What Few See
"You know, Barnabé, I used to hate suits. I mean, absolutely despise them." I said, examining my reflection. "But then again, I never wore anything but my father's old suits."
"That dose not surprise me." Barnabé took a step back to examine with a tailor's eye. "It is rare a human your age that does. Youthful rebellion, I like to think."
"I can't say I disagree." I turned and looked over my shoulder. "I had saying about them."
"What was it?" Barnabé asked.
"Never met a man in a suit who hadn't stepped on someone to get it." I took another look at the three mirrors in front of me. "Even if that were true, this is definitely worth it several times over."
"I am glad you approve." Barnabé beamed proudly. "But might I ask what happened to the previous suit? Or is this just to add variety to your wardrobe?" Barnabé gave me a suggestive wink. "Perhaps, this was nothing more than a simple reason to see me again, no?"
"You don't give up easily." I said, a bit amused. "Do you, Barnabé?"
"The squeaky wheel gets the oil, mon ami" He responded smoothly.
"Oil?" I chuckled. "What are you into, monsieur?"
"Oh, it would take several decades." He mused. "But it would not be time wasted. I assure you."
My encounter with Sebastian and the shifters he managed to cobble together had left my previous suit, the midnight black one that Wilhelmina had sent me to acquire for our audience with Ryuu, a bit beyond repair. The dress shirt and tie could easily be replaced, but jacket and pants were too far gone. Since I was due to meet Matthew, Mae's sire and the sheriff of area two, I could not very well arrive in a plain shirt and jeans. Granted, it annoyed me that vampires placed even more importance on appearances than humans, but there was no changing that. Best to put up with it and save the headache of explaining the pros and cons of such a practice.
Barnabé had, like before, settled on a more vintage design. The same design in fact with only slight variations in color. Since he had memorized my measurements, I had left quite the impression I surmised, I merely placed a call and he had begun work straight away.
So a few hours later, I stood clad in a dark navy blue four-buttoned suit with rust red pinstripes. Like its predecessor, the suit jacket had beautifully tapered sides and minimal shoulder. It also had the same very narrow lapels that were only about an inch wide and a white silk handkerchief in the breast pocket.
I had requested he refrain from making a vest so I only wore a very light sky blue shirt and crimson red tie under the jacket. Instead of my leather loafers, I wore red Chuck Taylor All Star basketball shoes that ended just above my ankles. My old red sneakers, a pair of cheap knock offs was all I could afford instead of the genuine article, had reached the end of their life.
In addition to the suit, I asked Barnabé to make one last thing.
"A most unusual request." he said, holding the piece up for me to slip into. "I remember my father owned one of these from his time in the military when I was but a child."
I stood on the small platform and examined myself once more. Now with my brand new, but post World War Two inspired, greatcoat, I looked the part.
One the first few things that Wilhelmina had drilled into my head in the subject of vampire etiquette, something everyone learns to do, respect your elders. Unfortunately, that went more than quadruple for vampires. One of the many things that included was absolute honesty when a fellow child of the night asked you for your age. While I would be unquestionably honest if I answered twenty-one years old, my age referred to how many years had passed since I last saw the sun. The last time I was human.
Fortunately, there was no fault if a vampire assumed the age of another and never actually put the question to. For example, if I presented myself to Matthew, acting and clad in misleading clothes, he might very well believe that I was turned during World War Two or The Second Great War as it was called at the time.
It was not my wish to mock the sheriff, there are far easier and quicker ways to commit suicide, but to help him save face. If there is one thing that every vampire has common, it is that were all very proud. It would be crippling blow for Matthew, who was born somewhere in the middle of the second crusade and brought over just before the fifth, to follow the plan of a two year old infant, special ability or not.
This would be the same if a toddler defeated a chess grandmaster with four simple moves. It would be much more palpable for him to listen to the advice of a citizen of his area that was sired when the Italian Mob was at the height of its power, just when it was beginning to shift from racketeering to drug distribution.
Mae, of course, would tell Matthew all about me and my gift, as I expected her to. It would be a win-win situation for everyone, except for the packs that were harassing the sheriff. Matthew would save face and be rid of the werewolves, the packs uninvolved would think twice when they saw what happened, and I would no doubt be paid handsomely for my services and not insult a very old and powerful vampire.
"Gotta say, Barns," I slipped into a slight Brooklyn accent. "Ya really know how ta put on da ritz in a jiffy."
My greatcoat, or overcoat as most would call it, had a collar and cuffs that could be turned out to protect my face and hands from cold and rain. It also had a short cape around the shoulders to provide extra warmth and repel rainwater, if hypothermia was a concern for vampires. It hung down below my knees and the was just below the elbows.
I slipped my hand into the pocket to deposit my cigarette case and lighter and learned It sported deep pockets. According to Barnabé, these types of coats were typically colored grey, though other colors may be used, like black, brown, and navy blue. I looked down and saw Barnabé had opted for a semi-dark greyish blue with bright golden brass buttons.
After paying Barnabé for his work, and tip large enough to rent a cheap car for the evening, I left his shop and began heading south on Eight Avenue. Had I not needed to visit Barnabé, it would have been a short trip up to Delancy Street on my motorcycle and over the bridge into Brooklyn.
