Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vampire Queen, Part Two

I walked into police headquarters at 11:00 the next morning, juggled my coffee as I showed my ID, and took an elevator up to the floor where the Silent Force was grouped.
            The Silent Force. I’d suggested that name. It had sounded cool at the time—better than its original name, “Special Team.” Now it only reminded me to keep my mouth shut.
            A wall-sized map of the city greeted everyone who entered. Red pins marked the site of every vampire attack within the last 24 hours. The latest total was 14.
            A printout taped to the map listed all the names of the dead since the attacks had started two weeks ago: Jacqueline McNeil, Robert Dorsett, Morgan Keitte . . . the list went on and on.
            On the top corner, a photo of Elena Dudovich. Cop. Sort of my friend.
            “Jurgen!” It was Hawkins, a tall African-American cop who wasn’t exactly my friend. But he’d listened to me once in a while. “You missed the morning meeting.”
            “Yeah.” I yawned. “I was up half the night with a source. Any new intel?” I liked saying “intel.” It made me feel like a spy.
            Hawkins folded his arms “What’d your source say?”
            “We need to find a new king. And convince him to shut this thing down.”
            He laughed. “Right. You better go talk to Hughes about that.”
            Commander Daniel Hughes was in charge of the team. He was a good cop. He even listened to me sometimes.
            Hughes could look tall even sitting behind his desk. African-American, with short hair and broad shoulders, he looked up at me with dark brown eyes. “You missed the meeting.”
            “I overslept.” I plopped down in a chair and gulped some coffee. “What did I miss?” 
            Hughes laughed. But it wasn’t friendly. “That’s the Tom Jurgen we all like around here. The P.I. who thinks he doesn’t have to follow the rules.”
            I sighed. “So, I talked to a vampire last night.”
            “Is it dead now?”
            “No. He’s not exactly on our side, but he’s not the enemy, either. He saved me from a vampire attack.”
            “Who is it?”
            I shook my head. “No. He’s a source. You’re not getting his name.”
            “You’re not a reporter anymore, Jurgen.” Hughes leaned forward. “There’s no confidentiality here. If you want to keep working for this team—”
            “You came to me, remember?” I struggled to keep my voice under control. Stress and fatigue were getting to me. “At least Dudovich did. So I’ve been helping you as best as I can. I killed Asmodeus. And now there’s nobody capable of controlling them. Fourteen people last night.” I might have been a red pin on the board. “How long do you think you can keep hiding this?”
            Hughes rolled his eyes. “What do you want to do, Jurgen? Start a panic?”
            “We can’t kill all of them. We need to make a deal.”
            I waited for Hughes to throw me out. Or possibly shoot me. Instead he sat back in his chair, arms crossed.
            “Asmodeus was right.” And I hated to say that. “Without a leader, we’ve just got an army of vamps doing whatever they want. We need to find a new leader, or make one, and convince him to pull back. Him or her.”
            “It.” Hughes looked ready to spit. “You keep treating them like they’re human. A vampire is an it, Jurgen. A monster.”
            “But you can reason with them. Some of them.” The more mature vampires are intelligent. Page had been a vampire for 84 years, and he’d told me Asmodeus was more than 170 years undead. Most young vamps don’t last too long because they’re too scared and hungry to think straight. With enough time, they sometimes develop a level of self-control and do what Page did—decide it’s safer to find alternate sources of blood.
            I leaned forward. “We need to find someone to lead them. Someone old. Vampires listen to older vamps.”
            “Then what? Do vamps hold elections?”
            “Just get him—all right, it,” I said in response to Hughes’ frown. “Get it to talk to other vamps, and they’ll spread the word.”
            Hughes grimaced. He didn’t like the idea. I didn’t blame him. But he was pragmatic enough to explore anything that had a chance of working. “Got any candidates?”
            “One.” Page had declined the honor when I asked him, but he’d given me the name of another elder vampire. “It’s a female. Her name is Anemone.”

Unfortunately Page couldn’t give me the location of Anemone’s coffin—vampires guard that the way Donald Trump hides his tax returns. All he could tell me was where she hunted: Logan Square, a neighborhood on the west side.
            That meant we had to stake the area out. At night. A dangerous time to hunt a vampire you weren’t actually trying to kill.
            Hawkins got stuck with me in an unmarked car that smelled like cigarettes and stale cheesburgers. He obviously didn’t like the duty—he told me to buckle up when I got in the car, and didn’t say anything after that—but he didn’t seem actively hostile. Just on edge.
            No one liked the plan, of course, but everyone listened to Hughes. I was pretty sure at least half the squad blamed me for getting Dudovich killed, but no one said it out loud. By this point nobody was talking to me much at all.
            I didn’t have a location for Anemone, but I had a description: Tall and slender, with short black hair, she usually wore black jeans and T-shirts. She wore dark glasses all night, and she chose older humans to attack—people in their fifties and sixties. That mean she usually had to hunt early after sunset.
            We drove the streets, looking for Anemone and her potential targets. I spotted a man and woman leaving a diner. The woman walked with a cane. But they immediately got into an Uber and sped away.
