A Bandit And A Patient Gentleman
"Ductor," said John wiped away some blood.. "A question if I may?"
"Hmm?" I responded.
I was surprised the immense lack of pain even after two hours. One would think that being stabbed roughly three thousand times per minute, my superhuman reflexes allowed me to count, with what was more or less a thin hollow pipe would be excruciating, but is was not. It was not entirely painless, but after being staked twice, run over my a car, and shot I could say I've felt worse. Even if John had to technically had pierce my skin twice with the special partially silver needle, using his vampiric speed to imitate the machine in his right hand hand, before going over the same wounds with the machine.
It appeared everything was going as planned. John had finished the first line of my design and not a single letter of LEG X GEM displayed a hint of beginning to fade. I grew bored soon after and was fairly certain my hypothesis had been correct when John finished the bull under the first line and began work on the final line. While the current design on my right arm had taken about two hours, the design I had chose for my left would take all of forty-five minutes because of its simplicity John assured me.
Neither John or I said a word, nor did Dwayne who's entire world did not exist other John and I. Kim had stepped outside and was speaking rapidly into a cellphone. I briefly wondered to whom she was speaking with and I had the faintest suspicion it somehow involved me. She cleverly had her back to the window so I could not read her lips and the buzzing of John's machine mixed with the traffic outside made it impossible to catch a single word.
The only thing that betrayed the premise of a simple friendly conversation was her movement. Vampires, unlike humans, don't have a strange need to justify their existence with constant movements like fidgeting, scratching, gazing around, etc. We can simply be. With that in mind, why the stolen glances at me as she expected a daring prison escape? I wondered if Matthew had finally decided on a course of action to deal with me. Kim, a fellow vampire that I had previous and pleasant contact with, would be the perfect candidate to spy on me. If she had chosen to indeed strike out on her own, then she was doing a poor job of it. If the need or desire ever struck her, it wouldn't take the slightest effort for her to return to her Maker's side on Long Island.
I also questioned the convenient timing and luck of coming to me while 'searching for a nest'. Matthew surely had to have a record or a list of possible nest locations that wouldn't risk discovery. I found it difficult to accept that she had simply been fortunate in finding a spacious apartment already furnished for vampires and could easily dominate a much younger vampire. No doubt Matthew wanted to keep an eye on me, but did not wish for me to be aware of it. I had proven my worth, but after the incident with Mae I had also proven I was a bit of a wild card due to my youth.
"Why did you not already posses a mark of the legion?" John asked. "From my understanding, it was quite common for soldiers to have a mark of some kind."
"That is partially true." I said and recited all their information I possess on the subject whilst making it sound natural while choosing words so I was not technically lying. "You see, Romans associated the practice with those of dumb barbarians. Consequently, it was deemed unseemly to sport a tattoo. Therefore, they primarily used tattoos to mark slaves and condemned criminals." I laughed. "Yes, of the free citizenry, by far the largest group to sport tattoos were soldiers, but I was not one of them."
"Truly?" John paused for a moment before resuming. "Then the stories of your exploits during the Roman Empire?"
"Not true." I assured. "As you can tell my obvious lack of muscle, I severely doubted I would have been able to stand straight without crippling my back with all the equipment required in battle at the time I was human. To stay nothing of the mental stress inflicted upon new recruits to insure they do not panic in actual combat." I chuckled as what I said next. "I was born well after the rise and fall of the Tenth Legion and even more so after Leonidas and his final stand of Thermopylae, but I always found the stories inspiring when I learned of them."
"They have stood against test of time well." John admitted.
"I particularly enjoy recounting their reconstitution under Octavian hardly three years later after Caesar disbanded them and rewarded veterans farmlands near Narbonne in Gaul and in Hispania to fight with the forces Lepidus and Mark Antony in the Battle of Philippi against the murderers of Caesar."
That was when Kim reentered and she was not alone. Ian had arrived and I was given even more evidence that Kim had been sent to spy on me. I made no show of surprise, but I did acknowledged he had been seen. Instead of his usual disco suit, he wore a simple gray collared shirt and faux stressed and faded jeans with black leather shoes. He still wore his gold Scorpio medallion, but it was not until he unzipped his jacket and reached inside did I see it. John made gesture and Dwayne nodded and exited out the front door. I understood and approved. I might not know him personally, but sensitive information might be discussed and John didn't want risk his human hearing something that he could do very well without.
"This arrived for you at the Gallery." Ian said holding out a business card.
"Perhaps I should invest in a P. O. box." I said as I took the card. "Unless Matthew is curious about the adventurous life of a postal worker."
"Or you could simply invest in a phone." Ian explained. "Mae and Abraham were very annoyed when you could not be reached."
"I did have one." I said as I examined the card. "I ripped it out of the wall."
"It kept ringing and as much as I'd love the appreciation for eradicating the tri-state area of telemarketers, I had more important and pleasant things to occupy my attention." I turned the card over. "Like this for example. It is blank."
"It was delivered by a glamored human." Ian explained. "She approached Matthew as he surveyed the club for a meal. She handed this to him and said it was to be delivered to you as soon as possible."
"What were her exact words?" I asked.
"Can you tell me what she said verbatim?." I clarified.
"This is to be given to the Ductor." Ian said. "To which Matthew took the card and asked why."
"What was the answer?"
"It is a private matter." Ian grew serious. "The Jägerin is walking into a trap."
"Jägerin?" I repeated. "That is clearly German."
"So you know this Jägerin ?" Kim asked.
"Not in the slightest." I said. "I never found the need to learn German."
"What do you intend to do?" Ian demanded. "So I may inform Matthew."
"For now?" I noticed John had finished the final line. "Conclude my arrangement with John. Then I will look into this. If I discover anything worth his attention, I will let him know promptly."
Ian nodded and left without a word. If I wasn't certain Kim was spying on me before, I was now. Matthew had informed that the king had only granted him one investigator per borough. Even if he concentrated solely on Manhattan, it would be nigh impossible for five vampires — eight if he sent Mae, Abraham, and Ian — to scour the entire island to find a single vampire before sunrise. Night wasn't half way through and Ian found me like I was the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The only one who knew where I had been for the past two hours were Sally and Kim. Sally could have been the one to divulge my location, but Kim was the most likely choice. If I had been Matthew and hired Kim, she would be first on my list for information with Ryuu following soon after and then finally Sally.
