Sunday, June 18, 2017

The First Rule, Part Three

This one was in an empty house on the south side. Cops had cordoned off the yard with yellow tape, flood lights illuminated the property, and curious neighbors watched as I pulled up in my Honda and showed the cops my ID.
            Rachel was with me. I couldn’t talk her out of it.
            Sharpe was inside, once again impatiently waiting for the crime scene techs to finish their work. She nodded at Rachel. “Your boyfriend brings you on some fun dates.”
            Rachel patted my arm. “That’s why I love him.”
            I tried to focus my mind on business. “Who is it?”
            “Hispanic male, early 30s. Won’t have a name until we get him out of here.” She patted a tech’s arm. “Take your time, guys.”
            I leaned forward. Wounds on the throat. Bruises on the face and chest—his shirt lay in a corner. Bloodstains on the wooden floor.
            “Look at his hands.” Rachel’s breath whispered in my ear.
            His knuckles were red, as if he’d hammered his fists at a door a dozen times. Like a boxer.
            I stepped back. “Want to hear my theory?”
            Sharpe pulled me back into a corner where the techs couldn’t hear us. “What?”
            I glanced at Rachel. She nodded.
            “Fight club.”
            “Oh.” Sharpe looked over my shoulder at the corpse. “Yeah. That makes sense. Great movie, by the way.”
            I’d gone from cops telling me I was crazy to not even having to explain what I was talking about. “Yeah. I’ve got to watch it one day.”
            The lead tech motioned to Sharpe. “We’re done for now. I’m calling the M.E. in to take him out.”
            “Thanks.” She jammed her hands into her pockets. “I’ve still got to wait until they get him to the hospital before we can find out who he is. Or what’s in his pockets. Damn it.”
            Rachel stepped forward again. “Give me a second.”
            “Back away.” Sharpe raised her arms.
            The techs were packing up. Some of them watched Rachel, although they were probably just checking out her butt.
            I was surprised that Sharpe actually seemed willing to listen to Rachel. But I guess a few months dealing with vampires had opened her mind.
            Rachel closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “He wasn’t scared. Until the end. He thought he could win. It hurt, but he thought he had a shot. Then he couldn’t breathe. Hands on his throat. Then . . .”
            She staggered backed. I caught her. “Are you okay?”
            “I’m fine.” She pushed my hands away and stood straight. “It was a fight. The vamp’s name was Victor. It was the last thing he thought. Except for . . .”
            Rachel sagged. Sharpe and I grabbed at her arms and shoulders. One of the techs came over to help.
            After a few minutes we helped Rachel out to my car. She laid back, gasping, but managed to fastened her belt as Sharpe held the door. “Get home safe.” She zeroed a glare at me. “I guess I need both of you.”
            I pulled away from the house. “Are you okay?”
            “No.” She grabbed a water bottle from the holder between our seats. “I mean, yes. The last thing he thought was ‘Daddy.’”
            I waited a few minutes while Rachel caught her breath. Eventually I was back on Lake Shore Drive, heading home. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
            “I’m not doing it all the time.” She gazed out the window at the lake. “I just felt it. Maybe because he wasn’t . . . dead . . . for very long. I just thought I could help.” She rubbed her eyes. “I haven’t slept in two nights.”
            “You helped. Victor.” Maybe Page or Anemone knew that name. In the meantime . . . “I’ll get you home. Thanks.”
            Rachel slugged my arm. Weakly. “Anything for the team.”

I got Rachel home and put her to bed. Alone. In her apartment. Then I looked for something to eat in her refrigerator.
            Rachel’s a vegetarian. I’m not, although I try to respect that. Still, the pickings were slim. I managed a sandwich with tomatoes, avocado, and mayo.
            I was wiping tomatoes off my shirt when my phone buzzed. Sharpe.
            “Victim’s name is Will Hernandez. And here’s a thing—he’s got a card for a gym that Adan Shank belonged to.”
            Wait—what? “Okay, Will Hernandez? I talked to him today. He was a friend of Adan.”
            “So what did he tell you?”
            “Not much.” Damn it. Could I have gotten more from him? Or told him enough to keep him from getting killed? “What gym is it?”
            “It’s called Champions. On Belmont. It’s open 24 hours. Want to come?”
            I looked at the clock on Rachel’s wall. Minnie Mouse’s little hand pointed to 10. Her little hand pointed down.
            I looked at my sandwich. “I’ll be right there.”
            Sharpe hung up. I took another bite, looked at my phone, and then called Jeff Tollin.
            “Sorry to call so late.” I didn’t know what kind of hours he kept. “But I have to ask you a question.”
            “No, it’s okay, I’m just waiting for Jimmy Kimmel. What’s going on?”
            “The gym you go to—where you met Adan? What’s it called?”
            “Champions. It’s on Belmont. Why?”
            Oh hell. “You might want to stay away from there for a while.”
            “Why? Oh.” He gulped. “I never noticed anything weird there.”
            “Is there a guy named Victor?”
            “Uh, yeah. He runs the place. Tall guy, long arms. Big ears. Friendly. He spotted me with the weights a bunch of times. He doesn’t smile much, but he seemed all right.”
            “Okay.” I stood up. “It’s probably nothing. Sorry to bother you.”
            “No problem. I’ve got tomorrow morning off.”
            We hung up.
            I checked on Rachel. She was still asleep, snoring loudly the way she does when she’s really tired.
            I kissed her cheek. She rolled over and swatted me away.
So I left a note on her table. I signed it “Love, Tom,” and drew a heart with an arrow through it.
            She’d hate it. But maybe I could get back before she saw it.