            Hawkins followed a slim figure in jeans and a T-shirt for half a block before we realized we were trailing a man. Then one of the other cars reported seeing a female matching Anemone’s description in an alley. But by the time we got there, she was gone.
            “Shit.” Hawkins stared down the street. “Could be a long night.” Five words. Six, counting the swear word. A breakthrough. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
            So we spent two more hours driving around the same handful of blocks. The next shift would take over soon. I was thirsty, because I hadn’t had a drink of water since an hour before meeting Hawkins in the car. Bottles with wide openings just weren’t right for me.
            Then Hawkins pumped his brake. “Is that her?”
            A woman stood on a corner, leaning against a bus stop shelter. She fit the description: Short hair, black clothes—and her eyes were gleaming behind her sunglasses.
            “Might be.” I had a bigger cross now, a foot tall, heavy enough to crush a skull, thanks to Amazon same-day delivery. “Call it in.”
            Hawkins talked into the car’s radio as he crawled around the corner. He double-parked in front of a minivan, checked his handgun, then opened his door. “You coming?”
            I struggled with my Kevlar jacket. “I’m right behind you.”
            Hawkins was out on the street as I was still strapping the Velcro across my chest. I followed him, huffing and puffing to keep up. We rounded the corner.
            The woman was still standing at the stop like she was waiting for a bus. Two kids crowded in the corner of the shelter, making out. An older woman sat on the bench, her hands in her lap.
Anemone watched her, smiling. It was her. I was sure of it.
            The two kids looked around as Hawkins pulled at the boy’s arm. “What—”
            “It’s okay.” Hawkins smiled. “Just find another bus stop.”
            The girl shivered. Her boyfriend grabbed her hand, and they scampered away.
            I could see Anemone’s eyes burning behind her dark glasses. She looked ready to lunge at us, but then two of our cars pulled up, blocking the bus stop. Two cops—Dmitry Smith and Anita Sharpe—came out and, weapons drawn but pointed down at the sidewalk. Another car skidded to the curb.
            The old woman lurched up. “What’s going on?”
            A cop from the third car helped her walk away. “I was just waiting for a bus …”
            Now Hawkins and Smith and Sharpe aimed their weapons at Anemone. Silver bullets and a stake to the chest could take her out forever. But that wasn’t the plan.
            Hawkins glanced at me. “You’re on. Make it good.”
            I stepped forward. Like always lately, my heart was shaking like car with a bad engine. “Hi, Anemone. Tom Jurgen. Do you know who I am?”
            Anemone laughed. “Everyone knows your name, asshole. You killed Asmodeus.”
            It was nice to be famous for something.
I crossed my arms, trying to stand steady. “Asmodeus killed a friend of mine. A cop. All these cops around here? They want to kill you too.”
            She let her sunglasses droop down on her long nose. Her eyes were white, not red. Her shoulders rose. “Okay. Let them try.”
            I gulped. “I’ve got a proposition instead.”
            “Ooh …” Anemone licked her lips. Her tongue was long and red. “It’s been a long time.”
            What the hell? “No, not that kind of proposition.” I had a girlfriend. Maybe.  “It’s an offer. An idea.”
            She stood tall. “Fine. I’ll listen.” Her eyes darted at all the cops pointing their weapons at her. “Three minutes.”
            I swallowed, trying to remember my carefully prepared speech. “Vampires are going crazy around the city. It’s only getting worse. You kill a bunch, and then we kill a bunch. But you can stop this.”
            Anemone growled. “Why the fuck would I want to?”
            I’d tried to plan every response, like a reporter mapping out an in-depth interview. “Look, all the killings will go on and eventually everyone in Chicago will know that your kind are behind them. Is that good for you? Or your people?”
            I felt Hawkins flinch behind me at the word “people.” But I kept my eyes on Anemone.
            “I don’t have any ‘people.’” Anemone made sarcastic quotes sign with her fingers. “I’m alone. I write poetry. Have you read it? It’s online. I hunt to live, just to like everyone. You eat meat, don’t you?”
            “I enjoy a good cheeseburger, yeah, but we’re not here to have a philosophical discussion. We need to end this. You can do that.”
            Anemone leaned back, gazing around at all the weapons pointed at her. For the first time she seemed nervous.
            She shook her head. “I’m not a leader.”
            “You’re one of the oldest vampires in the city. They’ll listen to you.”
            Anemone shook her head. “I’m not the one you’re looking for, Tom. I only want to drink blood.”
            “And humans in Chicago only want to live. There’ll be a war.”
            “War?” She laughed. “I read the newspapers too. I even have an internet connection. Humans in Chicago are killing each other every single day.” She leaned forward. “Are we any worse?”
            Gun violence in Chicago was out of control. That was true. But add vampires to the mix? I couldn’t image the carnage.
Maybe I’d made a mistake thinking I could actually recruit a new vampire king. A vampire queen. But after watching Asmodeus butcher Dudovich, I didn’t have a lot of mercy left in my soul. Maybe I’d pay for that someday. But not tonight.
