Like when I was ambushed on Halloween earlier that year, I woke to piercing pain and soreness. The back of my head felt incredibly tender as did most my chest, though not as severe. My legs and arms felt best, but it was like difference between a third and fourth degree burn. Either way, you did not want it to happen.
I sat up only to receive a sharp blow when my head collided with an incredibly low ceiling. A low metallic ceiling once I tapped it with a knuckle. I felt around and saw I was laying in space perfectly suited for a body, but not a coffin. It also felt slightly cool and I heard the slight hum of a motor. So wherever I was, it was being kept very cold for some reason.
I was ripped from my examination as a blinding light appeared at my feet and the surface I was laying slid towards it. So sudden and forceful was it that I was thrown back and slammed the back of my head with metallic thud. Before I had time to even hiss at the pain, which was quite excruciating, I found myself staring into even brighter and blinding lights.
Naturally I threw my arms up at the light, but someone gripped my arms with an iron grip. I tried to futilely to wrench my arms from whatever had ahold of them, but I was too weak. Still I did continue to blindly struggle, my eyes still recovering from shock of going from pitch blackness to blinding white.
Then suddenly I heard a woman's voice .
"No, no. Shh!" She said warmly. "All is well."
Whether I willed it to or not, I felt too weak to continue and laid down.
"That is better." I heard quick footsteps go and retreat before I felt strong hand cradle my head and tilt it upward. "This shall help." I felt something being pushed to my lips. "Drink."
I sniffed and realized she was trying to get me to drink blood. Either this woman was familiar with vampires or she was one herself.
As I drank, my eyes began to adjust. The woman who was feeding me, much like a sick child, was a vampire. She had pale white skin that emitted a slight glow which made her shoulder length black hair seem much darker than it was. Her eyes were very dull blue that they almost seemed gray. She did not wear much make-up, save for some lipstick and the faintest hint of eyeshadow, and her jewelry was simple with a golden dot in each ear and simple gold wedding ring.
She possessed a slim build, compact and thin like an Olympic runner, but her clothes did not indicate that. Her feet sported plain high heels, no fancy straps or wild eye catching colors. Her skirt, which I found strange, was made of orange denim and ended just above her knees. For a top, a simple black blouse which she had left a bit open to display a bit of cleavage.
Continuing to drink, from a large glass flask that would be right a home in any random chemist's lab in the world, I cast my eyes to my surroundings. The floor was meticulously clean and sparkled as if just freshly polished, the dark blueish gray tiles almost seemed to marvel at their state of sanitation. There were three long elevated metal tables in the middle of the room with a scale attached and faucet at the end. Everything had the faint scent of Ammonia and faux pine smelling chemicals.
Directly behind me were three levels of small metallic doors, each roughly the size of half a normal door. Some were ajar, but most were firmly shut. I caught the light humming of electric motors among them, like refrigerator in the untouched kitchen of the nest, mixed with the faint buzzing of florescent lights overhead.
Opposite the rows of doors, past the metallic tables, was a large stainless steel sink that shined with sheen of the recently cleaned. I saw small little boxes of latex gloves and paper towels resting on a small shelf above it. Next to that was a very large cabinet, made of matching stainless steel, with glass doors allowing me to see various kinds of medical supplies like cotton balls and alcohol. Tucked in the corner was a table filled with various kinds of lab equipment including a Bunsen burner heating a large tube of water. There beakers, flasks, and test tubes of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were filled and labeled while others were empty.
The walls were a very intense shade of off-white with not paintings or decorations of any kind. There were two long rectangles mounted on the far wall, which I thought strange, then I flashed when I had my appendix removed and saw it was the machine doctors and the like use to view X-rays.
With the last drop gone, the vampire pulled the flask from my lips and asked. "Do you feel better?" I noticed the faintest hint of a french accent which did not help one bit.
Unable to find the words, I nodded.
"Do you require more?" She wiggled the flask so there would be no misunderstanding.
Again, I nodded.
I watched as she walked to a small miniature refrigerator I had missed next to the table with lab equipment. She opened and removed a few transfusion bags filled with blood. I studied her intently as she poured the each of the bags' contents into the flask and then carefully set the flask in the simmer tub of water heated by the Bunsen burner.
I went to stand. My legs buckled for a moment before I steadied myself. I also felt a slightly jab of pain in my side. It was less like a piercing sensation and more akin to being stuck with something heavy and blunt. Either way, I couldn't help the groan and putting my hand to my side.
"I would not recommend moving just yet." said the vampire. "Not until you've had more blood. Your body sustained quite serious injury last night."
"I'll keep that in mind." I leaned against the wall behind me and noticed I was nude. I seemed to be making a habit of that. "Where are my clothes?"
"They were discarded. Well, most of them. That jacket you were wearing I managed to save along with that cane you were carrying." She was occupied checking the blood's temperature with a thermometer. "The jacket should be back soon from being cleaned. There are some clothes in that bag by your feet. I had to guess your size since the paramedics did away with your clothes."
I looked down and saw a plain backpack as well as my cane leaning against it. I bent down opened it. I removed and slowly dressed, my body protesting at every movement, in a pair of black denim jeans and a dark forest green long sleeve shirt. At the bottom of backpack were a pair of shoes which were a bit large for my feet, but not unduly so. They reeked of stale of blood and guessed either the clothes had been taken from one of her meals or from of the occupants laying the wall. Either way, I didn't think they would mind.
