Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vampire Queen, Part Five

So we all met in Hughes’ office at 11:00 the next morning.
            Rachel was with me, and Hawkins was there with Sharpe. I leaned in a corner so Rachel could sit. Hawkins stood in the opposite corner, glaring at me.
            Hughes leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. “I can’t believe I’m even letting you talk about doing this.”
            Sharpe’s shoulders were tense. Hughes could be pretty intimidating. But she met his gaze without fear. “Look, you saw the board this morning. Only two attacks after our meeting. Somehow that bitch can stop this.”
            “’Bitch is right.” Hawkins clenched his fists. “We should have just taken her down last night.”
            “Let’s stick to the subject.” Hughes looked past Sharpe. “Jurgen? What do you think?”
            Now he wanted to listen to me? I shook my head. “I don’t think you should do this, Anita.”
            She shrugged. “Well, I get to live forever. Who doesn’t want that?”
            “You should know what you’re getting into.” I hesitated. “I have another vampire contact. He told me what it’s like.”
            “Wait a minute.” Hawkins clamped hand on my arm. “You’re friends with vamps?”
            “Shut up.” Hughes lifted a hand. “Let Jurgen talk.”
            Hawkins backed away. “Okay. Talk.”
            “Anita …” Would she even listen? Or was her mind already made up? I stood next to Rachel’s chair, hoping I could get through to her.
“It’ll be hell. At first. Maybe forever. Even with Anemone ‘protecting’ you. And she’ll control you. You won’t have any free will. You may live forever, you may eventually have some kind of independent life, but you won’t be you anymore.”
            Hughes looked up at me, surprised, as if he’d expected me to take her side. “Does that change your mind, Sharpe?”
            She took a deep breath. “What if it doesn’t?”
            “I can lock you up.” Hughes pointed at the phone one his desk. “I’ve got a hundred ways to put an end to this bullshit right now.”
            “Why do you think this is a good idea, Anita?” I walked around in front of her, trying not to be confrontational. Just—curious.
            Sharpe groaned. “Look, my mother died when I was 13. Cancer. It was … horrible. My dad, he was never the same. Then he died two years later. Suicide. And he was a cop.”
            She ran her hands through her hair. “I’m divorced. No kids. Two little nieces. I’d like them to grow up not having to worry about drive-bys and gangbangers and now vampires. I want to know I’m doing something good, even if it’s bad for me. And—this way maybe I’ll get to see how it turns out.”
            It sounded almost reasonable the way she put it. I looked at Hughes.
            He closed his eyes for a moment, as if wishing we’d all be gone when he opened them again. But we were all still there, waiting.
            Hughes shook his head. “No. I can’t allow it. We’ve got to find another way.”
            I didn’t know if there was any other way, but I nodded. It was the right decision. Easy in some ways, tough in a lot of others.
            He looked at Sharpe. “Do I need to lock you up?”
            She stood up, emptied her handgun, and placed the weapon and the clip on Hughes’ desk. Then she dropped her shield next to them. “You can have this. You can all go to hell.”
So at 10:30 that night we were parked again outside the abandoned hotel.
            Rachel and I had spent the day looking for options. She called friends and I roamed the internet. I also left a message with Clifton Page, letting him know the plan was falling through. Not that I expected anything from him. I just figured I owed him for his information.
            Clouds blocked the moon. The wind pushed at my arms as I locked up the Honda. Rachel held my hand. “Nothing stupid, all right?”
            What could I say? “Of course not.”
            Rachel jabbed my arm. “Liar.”
Hughes and Hawkins waited on the sidewalk. Hawkins seemed less angry with me now, for whatever reason. Hughes just looked at me. “Any ideas?”
            I shook my head. “Just stake her. Before she can launch an all-out war.”
            “Yeah.” Hawkins reached into a back pocket for his wooden shaft. “I got this.”
            We crossed the street.
            “You still out?” Hughes led the way past the fence.
            “Tonight.” I glanced at Rachel.  “I can’t do this every day. Not even for the CPD’s generous stipend.”
            “Well, whatever.” His laugh was bitter. “It’s been good working with you.”
            That was surprising. Or maybe sarcastic. With Hughes I couldn’t always tell.
            We pushed through the gate and marched past the front door. Again rats skittered across the floor.
