Dead & Living

The Not So Big Apple

"How much pound you want?" asked an old Asian man that was about sixty.

"I asked if you have whole fish." I said slowly, but enough to convey I was annoyed at repeating myself for the second time. "Not just the filets."

"Yes, filets!" He began loading several filets of whiting onto newspaper. "Good filets!"

"No!" I stopped him and resisted the urge to gut him like the many species of fish at his stall. Going on a limb, I asked in poorly accent Mandarin. "Nǐ huì shuō pǔtōnghuà ma? Huò guǎngdōng huà?"

"Pǔtōnghuà." He said and smiled a bit. "That was very good, but your accent needs work."

"Xiè xiè." I returned the slight smile. It looked like that Mandarin phrase book had come in handy. It wasn't enough for me to learn how to discuss the finer parts of Taoism, but enough to get by in the city with one old Chinese fish vendor. "Wǒ bùshì hěn liúlì."

"Give it time." He said in heavily accented English. "Get better with more use." He motioned to the filets again. "You no want this fish?"

"I want the whole fish." I said once more and added. "Wǒ xiǎng zhěnggè shìqíng. Suízhe tóu bù, wěibù hé dǎnliàng."

"I see." He opened a cooler stuffed with ice just to the side of his stall. "This enough?"

I peered inside and smiled. "Perfect." Next to a bunch of cat fish, and a few medium sized salmons, were of the perfect sized striped bass I had seen and smelled so fresh that I was surprised they weren't flopping around. Tux was in for a treat. I pointed to them. "Wǒ dài nǐ qù nà liǎng gè."

An hour later, I was at home with a very large fish on a cutting board. Maybe it was the vampiric side of me, but I was looking at the dead fish with excitement as I stropped my chef's knife. I wondered at how I worked with such inferior knives at home. Those knives were just your common factory pressed steel knives that came in sets of twelve for less than fifty dollars. I would have to strop for several minutes just to get a decent edge to cut soft cheese.

The one I had in my hands was a single hand-forged blade from the descendants of Japanese sword smiths that switched to kitchen cutlery after sword forging was outlawed when Japan lost World War Two. If I turned to the blade to the side, I could see each individual layers from when the metal was folded over countless times during the forging process and the imported European steel insured the ingenuous forging process was not wasted. Even the handle was crafted from genuine bamboo from Asia.

For the five-hundred dollars I parted with, it was worth every penny.

The sound of metal scraping metal had practically become a dinner bell for Tux and no sooner than I began, there she was on far of the sink watching me and the fish with longing. I smiled when she sampled the air and licked her chops at the thought of devouring its sweet flesh. As a fellow predator, I understood the anticipation she felt.

"Mrrep!" Tux made a sound that something between a chirp and a meow. She seemed to make the sound when she was excited or playing.

"Striped Bass." I said, continuing to hone the edge of my knife. "The man said he calls it Lúyú."

"Niaw!" She responded and it sound very close to the word 'now'.

"Rěnnài!" I pretended to scold and said in English. "Patience."

In case you're wondering why I was speaking Mandarin to a house-cat, it was not to have Tux become bilingual. My grandfather had come from Argentina and forced my father to speak only Spanish in the house growing up. It was so he wouldn't forget how. He always said a man who knew two languages was twice as useful. Unfortunately, my father did not share his view and did not force me to do the same.

However my grandfather did and I learned the more I spoke the language the more I retained and learned. I had been fluent in Spanish almost my entire life along with a firm grasp of Italian from my mother's family, which were mostly insults (that's first you learn from any language). I had added French to the list and now I was on my way to adding Mandarin. Next, I might improve my Japanese if I needed to speak with Kim or Ryuu again. Or I might learn the language of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Not that I had plans to move and see Moscow or St. Petersburg, but I had a feeling New York and the rest of the country was going to see a large influx of Eastern Asian immigrants fairly soon.

Tux did not make another sound as I used the blunt spine of the knife and scraped from the tail to the gills, scales coming off like they were hardly attached to begin with. I did the same for both sides as well as the scales around the pectoral and dorsal fins, and up to the throat. Mind you this took all off ten seconds. You just had to love vampire speed and reflexes. I quickly rinsed off the fish by gently rubbing what remained of the scaled while underwater.

