Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vampire King

When an army of vampires starts killing people in Chicago, the cops turn to P.I. Tom Jurgen for help—creating a rift with his friend Rachel. As Tom and police detective Elena Dudovich stalk the vampire king, they're forced to confront life, death and the undead in ways they never have before.

Vampire King, Part One

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.


“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.”

Vampire King, Part Two

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.”
            “Do that.”

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.

Vampire King, Part Three

I actually managed a nap. You sleep when you have to sometimes.
            I tried to eat. That didn’t go so well—half of a half of a sandwich. I checked my phone. Nothing from Rachel. Sundown in an hour. I’d slept longer than I expected.
            Dudovich called me. “I’ll pick you up in 25 minutes. If you have to pee, do it now.”
            I left a message with Clifton Page. Then I set my phone to vibrate and went to the bathroom.
            Twenty minutes later I was in front of my building as Dudovich pulled up in an unmarked car.
            “We’re on for six hours.” She was wearing a thick Kevlar vest. “The park’s closed. There are three other cars. Ever use night-vision goggles?”
            “You’re turning out the lights too?” I sniffed. The car smelled of cigarettes and stale hamburgers.
            “No, but they might. Got a cross and a stake? I’ve got an extra handgun.”
            “Yes, yes, and no thanks.” I’d never fired a pistol in my life. I’d have better luck throwing the silver bullets at any vampires that came my way.
            “Have it your way.”
            Fifteen minutes we were parked on one side of the park about a hundred years from the field house as the sun went down. “It’s just like watching a cheating husband at a motel.” Dudovich unsnapped her seat belt. “Except with more chance of getting killed.”
            I thought of one cheating husband case where I’d almost gotten killed. “Yeah. Right.”
            “You need to wear this.” She reached over into the back seat and hauled up a Kevlar vest just like hers, with the word POLICE on the back and front.
            I struggled into it. “Vampires don’t usually shoot.”
            “But cops do. And bullets go everywhere. Do you need me to help you?”
            “Got it.” I struggled with the Velcro straps until I could barely breathe.
            The first hour passed relatively quickly. We didn’t talk much. Saw no movement. The gate was locked to keep civilians out. The radio reported a vampire attack on the south side. Then time slowed down as darkness crept across the grass. I almost jumped when my phone shook.
            Hoping for a text from Rachel, I yanked it from my pocket. But it was Clifton Page, a single word: “Yes.”
            That meant he had information. But I’d have to wait until the shift was over. I texted “THX” and put the phone away.
            “Your girlfriend?”
            I couldn’t restrain a sigh. “We’re on a break.”
            She blinked in the dark. “Sorry.”
            I shrugged. “It happens.”
            Dudovich looked out her window. After a moment she said,  “My husband’s out of town.”
            Husband? Wait, what? “Uhh, I’ve got my eye on this girl at the copy shop. But thanks.”
            She snorted. “Calm down. I just meant we could have coffee afterward. Or catch a drink. If you need to talk. You’re no good to us if you’re depressed about your girlfriend.”
            “Sorry. Let’s see what happens.”
            She nodded.
            After another moment she said, “He’s been out of town for three months.”
            What the hell? I had a hard time picturing the tough cop I’d known for years sitting down to dinner at home with an adoring husband.
And I had a much more difficult time realizing that Elena Dudovich might actually want to hook up with me.
So I said the first thing that popped into my confused head: “I didn’t know you were married.”
            “Yeah.” She hit a button to roll down her window. “I’m not sure I am right now. Three months. Being a cop is tough on a marriage. Half the cops I know are divorced, and the rest are cheating. Forget it.”
            I was about to check my phone, hoping for a message from Rachel, when all the lights around the park went dark.
            “Shit.” Dudovich grabbed for her night vision goggles and handed a pair to me.
            The dashboard radio blared with comments from the cops around us. Hughes wasn’t at the park; Hawkins was in charge. He ordered everyone to stay put and watch.
            The clock in the car said 9:27. “Seems early.” I fumbled with the goggles.
            “Maybe he’s got an important staff meeting. Shut up and look around.”
            Everything looked green through the goggles, just like in the movies. I swung my eyes around, looking for movement. I could smell grass and flowers outside. Also dog poop.
            I could only see the front door from an angle. It looked motionless and solid. Then—
            The window on the side facing us shifted. A bird or a bat? Maybe. I tried to zoom in. “Check that window closest to us.”
            “Hang on, hang on ...” As we watched, the window clearly opened out from the top. “Got movement on the north window. Repeat, the north window.”
            “Hold positions.” Hawkins’ voice was steady.  “Wait for it to come out.”
            I was happy to wait.
            Three seconds passed. Four. Five ...
            Then the screen burst out from the window frame and a body dived through the opening like Batman.
            “Move in.” Somehow Hawkins sounded calm, while I was glad I hadn’t had anything to drink for four hours. “Take him. Be careful. In that order.”
            We popped our doors. Dudovich unsnapped her holster and went for the fence. She could probably climb over it in two seconds, but I was pretty sure I’d end up trapped on top, so I ran for the front gate, my stake and my cross in my windbreaker.
            I met Dmitry and Sharpe as the swung the gate back—they had a key—and stayed well behind them as they charged forward. Dudovich was over the fence, on the ground, her weapon in both hands as she approached the shadowy figure on the grass.
            He stood motionless, arms at his sides. Waiting.
            Flashlights illuminated his body. Asmodeus had a long face and a nose like a hawk. He wore a tight leather jacket and bloodstained jeans.
            Dudovich stood right in front of him, pointing her weapon at his chest.
            “Freeze, vamp!” Hawkins’ voice thundered across the grass, shaking the swings on the playground. “Dudovich, take him out!”