Instead I walked to Thirty-Fourth and Eighth and entered Penn Station. I took the C train going towards Euclid Avenue and headed back to the surface on the corner of Sixteenth and Eight. From there, it was a mere two blocks until I reach West Fourteenth Street on foot and boarded the L train towards Canarise and the Rockaway Parkway. This train took me from Greenich Village all the way, along fourteenth Street and under the East River, to Bedford Avenue in Willamsburg. I checked my watch and saw I did not have the time to enjoy a peaceful walk and flagged down a passing taxi.
"Kent and First," I told the driver the moment I slid in. "Please hurry."
"Kent and First," He repeated. "You got it."
We sailed down Bedford Avenue as fast as the traffic would allow, blowing past South Sixth, Fifth, Fourth, Third, Second, and he threw himself onto South First Street. The traffic here was significantly lighter and barreled past W. E. Sheridan Playground until we reached the corner of Kent and First.
The cabbie slammed the brakes and we came to a halt with screeching tires, causing to cluster of pigeons to take to the sky in alarm.
"Kent and First." He announced.
I exited and handed him fifty dollars.
"No." I said as he began making change. "Keep it."
"Thanks!" He smiled brightly before speeding off.
I padded my side and smiled faintly when I felt the remains of the money Ryuu had given me. Even after almost a year of buying drinks for women, comics, plays on and off Broadway, and countless visits to Cinemas, I was mildly surprised to how much still remained. But then I made note of a few things as I walked to the Grasslands Gallery, Matthew's club.
Since I no longer could consume proper food, that was vast amounts saved on groceries. Wilhelmina had been glamoring the owner of the apartment building for a little over five years, making sure to reglamor if the owner died and passed the property to their children, so we did not have to pay rent like the rest of the human residents. Wilhelmina had also been wise to include utilities like electricity and hot water, not that it was necessary, but vampires enjoy warm baths as much anyone else. I had not bought my motorcycle and nor did I pay insurance like I had when I drove my Toyota Cressida that had over two-hundred and twenty-five miles on it. I paid for fuel and I knew sooner or later it would require repairs, but I was not the slightest bit worried.
I knew when I was alive, after doing some rough calculations, that my bar-tending job at Yojimbo's would enough to support me if I managed to find a small room to rent. Perhaps, even a decent apartment if one of my friends would split the cost with me. It might be a financial strain at times, but I was certain I could make do for a time. That was impossible with my father's poor judgement or lack utter lack of care, my mother's ailments that were a drain on our funds, and my brother's exploitation of my father judgement to acquire luxuries that we could do very well without.
More than once, I could considered packing a suitcase and merely leaving, but my conscience prevented me along with my cowardice. There no shortage of excuses I could forge to convince myself to stay just a bit longer. I was being incredibly selfish to even consider abandoning them. My mother's disability checks had been stopped. I had no college degree. My brother was only a few short years away from being able to legally work. Some misfortune could occur to my father, leaving debts to be paid by an ailing woman and a small child if I was not there. If it was physically possible, or even appeared to be, it crossed my mind and I stayed, sacrificing even the smallest luxury if it meant I would leave sooner.
But I knew, even then, somewhere in my subconscious that I dare not acknowledge, I was being a coward. It was infinitely easier to stay, to remain in the tranquility of everyday routine. It may not be a life I dreamed of, but it was familiar and familiar was safe. Every second of everyday of every year, I lived on. Convincing myself that one day, and that day would come, that things would change for the better. And I would have mostly likely continued thinking that until I finally found the courage to face reality, if not Wilhelmina had entered my life and made another choice for me.
I looked to the east, beyond the buildings of the city, beyond the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, to Long Island. I began to wonder, not for the first time, how my family was surviving without me. I had no intention of returning, even if I could, but I could not help my curiosity. They had been large part of life, my whole life if I was honest with myself, and that is not something you can easily banish from your mind. Maybe, after a decade or two, I would eventually forget them or stop myself from dwelling on past, but only time would tell for certain.
I mentally shook myself as I began to hear the sound of dozens upon dozens of conversations going on simultaneously.
If you were to visit the Grasslands Gallery during the day, it would be nigh impossible to locate unless you knew exactly where it lay. If not for the line that wrapped around the corner, it would be true for the night. I'm not sure whether or not if it had been a club when Matthew acquired it, but I was certain it once had been a warehouse that had been later renovated.
In case you're curious how vampires owned and bought real estate prior to the Great Revelation, I had been, allow me to explain. Since vampire were either too old to have their birth recorded properly or their deaths had been noted too far ago that it was impossible for any human to have lived, it was a simple matter to glamor a human to do all of the paperwork.
As far as the humans, and the government, were concerned all sold and owned properties belonged to living human citizens. I had heard in passing, during my brief one night stay at home of the Sheriff of area three, Ryuu's home and enterprises were owned, on paper, by his human, Hillary. No doubt, Matthew had done something similar and had been doing so for centuries.
I saw two large men, both clad in stylish gray suits, standing at the end of a very extensive line with a red velvet rope blocking patrons from entering the club. The men must of have been twins, I surmised. If not for the fact the one farthest one from me wore facial hair, there would be no discernible way to tell them apart. I briefly wondered if they had always appeared to be mirror images of each other or Matthew thought it amusing to have his employees participate in such a practice.