I then inserted the knife near the tail. I drew the knife toward the head, splitting the fish to the base of the gills. Carefully, I reached inside and removed all of the guts and organs which I threw in a special bag that sat inside two more bags. I knew from experience how strong the smell of rotting fish guts could be. Once that was done, I removed the head and tail which I threw into a pot with hot water to make stock.

After that, I quickly filleted the rest and had two perfect size filets. Having prepared ahead of time, I put the fish into a oven dish with onions, carrots, and celery along with a few pats of butter. I covered the dish with foil and slow cooked it over the next two hours. As the fish cooked, I skimmed off the scum that form on the top of the pot I was using to make stock. I ladled some of the finished stock into a pan and reduced it after adding some herbs to it to make a nice light sauce for the fish when it came out of the oven.

Tux was practically crawling up the walls of anticipation when I removed the fish of the oven. I slid the perfectly cooked filet onto a plate and I cut it into more edible pieces for a house-cat. I was just about to drizzle the sauce from the pan when I heard a voice.

"What is that heavenly smell?" said a wistful female voice.

I whipped around and hissed in alarm.

Mae merely smirked at me and continued to sample the air.

It was then I noticed she was wearing a coat with a bright red scarf around her neck. Her pants were plain blue jeans and she wore stylish brown boots. She had also styled her hair into what I called a librarian bun and was wearing bookish glasses. I watched as she set down a very large bag. It was more like a camping pack, the kind people used when backpacking across Europe or into the mountains. It looked full, but I wasn't sure with what.

"Sweet and yet salty." She closed her eyes as if to savor the scent. "With just a hint of spice." She opened her eyes and looked at me. "Well?"

"Just Tux's dinner." I said, drizzling the sauce over the fish. "For future reference, try knocking.

"And you should try locking your door." She countered. "Who is Tux?"

"My cat." I looked around and smiled slightly. "Just look down."

Mae did and saw Tux was carefully sniffing her boot.

"Why do you have a cat?" She cocked her head curiously as Tux. "Better yet, how did you manage to find the one animal who does not hate vampires?"

"It's our scent that confuses them. I think we smell dead to them, but we're still moving around like humans and that confuses them. Her mother had wondered in a gave birth to a litter. I merely kept one. She has known the scent of vampire for weeks now so it won't bother her."

"You truly are a strange one."

"How so?"

"You continue to cook human food though you cannot consume it." She remarked. "Rather than keep a human you can feed from, you chose an unintelligent animal for a companion."

Mae looked down when Tux hissed and began to growl.

"It doesn't take a genius to know when you're insulted." I laughed. "Come on, Tux. Dinner."

Tux, at the mention of food, turned up her nose at Mae and sauntered over to her bowl of fish and sauce. I stifled laugh at the way she dismissed Mae with an imperious flicker of her tail. An action that Mae did not miss.

"I think you should teach your pet some manners." Mae observed. "Before someone else does."

"Just humor her." I said. "Cats were worshiped a gods in ancient Egypt and I don't they're keen on letting that go." I decided to change the subject. "So do what I owe the pleasure?"

"You recall your agreement with Matthew in regards to the local Were packs?" Mae asked.

"Yes." I said.

"Most of the packs have been dealt with." She informed me. "Those still alive had agreed to our terms in exchange for their lives and those not involved have pledged to stay out of our affairs."

"That is good to hear." I motioned to the bag. "I take it that bag is my payment?"

"Yes. Three percent of the profit after the king took half. As we agreed." She unzipped and revealed large wads of bills bounded together. "This is not the whole sum. The Weres are dragging thier feet with the second half of the payment, our half."

"I understand." I bent a pulled out a very thick wad and noticed something strange. "This is all singles." I picked a another stack. "Are they all like this?"

"They claim it is due to using strip clubs for fronts. Hence the abundance of small bills." Mae snorted. "They're just making things as difficult as they can. They know we cannot go to banks to exchange them and it will take time to count it all." She motioned to the bag. "There should be a quarter million dollars in that bag."

"Two hundred and fifty thousand?" I asked.

"Provided no one miscounted." Mae nodded. "As soon as we receive the rest, you will receive another fifty thousand."

"For a total of three hundred thousand." I made a mental calculation. "How is Matthew enjoying his five million?"

"Quite well." Mae said. "He plans on expanding the Grassland Gallery as well as a few other clubs." Mae gave me a smile. "You've done quite well for one so young, Ductor."

"No need to ask if you've heard of my new moniker."