I slowly bent down to tie the shoes, "Who are you?"
"Wouldn't you like to know where you are now?" She said sounding a bit occupied.
"I know where I am." I answered.
"Impressive." She paused and studied my for a moment. "But you were unconscious your entire journey here. How did you know?"
"It was more of a guess." I admitted. "Once I realized this was a morgue, I noticed it was very large. All hospitals have them, but this very large so it had to be one of larger teaching hospitals." I gazed around. "It could have easily been Winthrop in Mineola, but their morgue is much smaller and not as advanced."
"You have been there?"
"I wandered in once when I was a child." I nodded. "Watching a doctor dissect a cadaver tends to stick with you."
"That it does." She nodded. "I remember my first experience with death. A young sailor learned he had a nut allergy when a friend offered him a taste." She carefully lifted the flask from the water and dried it with a rag. "This was back when ships were still constructed from wood and relied on wind and current to travel. I watched as words were spoken over his body and he was lowered into the sea."
"How old were you?" I asked.
"Eight, I think." She paused as she handed me the flask of blood. "No, it was twelve. I was born in 1600 and Samuel de Champlain had just founded Quebec which history says occurred in 1608. My family and I made the journey four years later."
"I see." I took a sip feeling strength flow into me. "So what is your name?"
"Sylvie Antoinette Genevieve Lefèvre" She answered. "Although I have been using the name Sally for last century or so. I find that most cannot help themselves calling me Sibbi. Sally is much more difficult to mispronounce, no?"
"Sally?" The name seemed familiar to me. "You're the coroner here?"
"Yes." Sylvie, excuse me, Sally motioned to me. "What is your name?"
"Dominick." I said. "Though to match your method, I am Dominick Santiago Torres Valentino."
"Oh, I see." She smiled fondly. "That explains so much."
"I was wondering why both Matthew and Ryuu were very concerned with you. We have safeguards set up should one of our kind require assistance. Normally you would have been taken to Winthrop, but Ryuu and Matthew arranged it so you would be taken here." Sally picked up my cane and drew the blade. "I wondered who might be so valuable that both sheriffs were so swift in their response. When I saw this I had my suspicions, but I did not think you would be him?"
"Him?" I asked. "What are you talking about?"
"There are not many of our kind in this kingdom, but all of them are aware of the problems the werewolves have making for the sheriffs of areas two and three." Sally looked to the sword. "Then came a single vampire. It took him mere hours to devise a strategy that not only ended his feud that had last months, but sent a message to the other packs and allowed him to secure a very large sum of money."
I wanted to point out it had taken minutes to form a rough plan that lacked any real thought that ultimately had not been pursued because the pack had chosen that night to attack, but I was too stunned at how great she was making me out to be. I was never accustomed to praise and that had more or less remained the same when I was turned, but it was still shocking to think my tale being spread as the tale of Beowulf had. Granted, I had never slain a dragon, but deaths of three large werewolf packs without actually taking part in the battles had to count for something.
"In addition to a share of the spoils, Ryuu gave that vampire this." Sally motioned to the sword. "A sword crafted by his own hands with a silver edge and made to appear as a walking stick." She looked to me and continued. "But a survivor that was not present vows revenge and bids his time searching for the one that delivered his family to his enemies. He spends the next few months capturing and killing vampires in an attempt to discover his location, including the sheriff's child. The survivor manages to capture his prey, but is not aware of it. Not only does he manage to escape, he rescues the sheriff's child and his companion. Together, they kill all of his followers and burn his headquarters."
I continued drinking. Clearly, Sally was engrossed in my epic and there was little I could do to stop her. Plus, it gave me something to focus on rather what had lead me to be in Holy Rood Cemetery and what had occurred there moments before something large, a truck I had guessed, had struck me. I wondered what happened to those driving. I probably had given the shock of their lives and they might have sworn off alcohol, if they had been drunk when they hit me.
"Then that same vampire sought out to aid the sheriff of area two to end the feud for good. Again he succeeds." She nodded approvingly. "After given the information gathered by the sheriff's investigator, he discovers the havens the Weres thought safe in a single night for many years."
"Then he disappears." I finished. "No hears or sees of him after."
"Do you know what they call you?" She asked.
"Dominick I would guess."
"The sheriffs and those close to them, yes." She said. "But to the rest you are know simply as The Ductor."
"Doctor?" I cocked my head. "Like in Doctor Who?"
I had been a fan ever since the BCC sold the first four seasons of Tom Baker's run as The Doctor to PBS in 1978 and began playing them. I found his moments of whimsical charm and offbeat humor perfectly balanced out by intense brooding. I always loved it when he offered a Jelly Baby to an enemy who just stared at him with a bewildered look on their face.
"No, not doctor. The Ductor." Sally pronounced it as if she added the word tar to duke. Duke-tar. "It is the Latin word for leader, commander, chieftain, general and — "
"Guide." I said. "I lead, or guided, others to victory."
"Yes." Sally agreed. "And from a losing side."
"While the vampires enjoy stories, they have learned to not believe everything they hear." Sally explained. "The werewolves, the ones not involved, have spread many wild rumors, each more exaggerated than the last. Some claim it was the Ductor who devised the strategy of Thermopylae when Persia invaded Greece which would have succeeded if that traitor Ephialtes of Trachis kept his mouth shut. There are even rumors he taught Alexander the Great instead of Aristotle and it was his teaching, not Sun Tzu's, that are written in the Art Of War." Sally then shrugged as it was inevitable. "But most seem to favor the tale that it was his military mind that allowed Rome to build a vast empire and the one time they did not follow his counsel, it lead to massacre of Teutoberg Forest."