Champions was a small storefront gym with wide windows and half-lowered blinds. I could see deserted treadmills and one spinning exercise bike as I walked past the police car parked at the corner. “Is Detective Sharpe here?”
            The officer peered at my ID. “I’ve never seen that one before.” She looked me over.
            “I’m a consultant.” I’d gotten better at saying it lately.
            “Oh. I hate you guys.” She waved me past. “Go on.”
            The interior of the gym smelled like sweat and disinfectant. The spinning exercise bike stopped as I walked forward. I saw Sharpe at the back, talking to a tall African-American man as two other men in shorts and T-shirts lifted weights and one short, sinewy woman in a tank top worked a stairmaster, ignoring everyone else.
            Sharpe turned as I approached. “He’s not here.”
            “He’s the owner.” She pointed at the guy she’d been talking to. “This is Jason. Assistant manager. Jason, this asshole is Tom Jurgen, and he’s not a cop, but you’d better answer his questions the same way you answer mine. Only better.”
            Jason looked nervous. I didn’t blame him. “I just don’t know—I only work here . . .”
            “Where’s Victor?”
            “She asked me that! I don’t know.” Jason tried to keep his voice low, to avoid alarming the few people in the gym. “Like I said, I don’t know anything about those guys. Hernandez, Shank . . . I never thought . . .”
            I felt bad for Jason. Maybe he was an innocent human, just working for a living. But I couldn’t ignore the other possibilities. I looked at Sharpe. “Did you ask him where Victor lives?”
            She smiled. “I was just getting to that.”
            I watched Jason as he led us into the back office. His face reflected clearly in the mirrors on the walls. So, not a vampire.
            Jason slouched behind a desk and hit a keyboard. “Okay, give me a minute.”
            Sharpe pulled me back toward the door. “What have you got?”
            “You’re way ahead of me. Victor owns this place, whoever he is. I got that from a guy who works out here and knew Adan.” I pulled put my phone. “I can call my contacts—”
            “Here it is.” Jason looked up from the computer. “His home address. Only I don’t know if I should—”
            “You should.” Sharpe leaned over the desk. “Because we need to talk to him for a murder investigation.”
            “Well . . .” He tapped a key. “Here. I can—”
            We turned.
            The man in the doorway was tall, with long arms and big ears. He lifted one lip in a crooked smile. “Are you looking for me?”

He waved an arm. “Go home, Jason. Right now.”
            Jason stood up. “But—but—we’ve got people out there . . .”
            “Tell them to go home. Emergency water problems, gas leak, whatever. Just go.” Victor smiled. “Have a good night.”
            Jason fled. Leaving Sharpe and me alone with the vampire.
            Victor walked around the desk and sat down. “What is going on?”
            “You know.” Sharpe made her way next to me, ready to shove me to the ground. She didn’t necessarily like me, but she was going to protect me. “Two humans dead in two nights? Your little fight club? You really thought you could get away with that?”
            Victor leaned back in the chair. His lips lifted in a smile, and I could see the fangs inside his jaws. “It was a game. It’s all a game. Everyone come of their own free will. And you know what? Sometimes the humans actually win. Vamps dead, staked through the chest. That’s what makes it interesting.”
            “I don’t care.” Sharpe had her handgun out, pointed at his chest. Did she have silver bullets? It didn’t matter. Even lead bullets would slow a vamp down until we could drive a stake through its chest.
            “Jurgen?” Sharpe’s voice was steady. “Make a call. I’ve got a squad car outside, and I can get ten more in thirty seconds.”
            My hands fumbled for my phone. “Should I just call 911, or—”
            Victor moved faster than any vampire I’d ever seen. One moment, behind the desk. Then he jumped, and the next moment he pressed his body against Sharpe, one hand on her wrist, his jaws trembling against her throat.
            “Yes,” he murmured, licking his lips. “Let’s fight, you and me. You think you’re strong with your gun? I can—”   
            “Wait!” My shout wasn’t very loud. Not loud enough to hide the crunch as Victor broke Sharpe’s wrist.
            Her pistol dropped to the floor.
            “Jurgen!” She twisted her face. “Get backup! Now!”
            Victor snarled. “Yes. Do that. By the time they get here, she’ll be dead. And I’ll be gone.”
            I looked at Sharpe. “Okay. Sorry.”
            She closed her eyes.
            I’m not very brave. Not at all actually. But I couldn’t let another vampire kill one of my friends. Not after Dudovich.
            So I dropped my phone and spread my hands. “Come and get me, you bastard.”