"It fits." She remarked. "Simple to remember, yet still has a sense of power to it. May I ask what you plan to do with your newly earned fortune."

"Not sure." I walked around from the kitchen to where Mae stood. "I might do some more remodeling. I definitely need to stock my library with something."


I pointed as walked to the entertainment system I bought and set up last week. "Take a look for yourself."

I heard Mae walk past me and to the hall as I turned on the television. The VCR still had the tape I had finished last night. I ejected the tape and quickly selected a new one. I had always enjoyed films, but I did not always have the opportunity to watch them. I might have seen masterpieces like the first Star Wars film in 1977 and its sequels in '80 and '83, but I had missed out on countless others. Like the entire Godfather Trilogy, including the third and final installment, as with every film released in 1990 when I spent that year locked in my apartment.

I had been favoring Sinatra musicals lately, Robin and the 7 Hoods and Take Me Out to the Ball Game to name two, but I decided on something I was bit familiar with and chose The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had played the role of Eddie during high school when the theater and Glee clubs put on the stage version.

Brad had just proposed to Janet and sung Dammit Janet when Mae returned from examining the improvements I made to apartment. I paused the movie just as Tux hopped into my lap, her way of demanding I cease my meaningless activity and do my duty of scratching behind her ears until she hopped off.

"That is an impressive library." She said. "Although it seems to be missing an essential component."

"That it is." I agreed. "I'm still trying to decide whether I want books for research or for leisure."

"Why not ask your maker?" Mae offered innocently. "Where is Wilhelmina? I didn't catch her scent at all."

"You won't." I said devoid of emotion. And here I had been having a pleasant evening. Tux twitched slightly and looked up at me curiously, no doubt sensing something amiss. "I have no idea where she is."

"We must inform Matthew right away!" She retrieved a cellphone faster than it took to blink. "If she was alone and ambushed to — " She paused when she gave me a second look and saw I was not concerned as I should be. "How long has it been since you've last seen her?"

"About two months." I said quietly.

"And you felt her pass." Mae concluded. "That is why you did not inform Matthew?"

"Felt her pass?" i repeated.

"A maker knows when their child meets their death." She explained. "The opposite hold true as well, although not as intense." Mae examined me curiously. "She should have told you this."

SHE should have told me a lot of things, I thought bitterly. God only knows what else she left out.

"Did you deal with her assassins?" Mae asked. "What of the rest of the nest? Were you the sole survivor?"

"We weren't attacked." I told her. "They left."


"An old woman noticed Doyle hadn't aged in five years and took that as a hint to leave." I spoke quickly and choose my words carefully. "Adrian followed after a few days and Regina after him a week later."

"Leaving Wilhelmina and you." Mae seemed to be thinking of a reason to explain my maker's prolonged absence. "If you were not attacked, then perhaps she is merely looking for a suitable location for a nest or creating one. This city is famous for being crowded, especially this borough."

"Then wouldn't she go to Matthew?" I demanded. "Brooklyn is mostly residential, as is Queens, and surely he could point her in the right direction. Or she could have gone to Ryuu farther out on the island." I flashed Mae a look. "That's ignoring the fact she's been in this city since it was considered a small port town. I could find a dozen suitable apartments without leaving Soho and I've been living here for a a bit over year and large part of that was locked in here!"

"So she . . ." Mae seemed unable to grasp the concept.

"Fèi wù hútú dàn!" My mind throwing the perfect combination of mandarin as I shot to my feet, Tux darting away in alarm. "She left!"


"She had me racing all over Long Island looking for her." I growled. "When I found her, she said our time together had come to an end."

"What else?"

"I got hit by a truck and woke up the next night in Bellevue's morgue."

"This is very unusual." I didn't like the way Mae was looking at me, like a parent eying a stray animal that had wandered into the home. "I will need to report this to Matthew. He will want to ask why she did this."

"What concern is it of his?"

"A gift you may have, but you have yet to live even a decade." Mae said matter of fact. "There is much you have to learn. Much she could not have taught."

I shrugged, not wanting to admit she was right. The last thing I wanted, other than HER summoning me to return to her side again, was for Mae or Matthew to take a personal interest in my education. Then again, what was the alternative? I seriously doubted there was some sort of school or foster care for abandoned vampire children. Human school was hell enough and that merely lasted a decade and a half. God only knew how many centuries of torture I'd have to endure before I was deemed "capable" of walking the earth alone.

Then another, much simpler and frightening, solution came to me.