"And since it was the language of Romans," I concluded. "They thought it appropriate to follow suit."
"Exactly." Sally agreed.
"But how did you know I am this Ductor?" I found it oddly pleasing to given such a title, but I stowed it away. "It wasn't until I gave you my name."
"I have been in this city when this hospital was hardly more than a flimsy barn on the outskirts of the city proper. Very few have been stayed as long as I have." Sally motioned to me. "Among them is your maker, Wilhelmina Wallace."
There it was. A sudden pierce where my heart lay. True it had been cold and unmoving for some time now, but then why did I ache? I did not feel this way when I was turned. No, I did not. This felt worse ten times over. I would gladly go back without complaint to those first unbearable nights instead of now where a single name felt like knife in my chest.
Or my back.
"She came to me one night." Sally continued, oblivious to my pain. "I had been in her debt when I was in danger of being discovered and provided me with a safe place to rest. Years had passed since then and she asked for blood for a child that was proving difficult and refused to feed."
"Wil -" I caught myself as I felt that pierce again. "She mentioned my name."
"Yes." Sally looked me over. "I remembered because it is very rare that a child has any form of self control. She mentioned you rose and actually walked the streets before she returned from hunting and found you missing and summoned you."
"Is it really that rare?" I asked.
"A mere scent of a human should be enough for child on their first night." Sally looked intrigued. "It is difficult enough to think clearly, let alone form and carry out a plan to return home."
I had theory. Assuming my turning meant my mind had been augmented along with my body, it allowed me to keep some parts of my human mind. Along with some minute amount of my personality and human morality, I retained some form of self control and free will, but it was nowhere near enough to outright disobey orders or stop my bloodlust when I first arose. Like others that had been brought over, I had learn those the hard way.
"Yes." I said after a moment. "Until she called me back. I spent the next year locked inside. She said normally that it was common practice to simply leave the child's home area, but she didn't want to leave the city." I chuckled grimly. "A bit ironic now that I think about it."
"Really?" She asked. "How so?"
"There wasn't really a reason to leave." I said. "In a city of millions that spans over three major islands and the people are crowded together like sardines, not a single person knows or even cares about their neighbors." I motioned to her. "You've been here since when? 1736? How many people have noticed you over the years?"
There was a knock on the door and both of us whipped our head towards the sound, fangs running out and hissing in warning.
Again there was knock, this time followed by a voice. "Hello, Sally?" The knob shook slightly as the visitor found the door was locked. "Its me, Jack."
"It is safe." Sally walked to the door, but hesitated. "Were you followed?"
"No." said Jack behind the door.
"Y at-il quelqu'un avec vous maintenant?" Sally asked in rapid french.
Then Jack answered, but in German judging by the accent. "Ich möchte."
Sally opened the door and a young man of about thirty entered with a leather jacket draper over his arm. He was of average height, perhaps just at six feet. He had olive skin and muted green eyes. His long curly brown hair was combed back and shined with wetness. His clothes were simple, an olive collared shirt under a damp coat and black denim jeans.
"Its really coming down out there." He ran a hand through his hair.
"Did you get it?" Sally asked.
"Here it is." He held out the jacket, my jacket, out to her.
"It has been torn to shreds!" Sally took the jacket and poked a finger through a hole in a sleeve. I think it was the one that the woman in the alley made when she shot me. "What did they do?"
"Its alright, Sally." I said walking to her. "That jacket has its share of stories. I just added a few of my own."
"So it's yours then?" Jack asked.
"Yes." I took the jacket from Sally and slipped it on.
"I'm Jack." He held out his hand hesitantly.
I said nothing, but looked to Sally.
"He is new." She said lowering Jack's hand for him. "And mine."
"Y-yeah." Jack added apparently just having realized I was a vampire like Sally. "I-I-I am h-hers."
"You can relax, Jack." I told him. "Even if you weren't Sally's, I'd avoid killing you."
"Really?" He asked. "Why?"
"Has the expression, 'do not look a gift horse in the mouth' ever been mentioned to you?" Sally chastised him, but not superior sort of way. It was more teasing, like close friend or, what I guessed, a lover.
"Well for starters, you're not a woman so I don't the experience would be enjoyable for either of us." I said as I zipped my jacket. "Second, Sally would be at risk. A nurse mentions during an investigation that the surgical resident was last seen heading to the morgue. They would try to locate and find Sally. They would trail her to her home at night, break in, think she had died, and she would perish when they carted her off to this very morgue during the day."
"How . . ." Jack began to ask.
"Your ID card." I pointed to his pants pocket where it was still clipped. "Plus you're too old to be an intern, but too young to be an attending and certainly chief of medicine. Naturally that left resident."
"Except he is the attending." Sally smiled. "Early ascension."
"All thanks to my Sally her." Jack put an around her. "She is a godsend."
"She tutored you." I said. "Teaching things that take months, even years, to learn on your own."
Again, Jack seemed surprised that I had put that together. "How did you . . ."