Both were very tall and as thick as refrigerators with muscles so thick I was intrigued that their clothes did not tear whenever one of them bent down to all the humans entrance. Their skin was the color of dark coffee and was glossy smooth as if someone had covered their bodies in oil.
I assumed these two behemoths were the security Matthew had hired to police his club. I had the feeling that security forcibly removing you from the club wasn't the worst thing that could happen, given the alternative.
As I walked adjacent to the line, I learned the humans were less than enthusiastic about me entering the club without waiting like everyone else. Though I'd probably would've pointed out I was here on business as I was not a particular fan of clubs myself, it would have resulted in a massacre that would no doubt make headlines. On top of that, the revenue would take somewhat of hit and Matthew would not take it very well.
I stood before the two men and they looked down at me, arms folded across their chests. They were giving their clothes a very strenuous test in elasticity. I wondered if I should give them Barnabé's contact information.
The one on my right, Steven read the little tag over his breast pocket, jerked his head to the line. "End of the line's dat way."
"Clear the way!" cried a voice from behind them.
Instantly, they both took a step to the side in a movement that looked to be choreographed, and man in a white suit flew towards me.
I mimicked the bouncers and the man landed on the sidewalk next to me, staining his suit with blood and dirt. I had the vague suspicion, though he did not know, the man was extremely lucky to simply be evicted. I was sure others were not as fortunate, especially if Matthew was in the mood for a snack.
I looked up to see a middle age man that failed to notice that disco had fallen out of style. At least my clothes were only vintage inspired while his were no doubt authentic.
Like me, he wore a suit, but that was were the similarities ceased. His pale white skin almost glowed against his dark black dress shirt which had the top three buttons unfastened to expose his chest and medallion, a golden scorpion. That shirt was tucked into a pair of matching black pants that flared out from the knees. The pants were held up by a white leather belt that matched an open white vest, but the vest was some sort of cloth rather than leather. All he was missing was an Afro and platform shoes, but his shoes were modern loafers and his hair was combed back neatly.
We locked eyes, evaluated each other for signs of danger, and gave the other the typical vampire greeting of a slight curt nod.
"Are you the one Matthew is waiting for?" His voice inaudible to anyone but another vampire over din of the humans.
"Yes." I answered just as quietly.
"Sorry about the putz fellas." He stepped forward and looked up to the bouncers. "Everything copacetic?"
"Was just showing the kid the line's over there." said the guard to my left.
"What kid?" The vampire looked to me and smiled. "Oh, he's cool."
"You sure?" asked the on my right. "I ain't never seen him before."
"I'm from outta town." I said in a Brooklyn accent. I slipped a fifty into each other their breast pockets. "Don't flip ya wigs."
They stood aside, ignoring the complaints of the patrons, and I strode in with the vampire behind me.
The club was what I expected. The dance floor took up most the room in the center with the DJ on a raised platform with turn tables and massive speakers on either side of him, blasting deafening pulses of a deaf person would think the music was a tad loud as the vibrations felt like small earthquakes underneath my feet. Rainbow spots danced around the walls and floor and white pulsed brightly like lightning strike to the beat of the music.
On the far left stood a long bar, so long it took three bartenders to make full use of it. The bar sported glass shelves to display all multicolored bottles of alcohol, with small light underneath to give the illusion they glowed while the pulsing white flashes made them sparkle like stars. Adjacent to the bar, and in all the corners except the one that held the restrooms, were square dark leather chairs and couches for the patrons to lounge on and low tables for their drink to rest on.
"Any opinions?" asked my vampire guide.
"Ritzy." I said.
"Come," He began walking to a door by the bar. "Matthew is this way."
"What's ya name?" I asked as I followed. "If ya don't my asking."
"Ian." he answered. "I was Ian Richards in life."
"But its just Ian now?"
"Yes." He asked. "And your name is?"
"Dominick." I told him.
Ian and I reached the door, which he opened for me. I guessed he was showing courtesy because I was Matthew's guest or because he guessed me to be older. Learning for certain would require some strategic conversation. If my ruse was unsuccessful, best to know before I did or said something irreparable.
Ian closed the door and I saw we stood in the bar's storage room. This was the room that acted as a quick restock whenever the bar ran out of supplies. Since the room was fairly small, hardly larger than my bedroom when I was alive, the metal racks only held cases of drinks that were used often, beer mostly. There were two doors at the far end of the room and I was certain one had a staircase leading down. Like most establishments that served alcohol, the main supply room was most likely in the basement where everything from the cheapest beer to the most lavish imported liquor.
"This way." Ian retrieved a set of keys from a pocket. "Matthew prefers to have a bird's eye view of his prey."
He fitted a key into the locked opened the door to reveal a lift. It was an old lift, the kind that was simply a rickety metal shell and had gate that slid and locked into place. Ian did just that, pressed one of the two only buttons, and we began to rise.
"I'm curious." Ian said politely. "But are you the same one that aided Ryuu?"
"Yes." I produced my cigarette case and lighter.
"Forgive me, but I had heard you were a newborn."