Matthew could simply order Mae, Abraham, or any other vampire under his command to sink a stake into my chest. It was clean and hassle free. I was still four months short of reaching my second year and had no chance of fighting off much older and stronger vampires. My defect wouldn't save me in the slightest. Mae might not know exactly how I could survive a stake, but she didn't have to. There were quite a number of ways to kill a vampire other than a stake through the heart and even I knew that.

"Do not leave the city." Mae ordered and disappeared in flash of vampiric speed.

I waited five minutes, which I used to clean the small mess in the kitchen and give Mae time to put some distance between us, before I grabbed my leather jacket and left my apartment. I also made sure take my cane with me. If Matthew did decide it would be easier to take me out, I would at least take one with me.

I had no intention of leaving the city, but I needed "air" so to speak and clear my head. I walked and entered the first movie theater I saw, which was ironically called the Sunshine Cinema, on Houston and Eldridge Street in East Village. I had read the film had made a big splash at the New York Film Festival in November of the previous year and had been nominated for various awards, but hadn't gotten around to seeing it. I guess it really was worth seeing if it was still being shown four months later in mid-Feburary.

I bought a ticket for Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

I had caught Disney's version of the Little Mermaid in '89 and I had found I loved it even if it practically ignored the Andersen novel. Truth be told, I thought it was meant for small children, but Christine had dragged me along when she had broken up with her boyfriend. By the time Sebastien's very convincing song that life was better under the sea, I was having a great time. Now I could say the same for Disney's reinterpretation of the Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont's work.

Somewhere between the entire village singing about how no one can do things like Gaston and a very impressive dinner show from the Beast's silverware, I had calmed down enough to think clearly. My gift had helped Matthew greatly. Not only did I end his Were problem, more or less permanently, I turned a massive profit for the both of as well as the king. Alright, so the king was unaware of my existence, but Ryuu was not.

On the off chance Matthew wanted to err on the side of caution and though he could handle any problem that might arise, I could put myself under Ryuu's protection. Not only had I done the same for Ryuu, but he was a personal friend to my maker. He might even give me my old job back, not that I really wanted it back or needed it. After Ryuu's payment, HER gift, and Matthew's payment, I wasn't the least bit concerned. It wasn't like I could starve.

With that mind, I allowed myself to enjoy the rest of the film and even the cliched ending that true love conquers all.

While was in an infinitely better mood when I left the theater, I kept an eye for a sign I was being followed. I didn't discover any assassins or any stalkers, but the crowds of The City of Cities provided the perfect cover on the ground. It was not like I was in any real danger as long as I was among the public. Even the slowest human knew not to kill someone in plain sight of a sea of witnesses. No, the real danger was when I would be alone.

That realization sparked the reminder of Mae simply bursting into my apartment without a sound hardly three hours ago. I might have been careless in leaving the door unlocked, god help you if you did that in Brownsville or Hell's Kitchen, but I hadn't been concerned with being killed by my own kind. I could easily deal with wannabe thieves and criminals since they weren't privy to what I was and therefor wouldn't come prepared with silver and stakes, but other vampires were and would.

I needed to improve the security of the apartment. Other than the hidden compartments in my library where Doyle and Regina's coffins had sat, which were hidden by my desk and a large table that slid on small rails hidden by the carpeting, the only thing separating me from intruders, vampire or otherwise, were a few locked doors and a large flight of stairs to climb. After no doubt pissing off every single Shifter and Were in the city and on Long Island, it was a miracle of God that I had survived so long without doing so.

As I made a left and began walking down Bowery, south toward Canal Street, off of Houston, I considered how I fortify my apartment. I needed something for both vampires and human/Weres and for the front door as well as my room. Not to mention something other than my cane-sword. It might take a bit of searching, but I could rig a crossbow to fire a bolt the moment the door was opened far enough. A crossbow bolt was nothing more that a flying stake. I merely had to set it using the average height and the fact that ninety-nine percent of vampire had their heart on the left side.

Then I could rig every bedroom door to do the same, making sure to turn my room into deathtrap with several kinds of defenses. Naturally the intruders would assume being the most heavily protected, I was sleeping in the floorboard of the closet. Then, when they've finally disable or fallen to my room's defenses, they'd open the false door and find the space empty since I would have been in one of the hidden spaces in the library. I'd have to make sure to sleep with a crossbow in hand since they simply might chose to wait me out and see where I had been sleeping.