“Fine.” I backed away behind the cops. “Okay. Kill her. It.”
            Not a line I’d ever used to finish up a newspaper interview. Not an order I wanted to give, either. But if Anemone wouldn’t help us, then we had nothing else.
The cops behind me pointed their weapons. Except for Sharpe. She lifted her stake.
            “Wait!” Anemone raised a hand. “This is insane! All of you goons are here for one lone vampire?”
            “One less in the city.” That came from Hawkins. “You make the call.”
            Silence. Eyes darted around. Like the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Except I wasn’t Clint Eastwood. Or Lee van Cleef. Or the other guy.
            “Hold on.” I raised a hand. “Give us another second.”
            Hawkins groaned. “Do it or don’t, Jurgen. We can’t hang around here all night.”
            He was right. A TV news truck could pull up behind us and start filming any second now.
I talked fast. “I’m not trying to play the good cop here. I just don’t want to start all over again, finding a potential leader.” I took a breath. “Do you really want a war? Because I can’t hold these guys back much longer. They don’t want to talk. They just want to kill you and every vamp in the city. You can do something about it. Or you can just dissolve into a cloud of dust. After 90 years? Is that what you want?” I looked her up and down. “You’re still here. I can see that. What a waste.”
Anemone stared at me. For a moment I was sure she’d spring at me, rip my throat out, and claw my face to shreds while the cops pumped silver bullets into her body.
But instead she laughed. “Fine, Tom. Give me your number.”
Really? I handed her my business card, my arm shaking. “So now what?”
She shoved the card into the back pocket of her jeans. “We’ll meet. Bring whoever can negotiate for you. I’ll tell you the time and the place. Tomorrow after sundown.” Anemone looked down the street. “Are we done here?”
Hawkins looked ready to shoot her, deal or no deal. But after a moment he lowered his weapon with a sigh. “Stand down, everyone.”
I heard muttering all around me. But Sharpe and Smith and the rest followed orders. Anemone smirked and fluttered a hand as she walked down the sidewalk. “See you later, guys.”
I was pretty sure Hawkins and the others wanted to shoot me. But they jammed their handguns into their holsters and dispersed, right as a Channel 7 news van pulled up.
Hawkins waved an arm. “Nothing to see here, guys.” He grabbed my elbow, his hand like a clamp. “Let’s go, Jurgen.”

Hughes glared across his desk the next morning. “All right, Jurgen. What now?”
            I rubbed my eyes. I’d spent half the night unable to sleep, split between binge watching random episodes of Deep Space Nine and waiting for a text from Anemone.
            I looked at my phone. “Now we wait. I guess. If she wants to talk—if she’s willing to negotiate some kind of …”
            “Truce.” Hughes grimaced. “I have to tell the commissioner and the mayor that we’re trying to work out a deal with vampires. That’s the best case scenario, I guess.”
            “It might be.” I shrugged. “You had eight new attacks on the board this morning. And blaming them on a bad load of meth is only going to get harder—”
            My phone buzzed in my pocket. “Sorry, let me, uh . . .”
            Not Anemone. Rachel.
            I hadn’t heard from Rachel in almost a week. Of course, I’d told her to stay out of Chicago after the ambush that had ended up with Dudovich dead. But she’d left town after an argument about me working with the cops. Our relationship was always complicated. Now it seemed more tenuous than I wanted to think about.
            But she was calling me now.
I stood up. “I have to take this.”
            Hughes glanced at the sunlight filtering through his blinds. “Is it her?”
            “Yes. No. Not who you’re thinking of. Just give me a minute, all right?”
            He glowered. “Take your time. Come back when you have something to tell me.”
            Out in the hallway I managed to hit the answer button one second before the call went to voice mail. “Hi! It’s me.”
            “I’m home.” She sounded tired. “You were right. A week with LeAnn in her cabin, without an indoor bathroom, washing in the lake, and no coffee … I drove in the daylight. Mostly. It was worth the risk.”
            “As long as you’re okay.” And speaking to me again. “It’s been kind of crazy here.”
            “Yeah.” Rachel sighed. “Are you okay?”
            I leaned against a wall. “I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying to negotiate a peace treaty between the vamps and the cops.”
            “And how’s that going?”
            “I won’t know until tonight.”
            “So you’re still with them?”
            That’s why Rachel had left. She couldn’t deal with me working with the CPD. We both had issues with authority.
            “Yeah. For now.” With Dudovich gone, though, I didn’t know how much longer I’d last.
            “Okay.” She yawned. “I need to take a long shower and then a nap.”
            “Can I see you?”
            One second … two … three … My heart pounded almost as hard as it had last night, confronting Anemone.
            “Sure.” Rachel sighed. “You can make me lunch. Or dinner. Whatever. But that doesn’t mean we’re all okay, all right? We’ve got to talk.”
            I bit my lip. “Okay. Whatever you want.”
            “See you.” She hung up.
            Hawkins was walking down the hallway as I slipped my phone back into my pocket. “Good news?”
            “Yeah.” I smiled. Rachel was back. “I have to go.”

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