"This shows great promise." John examined his work. "None of my past attempts have lasted this long." He set the machine down and squeezed my arm gently. "Any pain or discomfort?"
"Not particularly." I said. "It feels as if the muscle is sore from being overworked."
"That sounds normal. Although this is new territory for me." John wiped away any traces of blood with an antibacterial wipe. "I normally warn the humans that their body will be sore and sensitive for a time. At least a week or so, but considering our healing and capacity for pain I'd wager it will be much less time." He leaned closer and held my arm until it was less than half an inch from his eye. "You've already ceased bleeding."
"How do you feel?" Kim asked. "Weaker?"
"No." I said. "Why do you ask?"
"As I'm sure you are aware, Ductor." Kim said with a slight hint of a smile. "Silver poisoning is near instant once it enters our blood."
"Well, I feel no different than normal." I said. "John, please continue with my other arm."
"As you wish, Ductor."
John wordlessly drew my blood and mixed it with ink and blood like he had before. Once he finished, he took the stool he had been sitting along with the padded arm rest and moved to my left. I was aware when John began and that Kim moved to stand with her back again to the mirror on my right, but my attention was focused elsewhere for the most part. Namely the card Ian had delivered.
It looked like any business card that hundreds of companies and millions of individuals used all over the country. It was about three and half inches long by two inches tall. Where traditional cards regularly had the giver's name or a logo along with vital contact information — street addresses, telephone number fax number, e-mail addresses, website address, etc — the one I held was the same off white color on either side.
"Hmm?" I said aloud when I switched between sides.
"Have you deciphered its meaning?" Kim asked.
"No." I explained. "But if there is a message written, if at all, it was writing by a vampire or another supernatural that has inhumanly delicate touch." I paused. "Or used a machine that can print without leaving even the slightest indentation on the surface."
"I once saw Ryuu run a pencil over a sheet of blank paper." Kim offered. "Once he finished, he discovered a plot to overthrow a sheriff in LA."
"Like I said, no indentations." I repeated. "That trick won't work."
"May I see it?"
I wordlessly handed it to her. I watched as she repeated all I had done. First she examined both sides critically for an entire minute for either side. She frowned for a moment and held it up to the light and squinted. Finally, she tilted it at various angles to see if anything reflected. While I did not say a word or betrayed a single emotion, I was amused that she thought she could decipher the puzzle where I could not.
"Anything?" I asked.
"If there was a message written there," Kim handed the card back. "It is impossible to discover what exactly it said."
"Never cared much for the word 'impossible.' " I said nonchalantly and stared at the card with curiosity. "Sounds a bit too much like 'unsinkable.' "
"I don't understand." Kim asked. "What's wrong with unsinkable?
"Nothing." I frowned at the card. "As the iceberg said to the Titanic."
I decided to return to basics in a sense. Barring the existence of a sixth sense, there were only five ways, or perceptions, to convey information — auditory perception , olfactory perception, visual perception, tactile perception, and gustatory perception. In layman's terms, the five basic senses. All I could see, even with my augmented sight, was an off white business card. Then I flicked the card quickly by my ear and heard nothing but flapping. I followed that by carefully and very delicately running a finger across both faces.
Something felt off.
"Bingo!" I rubbed my fingers together.
"You found something?" Kim asked.
"Perhaps." I noticed my fingers felt dry. Far too dry. "Too soon to tell."
I dabbed my tongue with my fingers and was reward with an incredibly sour taste. I fought the urge to gag, but there was no hiding my displeasure. I must have resembled Tux whenever she had a horrible taste in her mouth because Kim actually giggled. I ignored her and sniffed the card. I hid a smile at the card when I placed the scent and deduced that message had in fact been written. It was so simple and yet genius. Not only could anyone gather materials for hardly more than a dollar, it would be impossible to trace whomever had written the message.
"Kim?" I said.
"Would you please go to my coat and bring me everything in the left outside pocket?"
I watched as she retrieved my lighter and the flask Abraham had given me. Without my asking, Kim unscrewed the cap and handed it to me. I nodded my thanks and washed the bitter sour taste from my mouth with large gulp of, albeit cold, O negative. I held the out to Kim who paused for a moment only to shrug and take a swing herself. I then offered the flask to John who also accepted and finished the last of the blood.
"Thanks, Kim." I handed the flask back to her. "I guess I'm not a big fan of lemonade."
"Lemonade?" Kim screwed the cap back onto the flask. "You mixed lemonade into the blood."
"No." I said. "But put a tack in that thought for later." I held up the card. "Now light this for me."
"Excuse me?" Kim raised an eyebrow.
"Take my lighter and set this card on fire." I repeated. "I'd do it myself, but left arm is otherwise occupied."
"But you will destroy the message." Kim protested. "If you are wrong there will be no way of retrieving the message."
"True." I admitted and rolled my eyes. "But before we die of old age, in which case case would be quite an achievement so congratulations on that, is there any way you could just trust that I know what I am doing and do as I ask?"
Kim narrowed her eyes at me, but ran the flame along the top edge of the card so it caught evenly. I held the card out and smiled as words in flowing calligraphy formed on the card. It nothing more than single question, or rather a riddle.
"Hello there." I said before I read aloud. "Where in a royal county might Lynne and Brook might share a public house if one serves Lycaon and the other Hecate?"
"Is that supposed to be a joke?" John paused to ask.
"It makes no sense." Kim remarked.
"It's a riddle." I explained. "Written in invisible ink."
"Invisible ink?" Kim asked.
"Well, lemon juice actually." I crushed the card to extinguish the flame. "Simple, but very effective nonetheless."
"How dose mixing lemon juice with ink render it invisible?" Kim asked.
"It doesn't." I informed. "Technically, there was no actual ink used to write on the card."
"Explain." Kim demanded.
"Some organic substances oxidize when heated which usually turns them brown. "I explained. "For example the citric acid found in lemons and oranges. It's child's play to dilute some with water, write a message on the card, and allow it to dry before delivering it without fear of it being read by the wrong eyes. It also makes it so the recipient more or less has to destroy the message to read it."