I nodded firmly to myself and decided on just that. Tomorrow night's shopping list would consist of merely a dozen crossbows, bolts, and copious yard of high test wire. I also would have to glamor/pay some humans to watch for any signs of danger outside of the building. I could employ the same tactic of using a homeless person to do that, but another thought came to me. I had remembered some vagrants were veterans of war. Why choose between traps and numbers when I could have both. I'm sure some would jump at the chance for comfortable place to sleep as well as food and money. With that kind of motivation, there wasn't even the small chance of betrayal. After all, you do catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. I made a mental note to procure some firearms and, more importantly, pure silver ammunition.

Now while New York is supposedly the Greatest City in the World where dreams came true, it was not the golden utopia the millions of stories, songs, and plays made it out to be. The fact of the matter was that where there was riches to be had, thieves and the like were not far behind. Crime was always a given with cities even half as large as this one. Every other night there was news footage or an articles in the paper of teenagers stealing and holding up liquor stores to buy Ecstasy and Meth or some gang member trying to harm or kill a member of a rival gang. Hell, some neighborhoods were famous for their notorious high crime rates like East Harlem and Bedstuy.

So after being told how dangerous the city could be all of my human life and living in said city for almost two years for my undead one, it was not out of the question that when I heard the unmistakable sound of a mugging I kept on walking down Bowery past Hester Street. I would have just kept walking if I hadn't heard a voice. The voice didn't plead or beg for mercy, it was full of scorn and warning. It was then that I noticed that I knew that voice.

I had not spoken to her since the night I was turned.

"You punks better just want directions." She warned, her voice full without the slightest hint of fear. "Otherwise, you're biting off more than you can chew."

"It couldn't be." I began walking toward an alley I had just passed, curiosity getting the better of me. "Why would she be in the city?"

I never thought, before that moment, I'd ever felt the urge to be wrong so strongly. I had been spot on with each and every assumption. There was indeed a mugging in process, but it looked like might escalate into something much more violating. Five young men had a young girl roughly the same age surrounded with her back to a dumpster, but that wasn't what I wanted to be wrong about. As much as I wanted the woman in peril to be anyone else, it was clear as day.

It was Christine Willis

I knelt by a collection of trashcans on the off chance someone decided to look my way. It was very unlikely. The long alleyway was one of those that was behind two sets of buildings. I was on the end that sat on Bowery with the other end on Elizabeth Street. Whomever these pest were they had chosen a decent ambush spot. There were only two ways out of the alley, either my end or the other. For Christine, or whomever was rash or stupid enough to enter alone, she would have to run one-fifth of mile in either direction if she was directly in the center, which she was.

I considered how to proceed. Five humans was child's play, even if they were armed with knives. The hard part was how to disable, or kill if I didn't feel like giving myself another handicap (I didn't), all five of them without Christine catching sight of me. One slight glimpse in the streetlights that marked the back entrance of a building and I might as well hand write a letter to Matthew that I was a genuine risk to vampire kind. I could glamor Christine, but I might not have the chance. One scream and crowds would converge on the spot like zombies in a Romero film.

I saw there were two lights closest to them.

One hung overhead behind Christine. It was dim for humans, but plenty for me to see Christine had not only filled out more but she had let her grow to her shoulders and dyed it blond. She seemed to be wearing very light clothing for the cool month of February, a thin long sleeve shirt with equally thin jeans and sneakers. This far north, winter tends to overstay its welcome and the temperature was below freezing this late at night.

The second light shone brightly behind the five men, the youngest looking no older than seventeen. It must have been recently replaced because not only could a human see them clearly as day, Christine was squinting and turning away from the light. Another clue they had chosen this spot well. The bright light would prevent Christine from getting a good look at them.

I looked around for something of use. To my dismay, no one had installed a light switch that would shut all of the lights off, but I did notice a chunks of loose asphalt where the alley floor met the sidewalk. I reached over carefully and a piece the size of walnut came loose. Another piece and I just might have solved the light issue.

That was when I heard two quick footsteps with a metallic click that I heard in enough films as someone thumbing back the hammer of a gun.

Unlike Tasha, most humans learn the hard way the result of sneaking up on a vampire. Unfortunately its not a long lived lesson. You get roughly the same end by stalking a tiger and ambushing it with your bare hands.