            Rachel nudged my arm. “Be ready to run.”
            “Always.” I glanced back at the door.
            “Hello!” Anemone’s voice echoed down the stairs. “Are you ready?”
            “Bring it on, bitch,” Hawkins muttered.
            She walked down the stairs like a model on a runway. At the bottom step she tilted her dark glasses. “Oh. We’re missing someone.”
            “Not going to happen.” Hughes planted his feet wide, his hand near his weapon. “We want a new deal.”
            “Oh, no.” Anemone leaned an arm on the bannister. “That’s not the way this works. We had an agreement.”
            “Deal’s off.” Hawkins lifted his handgun. “Are you ready to re-negotiate?”
            Anemone smiled. “Ask them.”
            A horde of vamps emerged from the shadows, surrounding us. Twenty, thirty—males and females, young and old, children and elderly, some clothed in exquisite dresses and tailored suits, some naked and gaunt, their faces bright with excitement and hunger, their jaws shaking.
            Oh shit.
            We huddled close to Hughes. “You didn’t set up another counter-ambush, did you?” I whispered. “Please?”
            “Hawkins, call for backup.” Hughes put a hand on his holster. “I’ll stay here. Jurgen, you and your girlfriend better run.”
            I felt Rachel’s hand on my arm. “Y-yeah.” Run.
            But the vampires were all around us. Blocking the door. I had a stake and my cross, but they wouldn’t be enough to get us through.
            I grabbed Rachel’s hand. “Sorry about this.”
            She took a deep breath. “Hey, I insisted. Maybe a bad idea.”
            Yeah. I hefted my cross in one hand and pressed my stake into hers. “Stay close. If I don’t—”
            “Don’t say that.” She jabbed my stomach with her free hand, her stake in the other. “We’re getting out of here together.”
            I hoped so. “Yeah. Let’s try.”
            The vamps lurched toward us, like zombies from The Walking Dead. I hated that show. I held up my cross. Some flinched, but others behind them only ducked and grinned. I clenched my teeth. Rachel waved her stake. But we both knew that as soon as she jabbed one, the rest would be all over us.
            Oh well. I’d had a good life. Too short, and I hated to lose Rachel, but—
            “Hold on!” The shout cut through the air.
            Anemone’s eyes flared behind her dark glasses. “What—”
            Clifton Page walked down the staircase.
            He wore a short jacket and a black bow tie, as if he was out for a night at the opera. At the bottom step he stopped and smiled. “Hello, Clarissa. It’s been a long time.”
            The vamps stopped moving. Except for one, who still staggered forward. Hawkins pointed his weapon at her face.
            Clarissa? Who . . . oh.
            “Wait!” Anemone lifted a hand, and the lone vamp froze.
            Hawkins glanced back at the door. “Let’s get out of here.”
            “Maybe not. I know this one.” I waved a hand. “Hi there, Mr. Page. What are you doing here?”
            He smiled. “I want to talk to Clarissa.”
            “I’m Anemone now.” She stalked forward. “You haven’t taken another name?”
            “I like my own.” Page leaned down in a bow. “But I miss yours.” He kissed her hand.
Amenone giggled like a teenager. “You rascal. I haven’t thought about you in decades.”
            “I remember you.” Page stroked her wrist. “The riots? The days of rage? Those were good times.”
            “Things change.” She pulled her hand away. “Asmodeus is dead.”
            “Yeah.” Page licked his lips. “He and I had some good hunting together. But Asmodeus was an asshole.”
Anemone nodded. “Yeah. He was.”
            Page and Asmodeus? My skin felt cold. But I didn’t know that much about him. And he was a vampire after all.
            “This is your vampire contact?” Hawkins growled. “I knew it. Let’s get out of here.”
            “We’re stuck here.” I clutched my cross in my fist. I’m not brave. Just stubborn. “We might as well listen.”
            Rachel slugged my arm. But she stayed close to me.
            “Well …” Anemone tilted her sunglasses down. “What do you want, Cliff? I’m in the middle of something here.”
            “I’ve got a proposal.” Page crossed his arms. “This war isn’t doing any of us any good. Not us, not the humans. It’s only going to end in fire and ice. But we can stop this right now. You and me.”