"And what is the meaning?" Kim asked. "Find the one mentioned? Luke and Heck-something?"
"Not sure." I admitted. "But my Sanctum Sanctorum should take care of it."
"Sanctum Sanctorum." I repeated. "It is Latin. Literally meaning sacred sanctuary. It's the name I gave to my mind palace."
Kim just stared like I had gone mad.
"The Method of loci, loci being Latin for 'places'," I rattled off doing nothing to hid the bored tone in my voice." It is sometimes called the memory palace or mind palace technique. It's is a mnemonic device adopted in ancient Roman and Greek rhetorical treatises. You'll find mentioned in Rhetorica ad Herennium, Cicero's De Oratore, and Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria."
Kim just continued staring.
"Would have it been so hard to open a book in all the time you've been around?" I muttered before I continued. "In basic terms, it is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information. In theory, you could mentally carry an entire library in your head."
"I see." Kim finally said. "But how — "
"Just trust that it'll help." I said impatiently. "I have several book back at the nest if you're that curious." I then asked John. "Not to rush you, John, but how long do you think this will take?"
"I've finished piercing and outlining the design you desire." John motioned to the machine. "I should finish within the next hour or so."
"No rush, John." I said as I closed my eyes. "Just needed a time frame."
Just like before, I opened my eyes to a corridor. It was very brightly lit and painted the same blinding white as before. My footsteps echoed as I walked and reached a very large circular room with no less than fifty doorways and branching corridors. Each of the doorways were labeled in a system only known to me. For example, the one that had a chef's toque would lead to all I knew in regards to the culinary arts and would further divided by subject as regions and year. Unlike when I decided on a name for my mind palace, I was not here to search for an answer, but to decipher one. The answer to the riddle might require knowledge from several subject with no practical relation to each other and it would be too time consuming to walk through the entire Sanctum.
I nodded once and clasped my hands together in front of me. I opened them far and wide and the riddle appeared in front of me in large words with letters each the size of a book. They floated away and slightly above eye level so I could see word without turning my head or move my eyes.
Where in a royal county might Lynne and Brook might share a public house if one serves Lycaon and the other Hecate?
That was the question, but there several questions in the question itself. One of them being who were Lycaon and Hecate? I decided to answer Lycaon's identity first. I held my hand out and Lycaon came forward and hovered in front of me. It was clearly used as name, but I have never known anyone to be called Lycaon before. I guessed it might be a simple anagram and played with the letters. Without excluding letters I came up with ten result, none of which made sense. I studied them for a moment to see if anything came to me.
So Lycaon was not an anagram. I dismissed my results with a wave and they faded away. Part of the name sounded familiar to me, like I had heard a word or the name itself somewhere before, but I couldn't recall where. I thought for another solid minute and motioned for Lycaon to return to its previous position and for Hecate to come to me.
Now I was certain that I knew who this Hecate was. I gathered the name and flicked it towards the one of the many doorways. It shot down the corridor that had an altar carved overhead. Less than half a minute later, a book faded in front of me. It was leather bound and had The Five Olympic Rings on the cover. I took it in my hand and flipped through it. It was all I had stored on Ancient Greek mythology. I guess Hecate must be one of the lesser known demigods like Hercules or Achilles. She might even be a goddess. It was after I had flipped through the major gods and goddess that were the Twelve Olympians — Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Athena, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, Dionysus — that I found Hecate. It seems she was a minor goddess, like Khinoe or Persephone. It read :
Hecate or Hekate (/ˈhɛkətiː, ˈhɛkɪt/; Greek Ἑκάτη, Hekátē) is a goddess in Greek religion and mythology, most often shown holding two torches or a key and in later periods depicted in triple form. She was variously associated with magic, crossroads, moon, ghosts and necromancy. She is often served by and commands empusae
The last sentence caught my attention. The one regarding her servants. According the riddle, her servants and those of Lycaon shared something called a public house. I turned a couple of pages, skipping her origin and her meddling with mortals, and found what I was looking for. It was barely a paragraph, but I read it carefully so not to miss a detail.
Empusa (Ancient Greek: Ἔμπουσα, Empousa, of unknown meaning) is a demigoddess of Greek mythology. In later incarnations she appeared as a species of monsters commanded by Hecate (known in English as an empuse).
Empusa was the beautiful daughter of the goddess Hecate and the spirit Mormo. She feasted on blood by seducing young men as they slept, before drinking their blood and eating their flesh Empusa is pictured as wearing brazen slippers and bearing flaming hair. By folk etymology, her name was said to mean "one-footed" (from Greek *έμπούς, *empous: en-, one + pous, foot). This gave rise to the iconography of a one-legged hybrid, with a donkey's leg and a brass prosthetic leg. Widely accepted as the origin of and the basis for vampires.
So that was one piece of the puzzle solved. Being a servant of Hecate, like either Lynne or Brooke, meant being a vampire.
With that solved, I turned back to what serving Lycaon pointed to. If serving Hecate meant being a vampire than being a servant might mean being another supernatural being. I also reasoned that if one was mentioned in ancient Greek mythology than so should the other. Lycaon was probably another demigod or a minor god. Once that thought crossed my mind the book in my hand turned its own pages and stopped hardly half a second later. It was exactly what I was searching for. It seemed discovering Hecate had reminded me that I knew Lycaon as well. I read with interest at the small paragraph
Lycaon (/laɪˈkeɪɒn/; Greek: Λυκάων]) was a king of Arcadia, son of Pelasgus and Meliboea, who tested Zeus by serving him the roasted flesh of a guest from Epirus in order to see whether Zeus was truly omniscient. In return for these gruesome deeds Zeus transformed Lycaon into the form of a wolf, and killed Lycaon's fifty other sons with lightning bolts; the slaughtered child, Nyctimus, was restored to life. Argubly the basis for werewolves as well as thier alternate name of lycanthrope.
It seemed I was halfway to solving the riddle. Now I knew I was being lead to a "public house" where vampires and werewolves both could be found without conflict. All that was left was to decipher what public house and royal county meant.