I rolled my eyes, but I answered. "Promotions happen only when someone shows some aptitude. Since Sally said you were promoted early which you had said thanks to her, it was easy to figure that out." I paused. "Unless she glamored the higher-ups to give it to you, but then they would wonder why they did it when you made it clear you were not ready."
"It is something I do now and then." Sally winked as if to confirm. "I offered and he accepted."
"This hospital is Sally's baby." Jack motioned to the entire room. "Each and every major discovery this place has done is a result of her experience."
"And all of the famous doctors associated with it?" I asked. "Doctors who developed new treatment and tools."
"They were once mine." Sally nodded to Jack. "They all knew they were not the first nor the last to receive my intruction, like Jack now.
"But why?" I asked. "What does one of us care whether or not they have the knowledge to treat disease and injury?"
"Quite frankly, I don't care." Sally shrugged.
Jack whipped his head to look at her. "What?"
"It is not desire to help or ease suffering that drives me." Sally brushed a lock of hair behind his ear before speaking to me. "It is mystery?"
"Mystery?" I asked.
"I have seen men poison themselves with drink and drugs yet live a century while others carefully took care not to dropped like flies before leaving their teens years." She pointed to the wall where I been resting. "There is a man, closer to thirty then forty, there who was brought back to life from drowning while he tried to save a child, but he never fully recovered. The child had also drowned and was also revived, yet a day's rest and he was returned home." She looked me and asked gently. "Tell me, Ductor, how is our existence possible? We do not require air to breath, nor water to drink, or even food to eat. Aye, we drink blood, but happens to it once we feed? How can our bodies digest it if not a single organ in our bodies functions?"
"You're seeking a cure." I said. "A way to become human again."
"A cure? No!" Sally shook her head and motioned to us. "This is not a disease, but a gift."
"But its magic!" I said. "Its not something that can be explained by science."
"Humans believed it was magic that caused storms and earthquakes." She countered. "Like then, what is considered magic now may not in the centuries to come."
"I hate to interrupt, but Sally we have date." Jack said. "Remember?"
"Oh, that is right." She looked to me and inclined her head. "Please excuse us. Jack has procured tickets to . . ." She looked to him. "What play was it?"
"Phantom of the Opera." Jack padded his pocket. "Had enough time to pick them up along with the jacket."
"Is there anything you need?" Sally asked me.
I checked the inside of my jacket and found three envelopes and some small sum of money. "No, I'll be fine."
"Be sure to rest this night and have more blood." She frowned. "You will heal soon enough, but more blood will help greatly."
I assured her I would and left. Sally gave me special directions to an exit that was not heavily monitored. It was entirely possible that someone had opened the body bag I was brought in and had a good look of my face. So not to risk stories of a body rising from the dead and walking out the front door, I took the exit staff often used for smoke breaks. It just so happened to be where the ambulances and their staff entered and left. It was perfect. Plenty of foot traffic, but no one paying mind to those coming or going.
I slowly walked, or limped with my cane, not paying attention to the direction or particularly caring. The city was as it was when I left it. People bustled back and forth in a cacophony of race, languages, and genders. Horns mingled with the chorus of screeching tires and revving engines. Steam rose from street and sewer grates, warming the homeless whom held out their hands for money. Children cried and laughed as they ran through the crowd while their mothers called after them. All this noise and distraction and the only thing that I noticed, when I collapsed on an empty bench, was that it had begun to snow.
The ground had a thin sheet of white and was wet from where it had begun to melt. Some opened umbrellas while others threw on their hoods. Owners threw salt in front of their shops to prevent ice from building up. Cars and the like slowed a bit and their wipers sprang to life. Those who had not heeded the weatherman's warnings, tightened their clothes around them and shivered slightly as their breath formed small thin cloud before their faces.
I recalled how happy the snow used to make me. As a child, I would do all that it allowed. I might build a wall of snow and ice to have a snowball fight with other children or together make a snowman. If there was enough, we might trek to a hill and go sledding on trashcans lids or scrape wood if we did not own an actual sled. Of course that was short lived as was almost everything back then.
It was not long before my father would thrust a shovel into my hands and had me accompany him as he plowed driveways and parking lots. He would wake me hours before sunrise and after a quick breakfast of toast and tea, we would make rounds around the neighborhood and often not return until well after dark. While he stayed relatively warm in the truck, I would clear paths and sidewalks in front of homes. Slowly, but surely, cold would creep its way through the thickest of boots and clothing and my hands and feet would sting and burn with cold.
It did not take long for me to dread the winter and prayed that it would never snow. If it did, I could only hope it would not be enough for school not to close or for the snow to melt before the weekend came. That dread stuck with me. Even as I grew and he took my brother instead, I couldn't help feeling despondent when the leaves began to change and we woke to a world of white powder.
I wouldn't say I became severely depressed whenever summer came to end and the end of the year drew closer, but it was like a small part of me died. No, not died. It was more akin to hibernation and Spring's arrival did wonders for my mood, even if that meant dealing with the plague of pollen allergies.
It could not have come to at a worse time as I sat there, alone on a bus stop bench in The City of Dreams. Even if I was to return to the nest, excuse me, my newly acquired apartment, what was there for me? Just four empty rooms along with an unused kitchen and bathroom. What was that proverb? The one of being cautious of what one wished for because they might just get it.