            The vampire king lifted a hand. “Wait.”
            His voice was loud. But it was suddenly overwhelmed by a howl around the playground.
            Dudovich backed away, her pistol shaking. Asmodeus stayed planted on the grass. He smiled, his fangs bright and sharp.
            I looked over my shoulder. Oh no.
            Outside the fence stood a horde of vampires. Their eyes glowed in the night. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds.
            “Trap!” I spun around on the grass. “They’re here! It’s a trap—”
            The vampires surged forward, through the gate, over the fence, laughing and roaring with glee. The cops backed up, coming together in a tight line, and started firing their weapons.
            Some vamps fell, silver bullets in their chests. One cop was too slow. His Kevlar vest got ripped apart, even as the rest of the cops showered the vampires with bullets.
            I was behind the line. My feet shaking. Oh god, oh god, I was going to die and I couldn’t even call Rachel. Who was going to tell her? What would they say?
            Then the vampire king’s voice rose above the shouting and the gunshots. “STOP!”
            And all the vampires halted.
            Their fangs still glimmered in the darkness, but they dropped their arms, panting. And waiting.
            The cops used the pause to press fresh clips into their weapons. Hawkins pointed his pistol straight at Asmodeus.
            The vampire king smiled. “Look at them. Waiting. Do you really want to kill me?”
            The park was silent. Except for my pounding heart, which I was sure everyone in ten miles could hear.
I glanced at Dudovich. She held her handgun high. Straight at the vampire king’s heart.
Hawkins kept a finger on his trigger guard. “We can’t let this go on. You know that.”
“They obey me.” Asmodeus pointed at the vampire throng. “Without me to give orders, they’ll run rampant over your city. You need me to keep them under control. Unless you want chaos.”
            Hawkins seemed to hesitate. So I watched Dudovich. I trusted her instincts. If she backed down—
Then a blast of light from the sky illuminated the playground, and a wave of wind pushed me to my knees on the grass. I saw Dudovich struggle to keep her legs straight.
A loudspeaker blared: “Chicago Police! On the ground! Everyone!”
A helicopter hovered twenty feet overhead, the wind from its blades flattening the grass.
Asmodeus leaned back, staring up into the sky. His legs were firm, like a statue mounted in the ground. He lifted his arms.
Screams of fury rose from the throng of vampires. Then they charged forward, plunging through the gate, climbing over the fence, howling with bloodlust in their throats.
Bullets from the chopper above slammed into the dirt. I dropped flat and wrapped my arms over my head. Get them, get them ... just don’t shoot me ...
I heard Asmodeus laughing. I risked a look up.
The vampire king stood tall. The rest of the playground looked like the floor of a slaughterhouse. Not that I’ve ever seen an actual slaughterhouse. But blood suddenly drenched the grass.
Bodies lay flat on the ground—most of them cops, trying to evade the gunfire from the sky.
The vamps screamed in rage, whirling around, looking for humans to kill. I saw one of them pounce down on a cop, fangs flashing. The cop rolled, fumbling for his pistol. He managed to push it up into the vampire’s chest and yank the trigger—but not before the vamp ripped his throat with its fangs.
They slumped over, both of them dying. Damn it. What the hell—
Then more gunfire burst from outside the fence. I rolled over, gasping for breath.
A SWAT team burst through the gate, with big assault weapons perched on every shoulder. “Everyone down!” That came through a bullhorn. “Everyone down!”
I lay flat on my back, looking up at the stars. A trap. A double trap. Hughes. That bastard. Why wouldn’t he—
Gunfire spattered around me. I rolled over again, trying to stay low. Bullets seemed to be flying everywhere. Even if they weren’t made of silver, bullets from an assault rifle could still knock a vampire over. But did the SWAT team carry wooden stakes?
Over my shoulder I still heard laughter. Goddamn it, did that mean ...
I peered over my arms. Asmodeus, the vampire king, stood in the center of the carnage. Bullets nicked his arms and shoulders, but none of them seemed to do any damage.
Then I saw Dudovich. She was on one knee, her handgun high. “Over here, asshole!”
Asmodeus swung around. “You cunt. You can’t—”
Dudovich hit the trigger and shot her entire clip at the vampire king.
“Bitch!” Asmodeus staggered, but he didn’t go down, even with more than dozen bullets in his chest. “You have no idea, do you?”
Dudovich stumbled back, ejecting her clip and fumbling for a fresh one. “Come and get me, you big dick. If you think you can.”
Asmodeus lunged. He covered the ten feet between them in less time than I took to grab my stake from my windbreaker.
Then he was on top of Dudovich, snarling like a rabid dog.
Dudovich hammered the butt of her Glock at his head. She kicked, swearing. Asmodeus laughed as he clutched her neck.
He leaned down, jaws wide, and clamped his fangs around her throat. Blood spurted across her chest.
Dudovich shrieked—the first time I’d ever heard her scared. Then Asmodeus leaned down to suck her blood like a thirsty, greedy hound. “Yes … yes … I will drink your blood, every sweet drop. I’m going to drink you up ... mmm … oh, your blood tastes so good—”
Dudovich squirmed, trying to fight. “F-fuck … fuck … fuck you …”
“Yes, you like it, don’t you?” Asmodeus licked at her throat. “It’ll be over soon. And your blood will live in me—”
“Hey, Asmodeus!” I was right behind him, my arm shaking. “Or whoever you are. Take this, you bastard.”
I slammed my stake into his back.
Asmodeus lurched back, screaming. I pushed as hard as I could, and then I jumped away.
He whirled around. “You! You ...” He reached out, his hand a claw.
I had my cross. Would it stop him? I held it up. “Stay back, asshole! The power of Christ—”
“You, you can’t ...” He stumbled. “You can’t ... I can’t ...”
Asmodeus dropped to the ground. “Oh … ohhh … you’re going to … all going to … to …”
Then he was gone. A pile of putrid dust on the ground. Right next to Dudovich.
”Officer down!” I crouched next to Dudovich. “Officer down!” I pressed my hands on the wound in her neck. But the blood kept flowing, all over my fingers, down into the grass. Her face was pale. Her arms shuddered.
Dudovich’s eyes stared up into the sky. Her lips curled in a smile, or maybe a snarl. She gasped once, and tried to look at me.
Then her head drooped over and sagged on the grass,
Two cops pulled me off her. I leaned over on the blood-soaked grass and tried not to puke.
I failed. But I did manage to cry.