I threw the book of Greek myths and it faded quickly as it had appeared. I stared at the message that still floated, but now Lycaon and Hecate glowed bright gold. I suppose it was my way of remembering that I knew the true meaning behind those names. I beckoned and "public house" floated down in front of me. This was going to be difficult. At face value a public house was simply that, meaning a house open to the public. I paced back and forth for a way to approach. Naturally, and mostly as a matter of formality, I tried to see if it was an anagram. It resulted in gibberish with only the occasional word and leftover letters.
Chub Lie Opus
Pubic Hue Sol
Club Hue Pois
Cub Louse Hip
Lube Ouch Sip
Blue Such Poi
Bush Cop Lieu
Hub Locus Pie
Lib Cup House
Blip Ouch Use
I decided to put that part of the puzzle on the back burner so to speak and focus on the which county had ties to royalty. First off, I needed both a list and map of all the counties in the state. That was assuming the "royal county" in question was in New York. Since the card had been meant for the Ductor and my exploits were known to happen in New York City and Long Island, it would be safe to assume that he was still there. If by some chance, which there was a fair one, the county was outside of the state, I only could only hope that New York wasn't at war with another kingdom. Based on my recent run of luck, the riddle would lead me to New Jersey and there had to be a reason why New Yorkers, and Long Islanders, hated New Jersey for centuries.
I made gesture like I was unrolling a scroll and a parchment map appeared between my fingers. It may have looked like an ancient treasure map from a pirate film, but that simply for decorative purposes. It was a map of the entire Empire State. It was divided into the ten regions that made up the state. Western New York was began on the coast of Lake Ontario near the Canadian border and continued west until it reached the Finger Lakes region which was directly north of third region known as the Southern Tier. The forth region, aptly named Central New York, was directly in the middle with North Country as the very large fifth taking up all the land along the Canadian and Vermont borders. Regions six and seven, Mohawk Valley and Capital District respectively, were adjacent to each other and south of North Country. The final three regions — Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island — made up the rest of the state with the eight directly north of New York City and Long Island immediately east of the city.
I tapped the map and lines began dividing the regions by county. It took all of thirty seconds. Once that finished, I tapped New York and Long Island. Instantly, all of the other region disappeared so the other two could take up the entirety of the map. Now I was viewing the five boroughs of New York City and the two counties of Long Island. I was already familiar with Long Island. Nassau county, the one I had resided all of my human life, started where Queens ended and was relatively small in comparison to Suffolk.
Despite my own views and experiences, Nassau County is the wealthiest county in New York and highest income counties in the United States. It was true if you only saw small hamlets like Port Washington and Sands Point, but Hempstead could rival some parts of the South Bronx. While Nassau only stretched as far east as Plainview, Suffolk took up the rest of the island that housed the island's "working class". At least that was according to Nassau residents. Unfortunately, neither could conceivably be called a royal county. Nassau's name came a Dutch Prince William of Nassau who was a member of the House of Nassau, itself named for the German town Nassau. Suffolk was simply named for Suffolk, England when it was settled in 1683 by the English.
With Long Island eliminated, I turned my attention to New York City. The second I did, I mentally slapped myself. Of course that meant, in my Sanctum Santorum, I actually slapped myself. All of the counties in the city were interchangeable with the boroughs. The Bronx county was itself the Bronx as was the rest of the city. There were two exceptions. One of them was Staten Island which was Richmound County and the same could be said of Brooklyn.
That was when I heard John's voice, "Ductor?"
I opened my eyes and I was back in Last Rites.
"Yes?" I asked.
"I have finished." He held up a mirror. "Is it too your liking?"
I examined and flexed my arm slightly. "Perfectum, amice."
So with the world's first post vampiric tattoos and two hundred fifty dollars, Kim and I bid John good luck and good bye. I checked my watch and saw the night was still young. Sunset was incredibly early in mid-December at roughly four thirty in the afternoon and sunrise wouldn't be until just after seven in the morning. Even with the time it took to travel to Last Rites by taxi, which was considerably longer because of the massive influx of tourists for the holiday season, it was barely nine 'o clock. Not even the elderly would call it late.
"So did you decipher the message?" Kim asked as we walked towards the corner.
"Most of it." I admitted. "I'm stuck on what exactly a "public house" is."
"It is the formal name for a pub." Kim said nonchalantly.
"What?!" I stopped walking. "How the hell do you know that?"
"I see your gift does have limits." Kim smiled slightly. "You'd do best not to advertise that."
"My gift doesn't grant me omniscient knowledge." I paused for literal half second to add the final piece to the puzzle. "So I'm looking for a pub in Lynbrook. Makes sense."
"A pub in Lynbrook?" Kim repeated. "There are dozens of them."
"I take it Ryuu owns a good number of them?"
"Through proxies, yes."
"And how many do both vampire and Weres frequent?"
"Vampires and Weres?" Kim was clearly confused. "Why both?"
"The riddle points to one." I repeated. "Where in a royal county might Lynne and Brook might share a public house if one serves Lycaon and the other Hecate?." I explained. "Servants of the Greek Goddess Hecate, empousai, according to humans were the inspiration for the myth of vampires. Lycaon, in another Greek myth, was turned into a wolf by Zeus for serving him human flesh as a test and heavily influenced stories about werewolves."
"Alright, I see." Kim said sounding unsure. "But why Lynbrook?"
"A royal county." I answered. "Nassau County, as I am sure you're aware of, is home to some of the most wealthiest and influential humans in the country. It is no mere coincidence that when you combine the names Lynne and Brook it results in the name of a village in Nassau County."
"I understand." Kim nodded firmly once. "Ryuu dose own a bar in Lynbrook, but I have not set foot inside for nearly ten years. I do recall both Weres and vampire kept to themselves without much incident."
"Then you'd better change that." I said as I wrote a number to a payphone I frequented on a dollar bill with a pen I kept in a pocket. "Call this number after you've properly scouted the place."
"First of all, I do not follow your orders." Kim said flatly and refusing to take the dollar. "Second, why should I go?"
"Because it might be a trap."
Kim raised an eyebrow.