How many times did I do just that? I yearned to leave and live my own life. No more struggling to simply stay afloat or sacrificing even the smallest luxury. It was not the idea of working my entire life that bothered me, not in the slightest. It was slaving away all day to merely ensure that I would continue to do so. In short, I wanted to work to live and not live to work. If it was wrong to enjoy the precious time I had been given on the Earth, then why would anyone in thier right mind want to be right?
There I sat, wishing for someone to take me back to it. I knew then ignorance was bliss. Had Wil — No, I won't speak her name — Had that woman never entered my life, I would never know what it was to love, to truly care for another, only to have it thrown back in my face. I would have been better off just driving on that fateful night than stopping for her. It was the classic of no good deed goes unpunished.
This was a story I had been all too familiar with. I did right by my family, as right as I could be, and I was rewarded by making sacrifice after sacrifice with nothing to show for it. I was a model student since I first entered school, but that had not been enough to stop those with power from labeling me a sex offender because Brian had tossed me naked into a blizzard. That had resulted in every single college that had accepted me and every foundation with a sizable scholarship to "reevaluate" their decisions about my attendance to their campuses.
I also noted that I never disrespected or ill treated a woman, or any person for that matter, but it seemed at the time that they would much rather go with others who demean and insult them at every opportunity. I may have learned different eventually, but it seemed too little too late.
"How are you doing that?" asked a young voice.
I turned my head to see a small child standing next to his mother who was struggling with the zipper of her coat.
"Doing what?" I patted my cheeks, but my hand was clean of blood.
"That!" The child pointed to my other hand.
I looked down and saw a small mound, hardly the size of an anthill, of snow had collected in my hand, unmelted. A vampire's body is never naturally warm. It tends to be on the cool side, but is usually at the same as the environment. We also do not feel temperatures per say. Anything between bone blistering hot and skin hardening cold can usually be pushed aside and ignored. It seemed that I had retreated into myself, as all vampires do when they need peace to think. I had left my hand upturned and snow collected.
"Oh that." I shook the snow out my hand and wiped it on my knee. "Just a trick."
"Is that magic trick?" he asked.
"Sure." I said and stood. "Let's go with that."
I took my cane and began walking, limping, again before he had the chance to ask for more.
As I walked, I slipped a hand into my pocket. I stopped when I felt the envelopes that I followed like Hansel and Gretel did breadcrumbs. I recalled I never did open the third and final letter. It had to be the final one, otherwise she would have not been waiting for me to reach the train station.
I stood under a blue canopy so the falling snow would not land on the paper and make the ink dry. I paused to to see people exiting the shop, which turned out to be a bakery called La Delice, carrying white boxes and fresh bread with steam curling around them. I sampled the air and licked my lips at the scent of powdered sugar on delicate pastries and pieces of warm luscious chocolate in savory sweet dough.
I watched with longing inside to see customers selecting and sampling various kinds of appealing pasties or pointing to loaves of fresh bread being brought in from the ovens. While human food would never taste the same or even be edible, their smell could still be appetizing. I used to think of it as unfair before I had accepted what had happened. Then it was just a pleasant quirk of my new condition, but now it was just plain cruel to me again.
Again I was reminded of what SHE had taken from me. How long had passed since my mother's simple dinner of Chilean humitas? Better yet, what did they taste like?
Memories sprang before my mind's eye. First, I was barely old enough to walk when I had my very first taste of chocolate, a gift from my grandfather on one of his many visits. It wasn't expensive handmade gourmet chocolate imported from Europe. It was the plain kind that could be found anywhere in the country, but that small square dark square tasted like heaven itself. Then, I was a child as my grandfather and father grilled meat, one of the few pleasant memories I had of him, over a bed of charcoal as my mother and brother brought homemade bread and a salad made from the garden my grandmother tended in spring and summer. Now, I was a bit older as my family, at my grandparent's home, gathered around a table for Christmas dinner of succulent pork that tasted of apples with slightest hint of mint.
With an effort I tore my gaze, and my mind, away from food. I turned my back to the window and opened the letter, the last thing she had given me.
I have no doubt you had deciphered the messages I left for you to follow in my previous with Relative ease, but I suggest reading them once again. It is entirely possible you may overlooKed a crucial detail in your Haste.
On the chance you saw everything at first glance and you are where need to be, then enjoy. You certainly have proved time and timE again your gift will not allow to Fall prey to old struggles, but nothing is without its price.
This Should give you a founDation to stand upon.
I stopped reading before I could see her name.
I was more than half tempted to tear this and the rest of letters and throw them to the winds like confetti on the fourth of July. It was clear SHE wanted to reread her previous letters, but I was hesitant. SHE had sent me on the wildest of goose chases once before across half of Long Island, what was to stop her from doing that again, or something worse? Then I reread her letter and it seemed she was hinting at something more.
Unless I was mistaken, SHE had left another message other than the ones I had first seen. SHE also seemed to be hinting I was suppose to be at a certain location when I read this letter for the last line to make sense. So I was to read and reread her letters until I discovered a location among the lies. All for the likely possibility to give her the opportunity to sink the knife deeper and perhaps even twist as she did so.
I should just return to the nest and leave her waiting, I told myself. Let myself have some semblance of dignity and not appear like a desperate fool. SHE clearly wanted to see her handiwork and I had suspicion SHE had called Ryuu and Matthew to ensure I would return to the city. If that was her goal, and I was almost certain it was, I would not let her reach it. Not without a fight at least.