            Anemone laughed. “That’s what I wanted.” She pointed a long finger at us. “I only asked for one thing—a sacrifice. And they wouldn’t do it.”
             “It was too much to ask.” Hughes took a step forward. “But if you want to end this now—” He pulled his handgun.
            Oh god, no.
            Hawkins raised his weapon. “Get ready, assholes!”
            “Everyone, shut up!” Page’s voice roared. Even the vampires cowered. “I’m talking to the vampire queen right now, not you folk.”
            “Queen?” Anemone smiled. “I guess I could get used to that. Now that I’ve had a night to think about it. Do I get a tiara?”
            “Whatever you want.” Page bared his fangs. “Anemone, we can rule this city. Split it into two parts. There’s more than enough for both of us. We don’t need an army of vampires. Just the two of us. What do you think?”
            My legs shook. What had I done? Was Page really doing this?
Hughes pointed his pistol at Page’s chest. “Hang on, vamp. You know what kind of firepower I can call down on this place?”
            “Wait!” I grabbed Hughes’ shoulder. “Wait. This is what we wanted. Isn’t it? A truce?”
            “So they can cut up this city between the two of them? I don’t think so.” His finger was on the trigger.
            “And where does it end?” My voice echoed off the walls “This doesn’t help either one of us.”
            “He’s right.” Page pointed at us. At me. “For a human, he has sense. Will you hear my proposal?”
            Hughes let his arm drop. “Fine. Talk.”
            “Let them all go home.” Page waved a hand. “Back to where they came from. You and me, Anemone, we’ll be the power here. Just the two of us. We’ll control the vampire population. And the humans will leave us alone.”
            Anemone stared at him. “I want O’Hare.”
            He shrugged. “I’ll take Midway. We can work out the other neighborhoods later.”
            He turned to Hughes, his eyes burning. “Deal?”
            Hughes straightened his shoulders. “Is this what I’m hearing? You’ll get all these vamps out of my city?”
            Page took Anemone’s hand. “What do you say?”
            Anemone pushed her glasses back over her ears. “I wanted a cop. One of my own. But I guess . . .”
            The she turned her face. Toward me.
            Rachel pushed in front of me. “Don’t even think about it, bitch!”
            I grabbed her arm. “Don’t worry. There’s no way—” No way—
            “Fine!” Anemone stomped her foot like a teenage girl. “I wanted a vampire of my own! But I can work with something else.” She smiled. “What’s the word? A liaison. Between humans and us.”
            “What?” She couldn’t mean—“Who? What? Me? What?”
            Page nodded. “It makes sense. Someone who understands both sides. Someone they’ll listen to. You’re the best human for the job. Commander? What do you say?”
            For the first time since I’d met him, Hughes seemed stunned. He looked at me. “Jurgen?”
            I felt Rachel’s body right behind me. The vamps all around us were watching. Anemone was waiting. And Page looked as if I owed him a million dollars.
            I’d asked for his help. And I’d been working with the cops. And every single vampire around us wanted to kill every human in the city.
            I leaned back, my legs shaking. “What—what do I do?”
            Rachel sighed and punched my shoulder. “Whatever. I’m here. Jerk.”
            I took a deep breath. “All right. Get these vamps out of here. Let us go. Stop the attacks. And—” God help me—“I’m your ambassador.”
            Anemone smiled. “Go!”
            The vamps started moving. Away from us. Even though I couldn’t see a lot of exits around the abandoned hotel lobby, they managed to disperse and disappear in less than a minute, until we were alone.
            The two new vampire rulers of the city looked at each other, ignoring the cops, Rachel, and me.
            “Okay.” Hughes holstered his pistol. “Let’s get going.”
            “Wait.” I wanted to leave right away, but I had a question. More than one actually, but this was the most important. “Mr. Page?”
            Page turned his face toward me, as I was interrupting something important. “What is it?”
            “Why’d you change your mind?” I had to know. Last night he’d been determined to stay out of this.
            He shrugged. “Jillian didn’t want to move away.”
            Anemone tittered. “Oh, Clifton. You have changed.”
            I nodded. I understood. “Thanks, Looking forward to working with—both of you.” I had to say that. “So how does this work? Do I get a special phone or something?”