Daylight streamed in through the window behind my dining room table. I stared at my coffee.
            My phone buzzed. Now what? Hughes or Hawkins calling me downtown? I wasn’t ready for that now.
            But it was Rachel. So I picked up. “Uh, hi. You okay?”  
            “I’m at a McDonalds. First place I could get a decent cup of coffee and decent wi-fi. And I’m checking out the news sites, and there’s all this stuff about a police shootout and ...” She took a deep breath. She might have sipping her coffee. “I just wanted to make sure you’re all right.”
            “I’m fine.” That was something.  “But Dudovich is dead.”
            Silence. Then: “Shit. I’m so sorry. I mean, I didn’t exactly like her, but ... shit. Never mind. Shit! I always say the wrong thing.”
            “It’s okay.” Hearing her voice was good. “She, uh ... she killed the vampire king.”
            “Oh god, Tom.” I listened to a gulp. “I’m coming home. I can be there in—”
            “No!” My arms trembled. “Stay away. Stay out of the city. The king is dead, but ... I don’t know what’s coming.”
            A text came in from Clifton Page. Urgent. I ignored it. Talking to Rachel was more important.
            “So, are you still with that squad?”
            My arms shook. “I don’t know. Dudovich ... She was the only one I trusted.” Oh, hell, what if I met her husband at the funeral? But I couldn’t even think about that right now.
            “So what happens now?”
            “I don’t know. You were right. I’m not one of them.”
             Rachel sighed. “Look, I have to go. LeAnn’s going to wonder if I’m ever coming back.”
            Me too. “Take care.”
            “You too.”
            She cut the call. I stared at her photo on the phone. Then I sipped my coffee.
            The phone buzzed again. I picked it up.
            Hawkins. “Jurgen? It’s me. Are you still in?”
            “What’s going on?”
            “We’ve got new intel. Get on down here.”
            Was I really still part of the Silent Force? I wasn’t sure. But I finished my coffee and stood up.
            I couldn’t quit now.