"I take it you didn't announce to world that you were no longer in Ryuu's retinue?"
"Then no one will think twice if the sheriff's child shows up out of the blue. Most will just chalk it up to a surprise inspection or something. They'll take one look at you and one of two things will happen. Either they will ignore and go on with the plan or they will abandon it and not risk harming the child of the sheriff who has a direct line to the Ductor himself. You also have the advantage of being far more familiar with the layout than I."
"And if they decide to throw caution to the wind and attack regardless?" Kim demanded.
"I won't lie about that. " I said. "That is a slight possibility, but you won't be alone. If this pub truly is one where vampires and Weres converge, then I'm sure many would jump at the chance to not only take some revenge on our fallen brethren but get into Ryuu's good graces by fighting by his child's side." I added for good measure. "Not to mention I've seen you in combat. If it dose come to blows, I doubt a few lucky scratches from some very unlucky Weres would cause you much concern."
I watched as Kim mulled it over for a full minute before nodding once. "Very well." She took the dollar. "You should purchase a cellphone as soon as you can so communication is not an issue."
"I'll keep that in mind." I assured. "In the mean time, I'll make some preparations."
"Plan of attack, back up plan of attack, a list of witty remarks." I explained. "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
After hailing a cab, Kim was on her way to Penn Station and Long Island from there. I informed it would have been much faster if she had taken the "A" train, but she dismissed the notion claiming she did not want to get lost. I argued that it was simple, but she put her foot down and I surrendered. I waited ten minutes before I walked to a pay phone next to an empty bus stop. I gazed around to make sure no one was watching, which was difficult considering the sheer amount of foot traffic, as I made a show of fishing in my pocket for a quarter.
Truth be told, I had lied to her in a way. The riddle had indeed pointed to a pub in Lynbrook on Long Island. After all when you combined Lynn and Brooke you were rewarded with the name of a village on the island. A village that sat in a county were influential and powerful individuals made their home from all over the country. However, Nassau was merely a rich county and while you could argue it was where American royalty could be found, it was not the correct answer to the riddle. The correct answer was Brooklyn or rather King's county. You could not get much higher in royalty than a king and if you switched the order of Lynne and Brooke, you were rewarded with a misspelled version of Brooklyn.
It was my way to discover if Kim had been sent to spy on me. No doubt she would report to Matthew whom had struck as the type not to tolerate failure and not likely to give second chances. If Kim merely accepted my "excuse" that I hadn't realized my mistake until she had already reached Lynbrook, then it was all just a coincidence. However, if she was abnormally angry with me and called me out of the fabrication then I had all the confirmation I needed. Not only would I have dealt with a potential spy before events grew serious, but Matthew would have to devise another plan and I would be wary. I was also fairly certain that no matter how furious she might be with me for costing her a chancing to increase her standing, she wouldn't kill me. I had already proven my worth to her and, more importantly, to her maker. She was intelligent to know there was a likely probability of events occurring that might require my services.
I fed the quarter into the phone and dialed a number. I waited and someone picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Edgar?" The voice sounded familiar, but I wished to be certain.
"Speaking." Edgar answered. "I take this is you, Ductor?"
"I require your services for tonight." I said. "And those in your sector."
"Sure thing." Edgar answered. "Whadda ya need?"
"I need to meet someone in a pub in Brooklyn."
"You got a name?" He asked.
"Not entirely sure." I said flatly. "It might be called Lynne's, Brooke's, or even Lynne and Brooke's pub.
"It's never simple with you. At least you had a picture of that janitor." He chuckled. "So a pub in Brooklyn called Brooke and Lynn's. What do I tell the boys to look for?"
"Tell them to stay in the hard neighborhoods." I said. "Brownsville, Cypress Hills, Crown Heights. Places like that."
"Most of 'em already call those places home so that ain't problem." Edgar asked. "Anything else?"
"This is going to sound strange, but instruct them to take note of any pubs that scream for them to stay away."
"How are they suppose to do that?"
"If they can walk up to and enter, then it's not the one I'm looking for." I explained.
"Gotcha." Edgar then asked. "How fast do you need it?"
"ASAP." I answered. "Tonight."
"What should I tell the boys?"
"Fifty each and an extra hundred to the ones that find it." I added. "And I'll donate my largest pot of Manhattan Clam Chowder to the soup kitchen on fourth and Lincoln by the end of the week if any one of them finds it within the next two hours."
"That'll light a fire under 'em." Edgar made a lip smacking sound. "I still have dreams about that shrimp gumbo you donated for the janitor job and I wager so do the boys on your side of the river."
"Thank you, Edgar." I said.
"Should I call you back at this number?" Edgar asked.
"No." I paused for a moment as I remembered where I had parked. "Call Carl's Classics."
"Where is that?" Edgar asked. "It might be easier to send someone if they're close by."
"Brooklyn." I informed. "Bedford Avenue between Park and Myrtle."
"Ten four." Edgar said. "Call ya soon."
With that, Edgar hung up and I followed suit. I stepped out and headed south on eighth avenue. I continued for a bit until I reached Penn Station and entered from the entrance on west thirty-fourth street. Despite the deafening the crowds of tourists, locals, and street musicians mixed with the scent of garbage, urine, body odor, and various kinds of foods, I just managed to find and reach the "A" train heading through downtown and Brooklyn. It was an uneventful, if somewhat crowded, ride through Lower Manhattan and the East River from there. I took no notice of the humans entering or leaving at each stop choosing instead to retreat into myself. I left just enough consciousness, for the lack of a better word, to listen to the conductor's announcements if there were delays to a sudden derailment or something to that effect. I did transfer to the "G" train once I reached Schermerhorn street and got off once it reached the Bedford and Nostrand avenue stop.
I quickly took the steps to street level and emerged on the corner of Lafayette and Bedford avenue. There was the smell of stale fried chicken coming from the Kentucky Fried Chicken to my left across the street. The large windows were too fogged up to make out anything other than blurry outlines of humans moving around inside. Other than the occasional store or small shop, I was surrounded mostly by residental buildings that were either under renovation or in need of it. The intersection wasn't empty, but it seemed most of the car traffic was concentrated back in Manhattan. The foot traffic on the other hand was more or less the same just with more small children playing on stoops throwing snowballs.