But if that was the case, I should read the letters regardless. If I knew her, if far less than I originally thought, SHE would take that into account. For all I knew, SHE would be waiting for me at my nest.
I folded the letter and carefully placed it in my coat. I began walking down what I realized was Third Avenue in Kips Bay hardly three blocks from Bellevue. It felt nice to be away from harrowing scent of the bakery and it helped clear my head, if only slightly.
I entered the first dimly lit bar I came across. It was hardly a bar. I would not be surprised if it had simply been built to fill a space between two buildings, and hastily built at that. The wooden floor creaked whenever one of the few patrons treded to the bar for a drink. The air smelt of stale beer and cigarette smoke. I found an obscure table in the corner and reached into my jacket. I laid the letters in front of me and lit a cigarette to curb my hunger for later.
I read the first letter slowly and paused when I reached the words Dragon and nest. SHE had taught me that it was always best to hide in plain sight. It was the reason she and others lived in a high end apartment in one of the largest cities in the country instead of moving from place to place and sleeping in crypts and such. SHE wanted the message to be noticed, but not first glance.
She would have have taken into account the fact I would be looking for one so it had to be subtle, very subtle. So that was the trick, how to make her message both noticeable yet hidden. Based on that logic, if I was to do what she was attempting, I would hide message within her hints to travel to Ryuu's home and the cemetery.
I had discovered her first clue by noticing SHE had purposely capitalized the first letters of dragon and nest. I ignored the words and began going over each letter individually. As it turned out, I missed two letters before I caught dragon and nest. I made a mental note and continued with the letter, berating myself for not noticing earlier that each letter had various out of place capitalized letters.
I paid for a glass of scotch, just so no one came and bullied me into doing so, and the bartender gave me a pen. I returned to the table and wrote down all of the letters on a napkin. It had taken about ten minutes in find all the letters and make sure I had not missed a single one. I quickly stuffed the letters into my jacket and lit another cigarette to study the napkin.
It was an anagram.
At first glance it was nothing than a random collection of letters, but I knew better. There was very little chance of this assortment being simply a coincidence, the mistakes of someone whom had forgotten the complicated rules of the English language. If there had been only a few out of place letters then I would find another train of thought, but twenty-nine between three messages was far from few. I also considered the abundance of vowels which also oddly stood out to me. With only six among twenty-six, they were bound to repeat quite often in any written message, encoded or not.
I was certain these letters, once put in the right order, would spell out a location. She hinted to enjoy something, but only if I deciphered this message and was right I needed to be. It had be a well known landmark, like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, because she would have provided numbers as well to give me an exact address. The problem, a very considerable one, New York City had dozen upon dozens of famous historical landmarks, many of them not simply in Manhattan but spread over the rest of the boroughs.
I decided to tackle the problem head on. I began listing all of landmarks in Manhattan. If none fit, I would move onto the rest of the city until I found it. If none of the landmarks fit the anagram, at least I knew to start on a new train of thought.
Saint Paul's Chapel was the first I eliminated along with the Morris-Jumel Mansion and Carnegie Hall. The Woolworth building, New York Public Library, and Grand Central Station all followed, but it was the latter that gave me part of the message. I told myself her anagram could spell out the wrong location, but better to eliminate the possibility.
It was possibly she was directing me to a station, possibly a train station. With that in mind, I tried Penn Station and another piece fell into place. She wanted me at Penn Station, perhaps to take a train. With Penn Station eliminating several letters, it was relatively easier to deduce the rest. I had no indication I was correct or if I was eight ways wrong from Sunday, but I mentally took a step back and looked at my work.
At first, it was just meaningless gibberish.
But rearranged in the right order, assuming it was the right order, it became
And once I grouped them together and spaced out the words, the meaning was clear.
PENN STATION AND HOTEL FRONT DESK.
She was telling me to reach Penn Station, cross the street, and go to the front desk of New York's Hotel Pennsylvania.
I sat there debating with myself whether or not I should go. I still was not certain of her motive. She clearly wanted our meeting to be public, but with an option of privacy should the need arise. As to why she wanted one last encounter, it was beyond me. She already had removed all of her belongings from the nest and had ample time while I was racing across Long Island to pick anything she might have missed.
I could think of any multitude of reasons to go as well as to go home. It was hard, but I decided to meet her anyway. It was as if I was literally having a verbal argument with myself. If it had been aloud, it would very similar to this
"I should just go home," I told myself again. "Return to the nest and leave her waiting."
"If she wants to see you it will happen,"said the logical part of my mind, "All she has to do is summon you."
"I need to feed and rest," I countered. "This is my third night without having any blood."
"Sally gave you enough."
"Enough to get me on my feet, with a cane. I can barely think straight as it is and its only going to get worse."
"Good! She'll let her guard down and you can use that."
"No she won't. She'll be expecting something. That's why she had me run across the island, so I wouldn't have time to form a plan or figure hers out."
"Then she would have considered you wouldn't come. She knows you have no other place to go. Either she'll have something waiting for you to make go to the hotel or she'll look at a clock and summon you."
"So there's no avoiding it then?"
"Go home or to the hotel. Either way, its the hotel."
It was a very short cab ride from the bar to the hotel and it was only due to the snow that felt longer than it should have. I got off directly in front of hotel which sat across Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue. I looked up at the structure and turned to face the Penn Station exit directly in front of the Garden.
