both hands.
I pulled on the lid. It didn’t budge. Then I leaned down, took a deep breath, and yanked up again. This time the lid flew up and banged against the opposite side of the table with a loud clap.
I backed away. Smith and Hughes loomed in, and Dudovich clutched her stake. No Miranda warning, no mercy, ready to just exterminate the vampire king as soon as they saw him.
But the coffin was empty. Just a box. No soil at the bottom for a vampire to sleep in.
I took a deep breath. “You know, I hate to be an I-told-you-so—”
“Shut up, Jurgen.” Hughes clutched the radio mounted on his shoulder. “All units, we have a decoy up here. All units report!”
Then shots burst from the basement.
“Shit.” Hughes whirled. “Smith, Dudovich, you’re with me. Jurgen, stay up here!”
I wanted to. I wanted to go outside, grab a cab, and hide under my bed for a month. But I was part of the Silent Force. Damn it, why did I have to give it a name? I couldn’t run now.
So I ignored Hughes and followed Dudovich and the others into the gym, through the door in the back, and down a cramped, twisted stairway.
Hughes and Dudovich flared flashlights into the basement below. A long, low room, dark and damp., smelling like a restroom that hadn’t been cleaned in months. Empty fluorescent fixtures swung back and forth from the ceiling, crackling with electricity. All the tubes had been shattered, and glass crunched under our shoes.
One cop was down. Mendoza and two others had taken cover behind a massive black coffin, lid open. Dieker crouched in a corner next to a file cabinet, clutching his shoulder.
“What the hell happened here?” Hughes circled the room, darting his flashlight in every corner.”
“It went down!” Mendoza pointed to a wide door on the opposite wall. “It came up and hit Dieker, and then it slashed Johnson! It had claws! Johnson, are you okay?”
The cop on the floor reared up, blooding dripped down his uniform. “Fine! Go!”
“I’ve got this.” Dudovich started forward, but Hughes planted a hand on her shoulder, holding her back.
“Wait.” Hughes headed across the room, handgun up, and flared his light through the doorway. I could see dark, steep steps leading down.
“This wasn’t on the blueprints.” He shook his head. “Damn it.”
Dudovich was breathing hard. “Let me check it out.”
Hughes grimaced in the shadows. Then he nodded. “One step at a time. We don’t know how many might be down there. Don’t take any chances.”
“Riiight.” Dudovich chuckled. With a deep swallow, she took a step down.
More cops came downstairs. One of them knelt beside Johnson, the fallen officer. The rest surrounded the door. I stayed behind them. Dudovich was crazy, but part of me wished I had the nerve to do the same. Most of me was glad to stay back.
After twelve heartbeats that felt like twelve years, Dudovich called up the stairwell, “It’s gone.”
“How?” Hughes’ voice was hoarse.
“I don’t know! There’s an open duct of some kind—heating? Ventilation? It’s pretty narrow. It could have gone through there. I could probably fit—”
“Don’t even think about it!” Hughes stifled a groan. “I’m going down.” Then he looked over his shoulder. “Jurgen?”
It wasn’t an order. But I couldn’t stand around claiming to be some kind of expert if I was too scared to examine whatever I could. “Sure.”
I had my stake and a cross. I followed Hughes down, one steep step at a time. At the bottom—about fifteen steps—we found ourselves in a small storeroom with Dudovich and a few empty boxes and file cabinets.
Dudovich flashed her light at the open duct. It looked barely large enough for a German shepherd, but a frightened child or determined adult could probably crawl through it—especially with a squad of armed cops behind him.
Hughes whipped his light around the room, then at me. “Will it have to come back to the coffin?”
I shook my head. “Not unless it’s got extreme sentimental value. Vampires have to sleep in the soil of their native land, but if this guy’s from America, he could sleep anywhere.”
“But he can’t go out in the sunlight.” Dudovich stared at the opening. “Damn it. He could be 10 feet back there and listening to everything we say.”
Hughes waved a hand, and we went back up. A medic was working on Johnson, and another one was binding Dierker’s wounded shoulder.
“Concussion,” the first medic said. “He’ll need a hospital.” He murmured into his radio.
Hughes closed the door. “We’ll keep this place staked out,” he said. “Dudovich is right—it’s gone, but it could be hiding in the hole. In the meantime, get pictures of that box and the one upstairs, and look for anything it left behind.” He looked at me. “Any other tips?”
“I could take another crack at the one you have downtown.”
But the nameless vampire was dead.
The cops hadn’t killed him—he’d apparently gone into some kind of shock from lack of fresh blood. He was dissolving on the floor of his cell, back into dust, just like on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only more slowly.
I had one contact to call, but I couldn’t do it right now. Clifton Page was a “friendly” vampire—he didn’t attack humans. But he’d be sleeping in his coffin, and I wasn’t going to call him from the police station where the rest of the Silent Force could overhear.
So I tried calling Rachel. No answer.
Dudovich came in an hour later. “Hughes is leaving a car to watch the fieldhouse today, but he’s going to want more after sundown in case the king comes back. You want in?”
I yawned. “Only if I can go home for a nap.”
I parked my Honda a block away from my Bucktown apartment and found Rachel loading her Prius in front of the building.
She didn’t look like she was moving out. Just two suitcases and her laptop bag. When my heart was functioning normally again, I waved. “What’s up?”
She turned. Saw me. Froze. “I was going to leave a note. I need someone to water my plants. Plant.”
“So you’re not moving out?”
Rachel shook her head. “I’m going to LeAnn’s place for a while.”
LeAnn was a college friend who lived in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana in a two-room house with no running water and no internet. “You hated it there.”
“I need a break.” She slammed the trunk.
“Okay. As long as—”
“Look, I’m sorry I got so mad.” It was maybe the first time in two years Rachel had apologized to me for anything. “I should have—the idea of you working for the police just bugs me.”
“It won’t be forever.” Not that getting rid of every vampire in Chicago would happen overnight. Like Hughes had said, the CPD hadn’t wiped out gang violence yet either.
“But you like it.” She scowled. “I can feel it.”
Maybe she was right. “I like the fact that somebody’s taking me seriously for once. Maybe someday when I tell them I’m trying to find an invisible assassin or a demon in a box they’ll believe me.”
Rachel leaned against the back of her car. “I thought reporters were supposed to question authority. Not make friends with it.”
I sighed. “Rachel, I’m not a reporter any more. That was a long time ago.”
She looked at the ground. “But you used to be proud of it.”
Yeah. My childhood heroes were Woodward and Bernstein. And that obnoxious reporter on the Mary Tyler Moore spinoff “Lou Grant.” My parents had two VHS tapes that I watched over and over again as a kid. “I wanted to help people. Tell them the truth. That’s what it was all about. This way—maybe I can get the truth out there. ”
“I know.” Rachel sighed. “Look, I need a break.”
“Do you want me to carry anything more down?”
She made a fist to slug me. I almost would have liked it. But then her arm dropped. “No. I mean, you know—a break.”
Oh. “A break, break?”
Rachel nodded. “Yeah.”
“Okay.” What could I say? “I guess. If that’s what you want.”
She glared at me. “That doesn’t mean you get to go all Ross Geller on ‘Friends’ and sleep with a cute girl from a copy shop right away. I’m just going to Indiana! I’ll probably go crazy in three days.”
I laughed. “Two, tops.”
She kissed me. “I’ll be back.”
I clutched her hand. “Hasta la vista, baby.”
She walked around the car and opened the door. “And remember, no copy shop girl.”
“Text me.” I managed a smile. I thought I saw her wipe her eyes as she started the car. Then I watched her drive away.