Ryuu's sense of honor might be my undoing, but a response came to quickly and made sure to sprinkle on a Brooklyn accent along with some idioms I saw from a few films. "Ol' Ryuu was sired sometime during some Jap rebellion in the 1870's. Compared to 'im, I am a new born." I light a cigarette and held them out to Ian. "Like his kid, Kimberly, and she was brought over when the Japs caught us wit our pants down at Pearl Harbor and good Ol' FDR had them rounded up like cattle."
"As you were." He concluded and took a cigarette.
"Naw. A bit after actually." I lit it for him and thought. If vampires consider half a century a bit.
"Mhmm." Ian exhaled a puff of pink tinted smoke. "What are these?"
"Aw, just something that came ta me in my younger nights." I said. "If was a broad, I wouda sworn I was knocked up. What with all the cravings and such." I puffed before continuing. "Let's say, a nice looking dame, or whatever ya prefer, walks by and ya ain't exactly an ideal locale ta have a little fun. One of these'll hold ya over till a more appropriate time."
"Impressive." Ian remarked.
"One tries his best."
A bell rang and Ian slid the metal frame back as two elevator door receded into the walls. I stepped out and looked back to Ian who remain where he was, except to slide the metal frame closed once again.
"I must return to my post." He explained as he pushed a button. "Last thing we want now is a flea infestation."
I nodded, understanding. Matthew had instructed them to be on the lookout for any Weres or Shifters that might be lurking about and stop them before they reported back.
I turned and examined the room.
It reminded me of the observation deck at baseball game. It was a symphony of gray with the wooden floor being the only exception. The walls were painted a blueish gray as well as the few pieces of furniture, a couple plastic folding chairs and a poker table that could be found in any department store in America. The ceiling was gray as well, but the natural gray of aluminum that it was made of. Since the whole building was more or less made of aluminum and steel and was once in fact a storage warehouse, I gathered Mathew had sectioned off the upper level for his own personal use.
There were large windows that overlooked the whole of the club, dance floor and all. I remember catching a glimpse from below when I first entered and thought it strange that there was mirrors where there should have been transparent glass. Now that I was one this end, I realized these were two way mirrors.
The observer, vampire most likely, could look down and see all who entered and moved about, but anyone who happened to be looking up would be met with their own reflection. It was just as well. No doubt, this room was the last thing a few unlucky humans saw before they died, if the faint smell of blood was anything to go on.
There was a desk, positioned so whomever sat in it would simply look up to see whenever someone used the lift, with an empty chair and papers strewn about. On the far left of the room were old gray metal filing cabinets that most likely held profit and expense reports of the club. Opposite the cabinets, on the far right, were the folding chairs and table.
i heard a sudden creak behind me and whirled around, hissing and drawing my sword that sat in a concealed pocket Barnabé had sewn into my coat.
At the end of my sword was a man, a vampire, with an amused looked on his face.
His skin was a light brown, much like mine had when I was alive, but that was from spending time in the hot sun which he could not have done. His complexion was natural and I deduced that he had been more somewhere in the Middle East, but it was impossible to ascertain where or even if the region had been called that during his time.
He was taller than me and almost as thin, but while I might have scrawny and unmarked his body had seen some hardship and was well toned. His nose was curved like a scimitar and his eyes were a deep brown like a tree. His black beard was well groomed, thick, and covered just about every inch of visible skin from below his ears, except for his neck.
He wore a deep purple button down dress shirt tucked neatly into pair of slim black slacks. His shoes were simple leather loafers, but they had been expertly cleaned and polish without a single scuff or smudge.
"Marhaban." he said calmly.
"Who are you?" I asked, not lowering my sword.
"Hmmm?" His eyes looked down and examined the blade at his throat with mild curiosity. "Plain steel with a silver edge hidden in the guise of an old man's cane. Lack of practice has not hampered Ryuu's craft." His gaze returned to me. "Seeing as you wield his work, I take it you are Dominick, the one whom I am to thank for the safe return of my child?"
"And I take it, you're Matthew."
"That is the name I have used for the past century, yes." He said. "But my true name is Mikail." He pronounced it Mac-hi-leel. "I believe you have a version of it in this language. Micheal."
"Yes." I lowered and sheathed the sword. "Sorry about that."
"It is to be expected, I suppose." He said. "Ryuu and Mae have informed me about your previous affairs with the werewolves. One would have to be a fool not learn to be their guard." Matthew regarded me for a moment. "Strange. Most newborns hardly survive their first encounter with them, even under the best of circumstances. Yet, you've not only survived, but brought an end to an entire pack."
"I hardly did anything myself the first time." I admitted. "The second wasn't much different."
"I do not understand."
"Ryuu and his nest were the ones that disposed of them." I explained. "And when Mae and I escaped, she did most of the work."
"This is true." He agreed. "But strength is hardly of use without the competence to apply it." He seemed to be recalling something from long ago. "My grandfather said something akin to that, 'the bow relies on the arrow and the arrow relies on the bow. Without the other, both are meaningless.'
"He sounds like a wise man." I said tactfully.
"Ta'ala" He motioned for me to follow. "It is time you met your quiver."
I frowned, but followed the sheriff to a door that was hidden in the corner of the room behind the filing cabinets.