I headed north on Bedford at a brisk pace. I walked past a couple of vendors with carts selling espresso and hot chocolate as well as a few men dressed as Santa Claus collecting for the Salvation Army. Those one of the few occasions I loathed my augmented senses. The smell of freshly brewed espresso wasn't unpleasant, but the scent of rotting beans mixed with the day's garbage was and sound clamoring bells ringing could rival some cannons as far as my ears were concerned.
I did have to endure for much as I reached Carl's Classics after only three blocks. It was a used car lot that specialized in older makes and models. I had been refered by a repair shop in Harlem after I had brought my motorcycle to be restored and fine tuned. They claimed that the work I wanted done was little out of their forte and provided with the number and address of Carl's Classic. Apparently, they were on good terms with each other and often referred jobs to each other and they had a mechanic that had been raised around motorcycles and was better suited.
After the fiasco that happened with Christine, I found it difficult to keep the bike. So I took it one of the few shops not owned by Weres, thanks to Matthew's end of the bargain, and did not spare any expense to return the motorcycle to its former glory. Once they finished, I paid and glamored the owner to deliver it to Christine's home. It might not have belonged to her uncle, but she had of a right to it than I did.
There were a few cars from the current decade, but those were few and far between. The lot consisted of the main building which was a repair shop with room for three cars to be worked on simultaneously in addition to a small main office. The entire lot was relatively small in comparison to the company owned dealerships lots with room for hardly twenty-five or so cars. Some of those cars went as far back as the 1930's and had been expertly restored. Of course, there was money in older model cars so naturally the entire lot was fenced by a tall fence and topped with old looking barbed wire that curled the top. Since the lot did not sit on a corner, there were only two gates that allowed cars to enter and leave the lot.
Luckily for me, and any vampire in the city, the lot was open 24/7 with a mechanic on call. I assumed that, despite the booming economy, the lot made most of its money from repairs than the actual sale of cars. Regardless of the reason, it allowed me to enter the lot without having to jump over the fence. The lot was free of ice and any snow had been pushed into a small mountain in a corner out of the way.
I entered the main office and small brass bell rang to alert anyone to my presence. It was more or less the same as any other repair shop office. Other than the door that I entered from there were two more. One was directly behind a long desk that was labeled for employees only and the other lead to the shop. Everything was just slightly stained even though I was certain that even the floor was clean enough to eat off of. Many posters and flyers advertising particular brands of car parts like oil and oil filters hung on the walls and on the long desk the separated customers from the employees. A coffee pot was tucked in the corner opposite the desk, presumably for customer to drink while they waited, and had almost finished brewing. On either side of the coffee pot were three steel framed chairs with red faux leather cushions for the seat and back.
"I was wondering when you were gonna show up." said a man as he entered from the door behind the desk. "I hope you got my message about the bike."
The man, who despite the shop's name, was Harold and the owner. He was a large, somewhat muscular, middle-aged man with a slight paunch and beard that would rival a dwarf. His dark brown hair was cut short and touches of gray along his side burns and small patches in his beard. He smelt of car fluids, oil and antifreeze mostly, mixed with cigarettes and deodorant, but he seem to radiate a cheerful demeanor and gave the impression he loved to laugh and joke.
"Sorry." I smiled politely. "Phone company's been giving me a hard time."
"I gotcha." Harold shrugged. "I would've switched years ago, but everyone knows my number."
"What happened with the bike?" I asked.
"Nothing." Harold said. "I left a message saying everything went without a hitch. Parked it in front of the house and left the keys in the mailbox along with that letter."
"Oh." I said. "You said it's ready?"
"Been that way for a little over a week." He pointed with a thumb behind him. "It's out back under a tarp. We would've finished sooner, but those T tops are pain in the ass to find. Had to special order 'em from Georgia, ironically enough."
"I understand." I reached inside my coat. "I doubt any of the deposit is left over?"
"Not as much as you think." Harold open a drawer and flipped through some paperwork. "Here it is! Ya left thirty grand in cash. Twenty-five for a sweet piece of machinery and five to get it back to red carpet status." Harold laughed to himself. "I'm assuming after one hell of a night in Vegas cause I haven't seen kids your age able to drop that much in cash."
"So what do I owe you?" I asked.
"Really?" I said. "Just that?"
"Just that he says." Harold leaned forward and smiled. "Kid, what do you do for a living? I'm only asking cause I'm seriously regretting my career choice."
"I'm a consultant." I said which was true in a way.
"Anything and everything." I shrugged. "You give me a problem and I do some research and give a suggestion."
"Hmm." Harold considered it. "And if it don't work out?"
"Then it doesn't." I said simply. "But I don't get paid if it doesn't."
"But ya roast 'em alive if it dose." Harold laughed. "Well, I would."
"I'll keep it in mind." I smiled and counted out five hundred dollar bills. "Here."
"I'll have my boy bring it out front." He said as he took the money. "Max!"
A moment later a younger looking Harold, presumably Max, came in from the shop. He wore a pristine mechanic's uniform with dark work boots and a backwards cap. He had a muscular build and looked to be at college age with a trimmed goatee.
"Yeah, Pop?" He asked.
"Here!" Harold tossed him a key-chain with two keys. "Bring the bandit out front."
"Bandit?" Then Max understood. "Oh! Sure thing, Pop."
Max cut through the office and jogged around the side and disappeared.
"He ain't the sharpest tool in the box." Harold shrugged nonchalantly. "But it don't take a rocket scientist to work here."
"At least until someone brings in an Opel-RAK."
We both shared a laugh though I was fairly certain Harold didn't have the slightest idea what an Opel-RAK was. It was hardly minute later when I heard the roar of a powerful engine come to life and grow louder as Max pulled to the front with a car. A car that I had spent considerable amount of money to restore. I took a step to leave when the phone rang.
"Carl's Classics!" Harold answered cheerfully. "Can I help you?"
"Is the Ductor there?" asked a voice.
"Doctor?" Harold asked. "Doctor Who?"
"I think that's for me." I held out a hand. "I told a couple of friends I was going to be here. They probably looked you up in the book."