As one would expect, even with snow falling on the ground at such a late hour, both the train station and sidewalk around Madison Square Garden were crowded mass crowds like rats in the sewers. Then again the small dogs in women's purses probably could have passed for rate, in size at least. The crowds were always was so vast in this parts of the city, regardless of major holidays or events, that an impromptu taxi station with portable rails with green sheets of plastic with taxi written were spread around on all four sides. There seemed even more than usual since the holidays were so close and, like Rio De Janerio during Carnaval, the Big Apple was the place to be to ring in the new year.
I entered the hotel and paused as I tried to locate the front desk. I expected the entire lobby to packed with people eager to rent rooms with the holidays hardly three weeks away, but I was only partially correct. The lobby was somewhat active, but only with bellboys and such carrying luggage and pushing carts with trays food. A janitor pushed a mop and bucket while another occupied polishing the beige tile floor to a pristine shine. Another appeared to my side and began vacuuming the large rug with the hotel's logo, a capital H and P entwined, in the middle. There were several leather benches for people to sit and rest as they waited to be shown to their rooms opposite the front desk where a family was checking in.
I waited until the family disappeared, and the bellboy with their luggage, behind a pair of white elevator doors before I walked up to the front desk. The man standing behind the counter had bronze skin as well light brown hair, dark blue eyes and a heavy build. He was dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and sky blue tie. His hair was neatly combed and was clean shaven, recently if the scent of Aqau Velva was anything to go by.
"Hello, sir." He flashed me a dazzling smile that had probably cost more than a small latin country. "How may I help you?"
"Has a woman checked in the past few days?" I gestured with my hand. "About this tall with long red hair?"
"I don't think so." His smile dropped slightly which was nice because I was sure I might need sunglasses. "She might have, but I'm afraid I am only here for the night shift."
"Then you would have seen her." I said. "She would have very pale skin and green eyes."
"Did she speak with a french accent?" He asked unsure.
"Yes." I answered. "So she is here?"
"I am not at liberty to say." He said. "It is against our policy of respecting our guest's privacy."
"You don't say." I said soothingly as I readied to glamor him.
"But she did say someone would come looking for her." He motioned for a bellboy to come over.
I stopped myself as he whispered in the bellboy's ear and handed him a key. Fortunately, I caught every word he said.
"Go get the briefcase in my locker." He told him. "Here's the key and hurry."
I watched as the bellboy hurried and disappeared behind a door. I turned to man in the suit. He seemed nervous, like he wished nothing for me to leave. I discretely looked around and judged the janitor was not some undercover government agent or a wannabe Van Helsing with a collapsible crossbow. Except for the janitor, the desk clerk and I were alone in the lobby. Unless he was privy to the existence of vampires and was scared that I or another vampire would kill him, he had no reason to be uneasy.
"Bad experience with briefcases?" I asked.
He looked at me with caution and then carefully made sure we were out of ear shot. They way his eye flicked around the lobby, you'd expect a SWAT team to burst from the potted plants. "The last time a briefcase was left here turned out to be filled with bags of pure cocaine."
"And it was discovered I take it?" I didn't recall something like being on the news or in the papers and guessed it must have happened sometime ago.
"Yes." He nodded. "Police and SWAT teams came crashing in waving guns and shouting." He tried to calm himself. "With all due respect, the sooner you leave the better."
"If its such a risk, then why not refuse to take it?" I motioned to him. "You could be arrested by doing so. They could charge you as an accessory."
"That's the strangest thing." He whispered. "I remember telling her no when she asked, but then she asked again and I was holding the thing before I knew it. A second later and she was gone."
"And you had no option to follow through." I said, knowing she had glamored him when he refused.
The bellboy then returned with a plain black leather briefcase. There was nothing special about it. There must be billions of them used in every office all over the country. I took it from him and sniffed it. Besides the scent of the bellboy and man who had taken it, I caught the scent of her.
"Is that it?" I asked.
"Yes." said the man behind the counter. "Now please go."
"She isn't here?"
"No. I only saw her when she dropped that off three nights ago."
It was rather an uneventful cab ride back to the nest. As I rode, I held the briefcase to my ear and caught no sounds. There was nothing moving inside so it held nothing alive and it did not explode when I violently shook it. I carefully smelled it, but only caught her scent and the two humans that handled the case.
I got out to see a couple of police cruisers blocking part of Broadway and two ambulances. The ambulances were being loaded with large black bags on gurneys and I recalled that I had killed two humans in the adjacent alley. It was a little late to stage the area and just had to hope that the couple both had records and the police assume they stole from the wrong person and were killed for thier trouble.
I was surprised it had taken almost taken an entire twenty-four hours for someone to notice the bodies, but then I remembered where I had been for the past year. That's New York City for you. Kill two humans without bothering to cover the act up and people will continue to walk put until the smell reaches above the levels of bad garbage. I noticed that the police had set up a perimeter with yellow around the crime scene. The crowd had begun to disperse and the few remaining were speaking to detectives who took notes on what was said.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching and limped to the building. Most did not pay me much attention, except to step aside, and I actually made to the front door before a detective stopped me. She light brown skin, brown eyes and straight dark brown hair which was quite fine. She had muscular build and seemed older than at first glance.
"Excuse me, I'm Detective Hargitay." she said and flashed her ID. "Do you live here, mister?"
"Brooks." I said, slipping into a British accent. "Eric Brooks. Did something happen?"