This room was almost an exact replica of the the previous one, but it was chaos. Papers were scattered all over the floor. Some were crumpled and sat in a bin while others were littered around the bin since no one had thought to empty it. Pictures, some police mug shots and others Polaroids, were taped and pined to the walls with strings. Hasty hand written notes were attached to the photographs with words like Confirmed, Pending, and Suspected.
Hanging on right of the desk was old west memorabilia over a bookshelf. I saw two cleaned and polished colt revolvers mounted over dozen of old faded black and white photographs. Some were of men standing over the body of a large bear that had shot brought down. Others were single portraits of those same men smiling proudly with their rifles in hand.
A few had those men standing over a bloody bullet riddled corpse or putting a noose around the neck of furious looking man. Sitting against the corner of a picture was an old bronze star that read Arizona Rangers. Next to another was a sheriff's badge that read Buffalo Marshall.
Adjacent to the bookshelf was an old wooden hat rack. Like you'd expect from the name, there were hats, but old leather cowboy hats of different colors. I also saw beautiful tanned leather gun holsters that must have fitted the colts like a glove. Tangled around the holster was cured bull's horn. It so old and worn, I suspected it came from the time when one required to hand pour gunpowder into the barrel of firearms to reload.
"Nice to you again." said a voice sweetly.
Standing in the corner was Mae. She looked to have recovered from Sebastian's hospitality. Then again, a nice deep feed and a long bath could do wonders. She was wearing a stylish emerald green top with what appeared to be long leather cord wrapped loosely across her stomach. It went quite well with the deep dark blue denim jeans and wood colored pumps. Her hair hung loose, but it had been styled and combed.
"That coat suits you." Mae added.
"Just picked it up." I said.
"A little old fashioned." She remarked. "I think saw soldiers wear something similar. The second great war if memory serves." Then her eyes widened for a moment as she comprehended. "Oh, you clever little fox."
"Probably best you don't tell anyone." I politely warned. "At least until the whole thing is over."
"Agreed." Her gazed flicked to Matthew for a moment. "No one is aware of your true origin but the three of us."
Matthew looked around and asked Mae. "Where is he?"
I did not know who Matthew was referring to, but Mae did. "I sent him below to feed. You've been running him ragged."
"Blame the king." Matthew said curtly. "I have been telling him for some time this city is far too immense for even three sheriffs."
"You're the sheriff for the whole city?" I asked.
"Yes." they answered together.
"The entire city?" I repeated. "Not just Brooklyn, but Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx? All five boroughs?"
"Yes." Matthew sighed. "All the king has granted me four additional investigators, one for each borough. But it is hardly helpful since does not allow me to chose my own subordinates."
"Well," Mae added. "Except for one. And even that he toiled for years for the opportunity."
"Yes. And once he returns from his meal." Matthew spoke to me. "I want you to work with him. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes can of some use."
"Is he aware of who I really am?" I asked cautiously.
"No." Matthew said. "All he knows of you is your involvement with Ryuu and your escape from them."
"Then I feel I should warn you both." I chose my words. "I am going to put on an act."
"An act?" Matthew raised an eyebrow.
"It is for you to save face." I explained. "Your subordinates are going to want to know who I am. I believe its best to let them assume I am much older than I am."
"And how would that allow me to retain dignity?" Matthew asked suspiciously.
"Its one thing to listen to the advice of a vampire with a good idea." I said carefully. "But how would others react to you following a strategy that an infant gave you?"
"I had not considered that." Matthew seemed to be mulling it over and not liking it in the slightest. "Exactly how old are you?"
"A little more than a year." I said politely.
"What?" Matthew looked to Mae. "You failed to mention that little detail. You mentioned young yes, but an infant! Do you expect me to trust an infant with such a delicate and important matter."
"He has a gift." Mae said coolly. "Like that blond vampire we encountered in St. Petersburg before we came to the New World."
"Even the humans have not forgotten that." Matthew said. "But he could fly." He looked to me. "Do you possess that ability?"
"No." I raised an eyebrow. "Even I could, how would that help you?"
Both Mae and Mathew paused as if searching for an answer.
"That's my gift." I said. "Not only asking the right questions, but answering them as well. For example, you mentioned most newborns don't survive thier first encounter with werewolves. Those werewolves not only managed to set up a headquarters in the most obvious location, but also managed to ambush and kidnap countless others of our kind, including your child who is several centuries old."
"You have a point." Matthew conceded reluctantly. "Continue."
"So how does an infant manage to not only survive, but escape and turn the tables on those same werewolves?" I pointed to my forehead. "With this. I didn't just become stronger and faster when my maker brought me over."
"I have not heard of this particular ability." Matthew said almost to himself. "But then again, there were those two and they certainly possessed enhanced mental capabilities."
"You mean the one that could communicate with her children telepathically." I said. "My maker mentioned she had crossed paths with her somewhere in what became Lotharingia in France."
"Yes." Matthew confirmed, but he appeared his thoughts were far off. "I also met another. His name was Stanislaus. Last I heard, they both had settled and established nests in southern kingdoms."
I took southern kingdoms to mean that they had settled somewhere south of Mason Dixon Line, but could mean anywhere south of Pennsylvania which encompassed half the country.
"Is it too much of stretch that a mental gift could present itself in another way?" I asked trying to keep the exasperation out of my tone. "Is telepathy somehow easier to believe than intelligence?"