"Oh." He handed the phone over. "Here!."
"Thank you and I'm sorry about that." I held the phone to my ear. "Hello?"
"Is this the Ductor?" the voice asked again as I recognized it was Edgar.
"Then we found the bar." Edgar said proudly. "A Patient Gentleman on Fulton between Essex and Linwood in Cypress Hills. It looks like one of those old timey diners, but all of the windows are seriously tinted. "
"Really?" I said doing my best to act mildly surprised. "Can you explain?"
"The boys say that it's the only place open on that side of street and people seem to go out of their way to avoid it." Edgar informed me. "The closest they could get was the corner on either side of the place. They couldn't set a foot on the parking lot, but every now and then someone or a group stroll right inside like it's nothing."
"I see." I nodded once. "Alright, thanks for telling me. I owe you."
"Just give us a heads up on the chowder." Edgar laughed. "See ya, Ductor."
"Here." I handed the phone back to Harold. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Harold hung up the phone. "Come on. The longer Max sits in the seat the least likey your going to keep it."
Together we both walked outside. Despite what Harold had said, Max was still there and so was the car. I paused for a moment to admire the car. It was somewhat a big moment for me. This was the first car I had ever purchased by myself for myself. I had loved my old '78 Toyota Cressida as much as most did the first car their father bought for them, but it wasn't under the usual circumstances.
I learned quickly enough that the only reason for my father sudden generosity was more out of convenience for him than anything else. With my own car, I could take care any and all errands he'd rather avoid with a passion. Not to mention the police would stop, as he put it, harassing him for having a beer or two after a day before coming home and slapping him with a DUI if I was driving. There was also the another hidden catch attached to the "gift" which was the responsibility of having to maintain both my new car and my father's truck. Of course he did his fatherly duty of teaching me to drive. If one could count a single three hour lesson which was more ranting about how police will look for any excuse to fuck you over for bullshit — which I'm sure were out there, but had to be all of one percent at the very most of the entire population of police in the entire country — teaching someone to drive. For the most part, it was how I learned guitar and piano. I simply learned by doing until it became second nature.
While both my grandfather and my father were mechanics, I did not share their enthusiasm for engines. That wasn't to say I didn't think a car was a car. I was eight years old when the film Smokey and the Bandit was released in theaters, but I didn't see it until a year later when I caught it on television. It wasn't any masterpiece, even being the second highest grossing film of the year.
It was a harmless fun comedy where a rich Texas wheeler-dealer Big Enos Burdette and his son, Little Enos locate legendary truck driver Bo "Bandit" Darville, played by then unknown Burt Reynolds, and offer him $80,000 to haul 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas to the "Southern Classic" in Georgia which was technically bootlegging since it was illegal to transport alcohol east of Texas. Naturally for the sake of the plot, Bandit accepts the bet and recruits his best friend and fellow truck driver Cledus "Snowman" Snow to drive the truck, promising to buy him a new truck with the proceeds. Shortly after, using an advance from the Burdettes for a "speedy car", Bandit purchases a black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, which he will drives as a "blocker" car to deflect attention away from the truck and its illegal cargo.
And here it was. Thirty-five hundred pounds of classic American muscle with two hundred draft horses under the hood just chomping at the bit to be released. A shiny black and masterfully restored with golden decals 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. The legendary car from my childhood. And it was all mine. Bought with my money for my use and no one else. If only my nine-year old self could see me now.
"I know your answer, but I gotta ask." Max smiled as exited the car. "Any chance I can convince you to leave it here for a couple more days?"
"Not a chance." I returned the smile as I walked around the car when I noticed. "Are those license plates?"
"Um, they're temporary." Harold look uncomfortable.
"Temporary?" I asked.
"Uh, yeah!" Harold sounded unsure how to proceed before he forced an easy smile. "It's so you can drive it home or pick up the paperwork at the DMV."
Something felt off, like Harold was being less than honest. I probably should have asked and demanded an answer, but I had somewhere to be. Worst case scenario, a cop pulled me over and it turned out the car was stolen. If that happened, a quick glamor followed by return trip to have a chat with Harold about his customer service practices. I know I wasn't in a position to debate ethics, but it seemed like a common courtesy to warn about the possible consequences of your products.
"Speaking of which." I said as I walked to the driver side door. "Do you have the title?"
"In the glove box." Harold said.
"Thanks." I said to Max who opened the door for me and slide into the driver's seat.
It was everything as I imagined. Not only was the exterior and everything under hood restored to the factory original parts, but so was the interior. The floor mats were pitch black with same iconic golden bird logo spreading its wings over the words "Trans Am". In fact, the bird was everywhere in the same gold on black color scheme. A small one was dead center of the steering wheel whose grip was wrapped in black leather and divided into three by golden bars. Another one was just on the right of the interior door handle which matched the steering wheel and the one on stick-shift. The dashboard was awashed in reflective gold that was broken up by black round circles for the gauges, the largest of which were the speedometer and tachometer. Even the radio, which was classic cassette player instead of the modern CD players that were starting to take over, was original.
"All it's missing is a CB radio." I said absent minded.
"Well, it's not one, but check out the glove box." Harold motioned. "Found it when we got to workin' on the interior. The guy who had it before must have left it there and forgot about it."
I did as he said and leaned over to open the glove box. Like he had said, I found the title folded up neatly in an envelope. Next to that was a small black plastic rectangle. I took it out and saw it was an audio cassette. It had a white label that was peeling in the corners and someone had written "Driving Mix" on it with a marker. I shrugged and popped it into the cassette player. Instantly, September by Earth, Wind, and Fire began to play. Whomever the previous owner was, he must had access to professional level recording equipment because the sound was crisp and clear without the slightest hint of static even to my ears.
"I tell ya." Max nodded approvingly and bobbed his head to the music. "Made it easier working on this baby."
"I can imagine." I reached into my coat and pulled out two fifty dollar bills. "Here, for you and Harold."