"Two bodies were found in the alley." She frowned. "What did you mean you kind of stay here?"
"A mate of mine is letting me squat for a bit." I shrugged. "Until I can find a flat of my own."
"And where is your friend now?"
"Don't know." I shrugged. "Said he was gonna spend the night with a girl or two of his, the jammy bloke."
"What's wrong with your leg?"
"Some mental jacked a bike and thought he'd try to outrun the police." I was growing tired of this game, but I smiled ruefully and tapped my thigh. "Crashed right into me as my mates and I were playing football in the park."
"Funny you mention a bike." She pointed to alley. "A witness says he saw motorcycle sped out there in a hurry."
"Well, I doubt he was the same bloke." I said. "He was almost sixty when that happened and I was twelve. So unless yer lookin' for a mental lag, I don't think I can help ya."
"Do you know anyone that lives here that owns a motorcycle or recently bought one?" She continued. "Or someone hanging around on one?"
"Naw. I know people around here don't like other sticking their nose into their affairs, so I just keep mine clean and to myself" I shook my head. "Look, Detective Hargitay, I'm pretty knackered. I don't know how I can be of any help."
"Here." She handed me a business card. "If you remember anything or see anything unusual, call this number day or night."
"Sure, love." I took the card and stuffed it into my pocket. "I'll do just that."
I hobbled to the elevator, the detective watching me carefully, and rode to my floor. Once the doors opened I peeked my head to see if there were any police before I walked normally to the apartment. I carefully entered the apartment and saw it was entirely untouched since I last left it, except for one small thing.
A stray cat had wandered in and decided the corner seat of the couch, where a towel had been left, was the perfect to give birth to a litter of kittens. It had a jet black gleaming coat and goldish copper eyes. I looked up to see a window had been left open. I used to think were very intelligent, but clearly it was on an individual basis. Why on else would a pregnant cat walk the thin ledge of building several stories above street level as it snowed and wander into a vampire nest?
As I approached, it hissed at me. I hissed back in annoyance which she responded by hissing again as she wrapped her tail protectively around her litter. I set the briefcase on the table which she watched carefully while I locked the door. I sat on an armchair one the far end, away from the cat who thought I was the intruder.
Truth be told, I had always wanted a pet. While I didn't hate dogs by any stretch, I wanted a cat instead. There was just something more appealing to me to have a cat curled on your lap while you read a book or watched TV than having a dog bark and growl at every person or stray leave that went by the window.
Of course, that was where Christine and I disagreed. She absolutely adored dogs. Although she had a weird way of showing it. Around the time she was thirteen or so, her family adopted a dog. A black and tan Doberman bitch to be exact, named Chrissy ironically enough. I never recalled Christine ever feeding or playing with her. In fact, I don't think I ever saw them together. Either Christine would out with friends or Chrissy was with either of Christine's parents for a ride.
She growled at me just in case I didn't fully heed her previous warnings.
"Shut up." I said.
She responded with a hiss, making sure I caught sight of her long fangs.
"Nice." Now I hissed again and my fangs ran out. "Your turn."
She merely froze and stared at me.
"Thought so." I returned to briefcase. "Now what game are you playing?"
I opened it and the last line of her letter fell into place. She had mentioned my gift would prevent me from falling prey to old struggles, but nothing came without a price. The contents of the case was to give me a foundation to stand on. It seemed the old struggle she was referring to was my battle with money, or rather my lack of it. I liked to tell her that no one knew better that to make money one needed to spend money than the poor.
It was the poor that knew the value of money and knew how to stretch far more than those born into their riches. In layman's terms, the rich had all the resources but it was the poor that knew how to care for those resources. But every now and then, one of the poor was able to lift himself out of his poverty and join the rich in their golden estates, and he would stay that way so long he remembered his time as one of the destitute.
She knew Ryuu had given me a large amount of money for my services and Matthew would presumably give me a much larger fee, but she had decided to add to that already substantial foundation for a single vampire with this case.
The briefcase was filled to the brim with thick stacks of hundreds, all held together with rubber bands..
In the past I would have sat there, dumbfounded, but not tonight. I was angry. Did she truly think this would up make for her betrayal? Did she believe I was so easily bought? I severely doubt she even gave all of this money a second thought. After all, what was money to an immortal? She had roaming the earth since the fourteenth century, I wouldn't be surprised hundreds of caches like this all over Europe and America, I know I would.
I closed the case with an angry flourish which made the cat flinch and hiss at me. I stared daggers until she seemed to recall she was not the only one with fangs and laid her head down. She then suddenly looked at me without hostility and she seemed to be pleading with her eyes. She made a pitiful cry and nuzzled her young before looking to the kitchen and back to me. I rolled my eyes and understood.
It seemed she was offering a truce if I fed her and her young.
I stood and walked to kitchen. I opened one of the cupboards and removed a stack of tuna fish. We had done away with the fresh food ages ago, but we were too lazy to get rid of the canned food as well. I opened the can and drained the water in the sink. I then filled a small bowl with water and laid both the tuna and water next to the cat.
Naturally, she hissed and growled when I approached.
"Yeah, yeah. I get it." I said. "You're a scary cat. Just shut up and eat."
She sniffed the tuna before tasting it. Once finished with tuna, she lapped some water and wrapped herself around her litter to sleep.
"Doesn't take much to make you happy, does it?" I sighed. "Or are you lying to me too?"