"I suppose not." Matthew said uncertainly. "On the other hand, this is not a subject I have a great understanding of. I doubt any of our kind does."
"So do you agree?" i asked.
"Very well." Matthew grumbled. "Ryuu spoke well of you and he is not one for undue praise."
"Good!" I said. "Now that's settled, there is the matter of my fee."
Matthew acted as if the word was foreign to him. "Fee?"
"Well, you don't expect to help out of the goodness of my heart?" I said. "Do you?"
I could tell it irked the sheriff, but he asked. "How much?"
"Ryuu paid me one hundred thousand dollars for his problem." I said, noting that Matthew's went wide at such an amount. "But those were completely different circumstances." I pretended to think for a moment. "Would you agree to three percent of the profit once you've settled everything and the king has no doubt taken his cut?"
"Profit?" Mae asked. "This is battle, not a trade disagreement."
"Where there is a battle, there are spoils." I answered. "When Ryuu and his nest ended their dispute, they took of all the money the packs had earned through their drug distributions." I motioned to Matthew. "Ryuu gave a very large cut to each of his nestmates as well as mine and said he still had enough to rebuild his enterprises. That was even after the king took half. On the low side, I'm guess you stand to make three times as much."
This seemed to please Matthew. "So I will not be rid of them, but gain a very large sum of money."
"Not to mention a reputation." I added. "The other packs will think twice before crossing you."
The sheriff smiled, his fangs running out at the thought, and looked to me. "Done. Anything else?"
"Your word that you will keep my involvement from the king." I said firmly. "But feel free to pass my name to any other sheriffs."
"As you said, it will not be wise to do so, but as you wish. I will not inform the king, but I shall point my colleagues in your directions if they mention they are in need of aid."
"And one more thing, if I may?"
Matthew's grin dipped a bit. "Yes?"
"I hear werewolves heavily dominate them." I said. "The name and number of a motorcycle repair shop that deals with our kind without problems."
Matthew was momentarily taken aback by my last request, but he dipped his head and I had the feeling he was fighting the urge to laugh. "I will some inquires."
At that moment, the door opened and we all turned to see a vampire wiping the corner of his mouth with a handkerchief.
Like Matthew, this vampire had a slightly darker skin tone than Mae or I, but he was not from the same region as the sheriff. He was clearly Mexican, in both clothing and appearance, with thick black hair and a bushy mustache over his lip. He was only a bit taller than myself, just under six feet, and bit rounder. I surmised he had been turned sometime in his late twenties or early thirties when married life had given the faintest beginning of a paunch.
I immediately recalled his face in the photographs. He stood out to me because he was the only non-white man of the group. Even without his sombrero and gun holster, both witch hung on the hat rack, he looked as if he stepped out the set of a western. He wore a black button down shirt tucked into a pair pristine denim jean that had belt with a large decorative buckle. His shoes, to complete the image, were pointed light brown boots which I surprised did not sport spurs.
"Am I interrupting?" He asked without the faintest hint of an accent.
"Not at all." assured Mae.
"Ah," Matthew motioned to the vampire to approach. "Perfect timing."
The vampire examined me with curious eyes but obeyed and stood before me.
"Dominick," Mae said. "This one of Area Two investigators and my progeny."
"Oh," I lit up a cigarette and slipped into my accent. "Gotta say, never thought a classy dame like yerself would go fer the rancher look, but ta each his own."
"I am Abraham Ross." said the vampire coolly and he gave me a curt nod.
"Nice ta meet ya." I returned the nod.
"You recall Mae's escape?" Matthew asked. "It would have not been possible without Dominick."
Abraham gaze went down to my feet for a moment, reevaluating his assumptions of me. "So you are the one that aided Ryuu?"
"What can I say?" I smiled slightly. "I ain't one fer grandstanding."
"I have enlisted his service." Matthew said. "In the hopes he can repeat his previous triumph."
"What?" Abraham was less than pleased. "The other investigators are scouring the city as we speak. They are the verge of gathering employment records for the whole of the city."
"And how does tha help?" I asked. "Shouldn't ya be focusing on finding the packmasters or something like that?"
Abraham scowled but answered. "Werewolves must change at full moon. Once we acquire those records, we will be able to separate them from the plain humans. It is a matter of matching who was absent on the night of a full moon."
"Your approach is taking far too long." Matthew motioned.
"I have been working each and every night, as well as the other investigators, but they have the advantage of blending in with humans." Abraham sounded insulted, but at the thought Matthew was insinuating that he required help.
"Be that as it may, the two of you will work together." Matthew said firmly as he grew angry. "This is my prerogative and verdict, regardless of your maker's relationship to me. Am I understood?"
Abraham appeared he wished nothing more to protest, but he said. "Yes, sheriff."
"Come, Mae." Matthew walked to the door. "I have some inquires to make. "
Abraham and I watched as they both left.
"So," I said as I hung my coat on the rack. "Wanna help me get my boots on?"
"Bring me up to date." I clarified. "What is the situation? Let me see what you've done so I don't waste time repeating what you know won't work."