After bidding them good bye and making sure they each took a step back, I was on my way. It took all of a minute to get a feel for the clutch and stick. It had been years since I had driven a stick. The last time was when I was seventeen and I drove my father's truck before the transmission finally went after years of patchwork just to keep it running. Naturally, he blamed me and claimed it was years of me not shifting properly. Even if that had been true, it was only for the first two weeks or so when Eric's father taught me how to shift in the first place.
I stopped thinking about the past and forced myself to focus on the present which was infinitely better.
As it turned out, The Patient Gentleman was fairly close by if Edgar's information was accurate. Hardly half an hour away. I headed north on Bedford and made a right on Park Avenue which I took for about a mile. While I waited at a red light on Park and Nostrand, I lowered the window and lit a cigarette. That was when I noticed a group of college girls who looked to be on their way to a club admire my new car as they crossed the street. I also saw that some weren't just admiring the car as they batted their eyes at me. I revved the loudly and they jumped. They giggled and batted their eyes at me which I returned with a wink before take a drag from my cigarette. They continued crossing all the while sneaking glances at me and the car.
The light turned green and hoped whatever waited for me at the bar wouldn't take up too much of my time. Those college girls reminded how hungry I was and I hadn't indulged in a particular hunger since my last night with HER. I reminded myself that it had been nearly a year and I was out of excuses. I couldn't tell myself there was something more important to do and bury myself in work forever. Just because I had gone twenty-one years before I shared a bed with a woman didn't mean I had to repeat that. I told myself I was letting HER win if I refrained.
Truth be told, Johanna had been throwing me massive hints that were impossible tp ignore that she wanted more than just harmless flirting whenever I entered the comic shop. She always seemed to find an excuse to touch me whether it was coming around the counter to give me a lingering hug or the way she stole glances out of the corner of her eyes not knowing I noticed her doing so. I could think of worse ways to get back on the horse, so to speak.
She had a beautifully toned body thanks to her self defense classes and her weekly trips to a gym. Her scent was as intoxicating as ever and I could just imagine how her blood would taste. I had the strangest theory that she was part fairy and that was the reason for her aluring aroma. The only scent more addictive and pleasant than Johanna was that fairy that SHE and I met on Halloween. It was clearly different and yet it was eeriely similar to Johanna. I never bothered figuring out if fairies could have children with normal humans or not, but if they could then it could stand to reason that either Johanna's grandparents or great grandparents had been either a full or half fairy. Too much fairy blood and I would have drained her dry the second I met her. Not to mention that any fairy worth thier salt would've certainly warned her about vampires and the danger of working in a large city at night. Since Johanna clearly found me desirable on some level, it was safe to assume she was unaware of vampires or any supernatural creature.
I continued thinking about Johanna, mostly involving her wrapping those strong legs around my waist as I sank my fangs into her soft sweet flesh, as I made a slight right onto Broadway. That was when a new song began to play. It was You Should Be Dancing by The Beegees. I took that as a sign. As soon as I was free of this secret 007 bullshit, I was going to find Johanna and we would, if she was interested, fuck like rabbits until the sun came up. I just hoped she didn't want anything serious. As much as I'd like going to the movies and catching a show on Broadway or take a night in and just cuddle on the couch, it wouldn't work in the long run. After all, she couldn't stay young forever. Then again, who knew? If she was part fairy maybe it meant an increased lifespan or something to that effect.
After honking the horn to signal the idiot in a Ford that the light was green, I sped up and went around him as we made a left onto Myrtle Avenue which was clear. With no one in front I smiled and felt my fangs tingle as I shifted into gear. I sped down until I threw myself into a right turn on Bushwick Avenue and I was rewarded with the sound of screeching tires and smell of burning rubber when I floored the accelerator. I couldn't keep it up for too long, not with the famous traffic of Manhattan. Two miles might seem like nothing, especially with a powerful car like a Trans Am, but I stayed on Bushwick for roughly half an hour. I tried switching back over to Broadway, but there was no difference. So I settled on enjoying on the music on the cassette which surprisingly was quite good.
I had more or less listened to the entire first side of my "Driving Mix" when I finally turned onto Fulton Street. By that time, I was listening to the tail end Peter Frampton's Signed Sealed Delivered, which was more or less the same as Stevie Wonder's, and wanting to be delivered from this congestion. At least it lessened significantly from then on since most merged onto Jamaica Avenue while I just crossed over it. I continued down Fulton and turned the cassette on its other side to see if anything had been recorded. I was rewarded with the funky beat that was Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground.
A mere ten minutes later I reached it.
A Patient Gentleman was what Edgar had said. It was an old looking diner directly in the middle of a parking lot. Except it was missing the heavily tinted windows. They were tinted, but just enough to be called tinted. I guess it was either a result of a witch's spell or my augment sight, possibly both. It definitely had some sort of repellant spell. No human set a foot in the parking lot and practically walked in the street alongside the curb whenever their path took them in front of it. They also seemed to go out of their way to ignore it as if they could not see it or rather saw an empty lot. SHE had mentioned that whenever a supernatural being opened any kind of establishment — bar, hotel, restaurant, etc — that catered only to other supernatural beings, it was crucial to find a witch or warlock to cast spells so no human wandered in off the street or had to be accompanied by a supernatural being. Spells would also be cast that prevented humans from speaking of the location or giving directions.
I pulled up to the front where a sign for valet parking sat. I stepped out and left the car running. I assumed the valets were retrieving a car or parking one. I decided to wait for them so I could receive a ticket, but I learned the valet parking wasn't what I had expected. The moment I closed the door, my new Trans Am took off by itself like the trucks in Maximum Overdrive. I watched for hardly five seconds before the car performed a three point turn expertly and gently parked itself in the row of spots closest to the street before the engine turned off. I looked and saw everything that had happened had happened in plain view of no less thirty humans. However, none of them reacted. Not a single one had given the impression they had just seen a self driving car possibly centuries before their invention. I assumed the magic also prevented humans from seeing anything that occurred in and around the parking lot.
"A self driving Trans Am." I mused. "Too bad I'm not David Hasselhoff."
As I lit another cigarette, I walked up the small set of stairs and entered A Patient Gentleman.
A/N - In case you're wondering why the bar is called A Patient Gentleman, it's an from an old Russian proverb.
"A gentleman is simply a patient wolf."