I had nothing. Not a stake, not even a smart wisecrack. Victor knew that. He let Sharpe go and turned on me, his jaws wide in a bloodthirsty smile.
            Oh hell. Now what? I lurched back. “Maybe we could just talk? I’m good friends with—”
            Victor lunged at me. I twisted away, my arms up, protecting my throat, but his hands had turned to claws and they ripped at my flesh as he leaned down, laughing, his long fangs searching for my neck.
            I kicked. I punched. I squirmed. I managed to sink a knee into his crotch, and he grunted, but it didn’t stop him. I could smell his breath, rancid and moldy against my face, and slammed a fist against his chest.
            I should have studied krav maga, I guess. Rachel would be mad at me for getting killed.
            I reached up, pushing Victor’s face away. I twisted his lip. Somehow that worked. He howled and yanked back, his eyes red.
            “Yes,” he muttered. “Take it and enjoy it, human—”
            Then he jerked up as Sharpe shot him left-handed straight through the side of his skull.
            “Ahh!” Victor lurched away, clutching his head. “Uhh . . .”
            Sharpe kicked at his shoulder, knocking him to the floor. Victor rolled, moaning, and Sharpe fired two more shots straight into his head.
            Victor’s eyes went black. “You can’t—you can’t—”
            Sharpe staggered. “Jurgen, find me a stake.”
Sharpe glared at me. Her right arm was already wrapped up. “Don’t you ever do something like that again.”
            We sat on the curb outside, sipping coffee from a nearby shop. I had bandages over my chest. My shirt was in shreds. “Yeah. Rachel’s going to kill me.”
            “I might kill you! What the hell were you thinking, asshole?”
            I looked up at the cloudy night sky. I was still alive. Somehow. But other people weren’t.
            “Dudovich.” I set my coffee in the sidewalk. “I let her die. I just—damn it . . .”
            I felt a hand on my shoulder. I couldn’t look up.
            “Look.” I wiped my eyes. “I know you don’t like me. That’s okay. Let’s just leave it there, all right?”
            Sharpe patted my shoulder. “I like you just fine, Jurgen. Thanks for saving me there.”
            I kicked my coffee into the street. “Just glad I could help. This time.”
So I called Page and then Anenome. Page was angry—at Victor, not me. He asked if I was okay. Anenome just seemed bored.
            “I knew Victor,” she told me. “Arrogant prick. He would have tried to take over, so I suppose I owe you a favor.”
            I wasn’t sure I wanted a vampire owing me anything. But it might come in handy sometime.
            Back home I checked on Rachel. She was still asleep, but she woke up and came out as I was drinking a beer. “Wow. I don’t usually pass out like that.”
            “Probably just as well. You want anything? Beer? Soda?”
            “Just some water. And what do you mean?”
            I took my time getting a glass of ice water from her kitchen, mostly because I didn’t want to tell her I’d almost gotten myself killed. Again. But in the end I had to.
            I expected Rachel to kick me. Instead she sighed. “It wasn’t your fault. About Dudovich.”
            “I know. I just didn’t want it to happen again.” I still have nightmares. Asmodeus, his fangs stained with blood. Dudovich, her body on the grass. Me, stabbing the vampire over and over again.
            Rachel grabbed my hand. “You’re alive, Tom. That’s a good thing.”
            “Yeah.” I nodded. “Sorry.”
            “Come on.” She lifted me up. “You need to sleep. Don’t get any ideas. I’m going to be up for the rest of the night after this.”
            I let Rachel push me down into her bed, and in a few minutes I was fast asleep. Dreaming of vampires. Fight clubs. And Dudovich.
            The first rule . . .
# # #            

1 comment:

  1. Nothing like brave and crazy - and a few shots to the head. Bye-bye, Victor. Glad TJ got something out of this besides stress and bad dreams. A favor owed by the vampire queen could come in handy.