"We were approached by the leaders of the Alpha and Beta packs." Abraham growled. "It was a little after Ryuu came to us asking for help with the Mahingan pack." He paused a moment to gather his thoughts. "Like Ryuu, they offered a share of the profits in exchange for the use of Matthew's nightclubs for distribution. He was also to persuade other vampire owned business to follow suit."
"But like Ryuu." I said. "Matthew refused and that sparked a war which has lasted for the past several months."
He shrugged. "More or less."
"Alright." I said. "What have you tried?"
"That was my first attempt." Abraham motioned to board with photographs and string. "As I am sure you are aware of, two of the local packs have joined together with the intention of selling drugs. Using pilfered police records, I attempted to separate the humans from the Weres."
I nodded my understanding. "You got rid of anything not drug related?"
"Yes, but it proved to be a dead end. I think they have someone on the inside altering records to hide their tracks."
"Alright." I looked around the room and found a map of the city with red pins covering almost every inch of Brooklyn. "And this?"
"I thought to aim my sight at the distributors. The red pins are the dealers, but they're far too numerous. We must have glamored hundreds of them between the five of us, but only a handful were Weres and none of them were part of the Alpha and Beta packs."
"Hmmm. Going after the suppliers will be the same." I said. "This harder than I thought. We can't just stroll down to the nearest gin mill and ask nicely."
"That is what I have been trying to explain to Matthew." Abraham sounded weary. "They do not live in the shadows as we do. They can have relatively normal lives, at least for most of the month."
"Yeah, but I have the feeling we're missing something. Something important and its staring us dead in the face." I continued pouring over the map. "Wait a minute . . . "
"Werewolves and shifters have to change at the full moon." I said. "Right?"
"Then why haven't the humans caught on?" I asked to myself as the thoughts jumped in front of one another, each begging for my attention. "Seven million people in the city that doesn't sleep. Someone must have noticed."
"I don't understand."
"This is New York City." I looked up from the map. "This ain't exactly the Amazon. We got rats the size of small dogs and countless strays, but no wolves."
"I had not considered that." Abraham admitted. "But what are you getting at?"
"Smaller shifters, foxes and the like, could probably go by unnoticed." I resumed scanning the map. I felt it held the answer. "But what about the larger ones? A bear or tiger would definitely be seen."
"Oh . . ." Abraham was beginning to catch on. "How could I not think of that?"
"Find their hiding spots and you've found your packs." I said and began taking out pins to see more of the map. "But where?"
"There!" Abraham pointed to Central Park. "It is the only space large enough and the closest resemblance to a forest for miles."
"Yeah, it makes sense." I frowned. "But its not exactly closed. Anyone could catch sight of them if they happen to be in the right place on the right night."
Abraham had been close when he singled out Central Park, but there was something we were not considering. Abraham must have sensed it as well because he was become agitated. I could not blame him. Months of being run ragged and chasing down dead ends would leave even the most patient saint a bit grieved.
"Wanna take a break?" I offered,making sure to keep up the act. "Go downstairs and find yerself a nice girl, or guy if ya in the mood, and skip the small talk. A good looking Sheik like you will have it made in the shade."
"No!" He snapped and I caught the flash of fang. "I want these mestizos hides for a coat."
"Well, that's not gonna happen if ya have cow." I warned.
"You don't understand!" He hissed.
"I understand you want revenge for what they did to Mae." I said calmly. "I was there. So was my sire, Wilhelmina."
"Then how can you remain so calm?!" he demanded. "You know what they did to them."
"A vampire is never at the mercy of his emotions, he dominates them" I recited. "Wilhelmina told me that. If keeping myself in check is what I need to do to succeed, then that's a small price to pay."
I watched as Abraham struggled to calm down. I might have suggested deep breathing, but that was out of the question. It was hardly two minutes when I returned to gazing at the map.
"I've marked Central Park as a possibility." I told him. "Can you think of any others?"
"None." He grunted. "It is the only place large enough."
I rolled my eyes and looked up. "Look at the map, Abraham. They all can't squeeze in and share eight hundred acres. Especially if you factor in the larger shifters and they fact they know people will be walking around at every of the night and can't risk having too many in one area."
"So what do you suggest?"
"Let's divide the city. Ignore everything but large green areas." I said. "Central Park could hold all the Weres and Shifters in Manhattan, but what about the Bronx?" I pointed to Bronx Park. "Like this. It's not as large, but it could hold a small pack or two."
Abraham marked it with a red pin. "Alright. What about here, Brooklyn?"
"You're the investigator." I told him. "You know the place better than I do."
Abraham studied the map intently for a moment and marked a location. "Prospect Park. It is relatively easy to travel to and from anywhere in the borough. What about Queens and Staten Island?"
I had found the answer to Queens while Abraham searched for Brooklyn and marked it. "Flushing Meadows Corona Park."
"And now finally Staten Island." Abraham said and we both stared at the map.
We found it together.
"There!" We shouted simultaneously and pointed.
"If you combine it with the Silver Lake Golf Course," I said. "It's almost the size of Central Park."
"Yes." Abraham agreed. "Clove Lakes Park makes perfect sense."
We both took a step back to appreciate our work. It the space of two hours we had made more progress than Abraham had alone in several months. But there was still a question that had to be answered.
"Someone had to of noticed." I whispered to myself. "Even if they were labeled as insane, someone must have taken a picture or caught one on video."