            Page chuckled. “We know how to reach you. And I imagine the police have your number.”
            Anemone walked forward, swinging her slim hips. “I’m going to enjoy working with you, Tom Jurgen.” She licked her lips.
            Rachel managed to keep her mouth shut. But I could tell it was an effort.
            “Okay.” I shoved my cross back into a pocket, next to my stake. “One more question. For—well, I’m not sure which side, but …”
            The room was silent. Finally Rachel spoke up. “What?”
            “Do I get paid for this?”

I was never so glad to see the sun come up in the morning.
            Rachel nudged my shoulder. “Are you making breakfast?”
            I sat up and grabbed a bathrobe. “Pancakes?”
            She yawned. “What time is it?”
            I checked my clock radio. “It’s, uh, 11:30.” I’d missed the morning meeting again.
“I’m taking a shower.” Rachel stretched. I watched her. Then my phone buzzed.
            Hughes. Great. “Tom Jurgen here.”
            “Jurgen?” Hughes sounded as tired as I felt. “Good news. We can continue your stipend after the Silent Force is disbanded. You’ll work with Sharpe.”
            “So she’s back?”
            “Hawkins talked to her this morning. Keep an eye on her, okay?”
            I perched on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath. “Look, Commander, I’m not on your team anymore.” I rubbed my eyes, looking at the light through my blinds. “I’ll talk to Sharpe, but I’m also talking to them. I don’t take orders from you. Or the vamps. I’m stuck in the middle here. That was the deal we made. I can’t be on your side. I have to talk for both of us.”
Hughes was silent for a moment. “But you expect us to pay you?”
Jesus Christ. “I’ve got a rent to pay, a car that needs gas. I’m not going to be any good to the city without funds to live on. You ought to give me a raise.”
“Fine.” Hughes sounded ready to slam his phone down. “Just hold up your end of the deal. And make sure the vamps hold up their end. And talk to Sharpe every now and then.”
“I’ll call her today.”
            I was carrying the first batch of pancakes to the dining room table as Rachel emerged from my bedroom. “Smells good. The pancakes, not you.”
            “There’s coffee.” I poured.
            “You okay?” Rachel sat down poured a ridiculous amount of maple syrup on top of her stack.
            I sipped my coffee. “I’m just trying to figure out how this new job will get in the way of my business.” I’m a private detective, after all. Or I had been before the vampire war began. “I’ll get paid by the city, but that’s barely enough to cover my internet bill. Maybe I can get the vamps to kick in—”
            “That’s not what I mean. Jerk.” She kicked me under the table.
            “Ouch.” I pulled my leg away. “That depends. I mean … Are we okay?”
            “We’re fine.” Rachel cut her pancakes. “You know I hate to say this, but …”
            What? I waited.
            “I love you.” She lifted her fork.
            “Eat.” I was starving. I grabbed the maple syrup. “I love you too.”
            “Just don’t ask me to marry you. Ever.” She reached for her coffee. “Sorry. It’s just a thing.”
            Okay. We both had issues.
            My phone buzzed. Unknown number. Sharpe? A new client? “Tom Jurgen here.”
            “Tom? It’s Anemone.”
            My heart lurched. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
            “I can stay awake for days as long as the sun doesn’t hit me.” Her voice was a soft laugh. “I just wanted to say I’m looking forward to working with you.”
            My throat felt dry. “And like I just told Commander Hughes, I’m not working for either one of you. I’m in the gap.”
            “We’ll see. Hi to your girlfriend. She’s cute.” Anemone hung up.
            Rachel peered at me. “Who was that?”
            “Anemone. She thinks you’re cute.”
            Rachel shivered. “I guess this was the best deal you could make, but—”
            “Yeah.” My new job. “I’m doomed.”



  1. TJ just got promoted to ambassador. Endless possibilities, endless negotiation - no pressure. It was the next logical step for Tom and his intersection with the supernatural, and I'm glad there's a King and Queen, but his life just became more complicated. And interesting. I'm with Rachel - both sides should be paying him.

  2. I think of him like the paidhi, a character in C.J. Cheryl's Foreigner novels, who acts as liaison between aliens and humans on a distant planet. But that reference is probably too obscure for most readers. Thanks for commenting! Tell all your friends.