"I doubt they would not allow that to occur." Abraham reasoned. "If one were to catch sight of them, they'd mostly likely buy their silence or silence them forever."
"Yes." I agreed. "But that could get real old real fast for them."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean they're not like us." I said. "They'd like to avoid killing innocent bystanders as much as possible. If not for morality then to avoid to discovery by coincidence."
"So you mean they have a second hiding place?" Abraham said unsure.
"Its possible." A thought came to me and I could have sworn time stood still. "Where better to hide a tree than a forest?"
"Where is the first place to look for a wolf?" I asked. "Regardless of a Were or a true wolf?"
"The forest." Abraham said instantly. "But this a city."
"Call Matthew and Mae." I said. "Now!"
I waited patiently as Abraham picked up a phone and called for Matthew and Mae. As I waited, I wordlessly processed the possibles and certainties. Weres have been using the city to shift for as long as the city itself, but no human had witnessed it. In all that time, there hadn't been a sighting of wolves or other large predators in any of the parks Abraham and I had marked.
The packs could be leaving every full moon to more suitable locations in upstate or Long Island, but that could be expensive and highly conspicuous. In addition to being large and the only natural parts in all of the city, the locations all had one thing in common.
"Have you something to report?" Matthew asked coolly.
"Yes." Abraham nodded. "We have managed to narrow our search area."
"Look at the map." I motioned to it. "Central Park, Prospect Park, Clove Lakes Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Bronx Park."
"The city's parks." Mae said.
"Yes." I said. "The onyl green in the Concrete Jungle."
"So it seems." Matthew looked at the map. "What now? Burn the parks to the ground to send a message?"
"No." I said. "Look again."
"What are we looking for?" Mae looked her child.
"I don't know." Abraham motioned to me. "He sounded as if he discovered something."
"Well?" Matthew looked to me. "Is this true?"
"All of these parks have one thing in common." I explained. "That's the key."
They all began switching their gazes. First to the map, then to each other, back to me, and finally to me. Their blank stares told me all I needed to know.
"Look at you three, so clueless. Is it nice not being me?" I gloated. "It must be so relaxing."
"I am glad you're enjoying a rare position of power." Matthew warned. "But I do not. Speak!"
"They all have large zoos." I sighed. "I'd check old newspapers, but there would be reports of wolves in Central Park if they didn't use them during the full moon. They probably have someone in place to make sure they have an empty habitat suitable for wolves. You'll probably find larger Shifters, bears and panthers, along with them."
"So what do you suggest?" Mae asked.
"Have the investigators watch the zoos from a distance at night and glamor a few humans to watch it during the day." I suggested. "Using the information Abraham's gathered, match the faces with those of confirmed members of the Alpha and Beta. I'm sure the last thing you want is more packs to join the fight against you." I lit a cigarette before I concluded. "From Ryuu said, Weres and Shifters tend to outnumber us even the best of times. And that fifty percent cut of all profits from vampire owned businesses isn't much incentive for any of our kind to stay."
"And once we accomplish that?" Matthew asked.
I cocked my head. "That's up to you."
We spent the next hour hammering the finer details and devising a few strategies in case of certain events. Once Matthew was satisfied, assuring me he might call for my services at some later date, I donned my coat and Abraham escorted me to the door.
The club must have just closed its doors as I saw Ian giving directions to the exit to the more inebriated humans. The bartender were taking break before they began breaking down the bar while other humans were mopping the dance floor and wiped tables. On the stage, the DJ was unplugging wires while another assisted him by stowing away records.
Ian gave me a curious look and I gave a slight nod. He returned the nod and went back to corralling the humans towards the door.
"I want to thank you." Abraham said stiffly as if he was uncomfortable. "I allowed my emotions to cloud my judgement and you reminded me why I became investigator."
"You want to me sheriff." I said. "Don't you?"
"Yes." He admitted. "I was part of large group of that roamed the land enforcing the law when I was still human. Eventually that group dispersed. Some men found wives and others died in service. I alone continued looking for a town that would have a dirty Mexican for a sheriff. It would not such an issue now, but then it was." He reached into a pocket. "One sheriff, a man by the name of Vernon Ricketts, admired my zeal and made me his deputy. It was fine for a time, but then one night Vernon ventured to the saloon for a drink and did not return. Naturally my curiosity was aroused and I found him behind the saloon." His voice grew dark. "Mae had disguised herself as one of the whores and was in the midst of staging the area so it would appear he had been robbed and killed."
I said nothing, but I knew the next part of his story.
"I managed to draw my gun and actually fire two into her chest." he continued. "She had heard tales of me and the group I roamed with and the many heroric feats we accomplished. She was so impressed that she saw fit to bring me over." He handed me an old pewter hip flask with engravings. "Years later I unintentionally returned and learned that Vernon had left me this in his will. I want you to have it."
I looked down at the flask. "Why?"
"When Mae was captured, I feared the worst." He explained. "Then you returned her to me. While it is nowhere equal to what you have done for me, I can only think of one way to repay you."
I bowed my head, to not insult him. "Thank you, Abraham."
"Thank you, Dominick." he inclined his head. "For everything. And know you have three allies awaiting to return the favor, should you ever find yourself in need of them."
"I will." I said and began the short journey home.