The unlucky human, probably a lookout should any passerby try to be a hero, did not even have the time to gasp at how fast I stood from my crouch. He certainly did not have the air to gasp when my fist caved in his throat, crushing his Adam's apple and larynx. His eye rolled back and his body went limp, collapsing like a ragdoll. In his hand was a small gun, a Charter Arms Bulldog snub nosed revolver when learned more about firearms months later, and snatched out of the air the second his grip loosened.

Gun in hand, I fully extended my right arm and aimed in the general direction of the bright light behind what I guess were gang members of somekind. Now I had never fired a gun in my life. Truth be told, I hadn't see one outside of a television, but I knew generally how they worked. Just point and squeeze the trigger, which I did. A practiced shot knows about the recoil, or kickback, when you fire a gun and knows to adjust and prepare for it. I did not. A practices shot also knows not to use a short barreled firearms, like a snubnose, to hit a mark from too far out. Again, I did not.

Even with my vampiric strength being more than ample to handle the recoil, I doubted even a novice would have wasted all five shots to hit two targets. Still, it was enough for the gang members to realize Christine wasn't without help.

A moment later, I heard the lookout's body hit the floor.

Coño!" shouted the one who bolted for cover. "¿Quién es?"

"Forget who it is!" snapped another in Hispanic accented English. "Disparar!"

I was in full predator mode now, assessing each one of the five humans and looking out for a weakness. One was hiding behind a cluster of trashcans and a second scrambled for similar cover on the opposite wall. Two were fumbling inside their coats for something, not imminent threats. The final one was limping on what I guessed was a sprained ankle. It also seemed he cut his hands when he threw himself onto the floor when I fired the gun.

Like the gazelle with broken leg amongst the herd, he was the first to go.

Before anyone could blink, I came up from behind him and kicked both of his Achilles' tendons hard. The force was almost enough for him to backflip, almost. He went up about five feet before gravity reasserted its grip and brought his entire body crashing down onto the top of his head. Judging by the sound of his skull cracking on the pavement and his neck snapping like a brittle twig, I doubted he felt more than a slight pinch.

If only his comrades were that fortunate.

I heard the metallic click again along with a self assuring whisper. "Teach 'em to mess with the Latin Kings."

I turned to see where two of the humans, probably members of the Latin Kings like the rest of them, had been fumbling inside their coats. I saw now they were trying to draw their handguns as well and had done so. I may have taken out two significant sources of light, but the streetlights at opposite ends of the alley and the other security lights along the alley gave enough dim light to make out my position. No doubt they could where I was, but only my eyes could were unhindered.

With shaking hands, he drew up to aim and I was on him in like cobra on a rat. He saw me coming and tried to squeeze the trigger on his gun in reflex, but I was already behind him. I seized his wrist and yanked it sharply to the left. He yelped when the motion dislocated his shoulder, but his friend screamed when the bullet shattered his kneecap. Not wasting time, I rammed my elbow hard under his dislocated shoulder and felt his ribcage crumble and possibly his liver rupture.

Somewhere between the sixth gunshot and pausing to see a human struggle to move with shattered bones while coughing up blood and bile, I recalled hearing a strange noise. When I had time think, I could describe as wet thick gloppy sound. It reminded me of the first time I saw construction workers mixing concrete and making wet plops whenever it splashed onto the floor.

No sooner than the noise begun, it was replaced with the unmistakable snarl of a viscous dog and the all too soothing symphony of gurgling screams when a human's throat is ripped out mid scream. I turned to my left and saw the strangest thing. Well, strange considering I hadn't seen, heard, or smell it in the alleyway a moment ago.

A very large Doberman Pinscher savagely tore a chunk of bloody flesh from the neck from one that was smart enough to hide behind a collections of trashcans when I opened fire. The human made that panicked gurgling sound again which I took he meant to sound more like pleads of mercy and examined the dog.

When it pounced on the human's throat again, I saw it was a bitch.

She stood at an impressive thirty-five inches or so. She was also very compact, but clearly in top physical condition. However much she weighed, I doubted even two percent was body fat. Whomever the owners were, they had chosen not to crop her ears or dock her tail. Instead of short erect ears and a small nub, this bitch had slightly longer ears like those of a collie or retriever and her tail was curved up like a husky's. Her typical black and tan coat almost gleamed in the dim light it was so clean. It was so short that it was a miracle the creature didn't freeze the moment the temperature dropped low enough.

I noticed that the human with the shattered kneecap, courtesy of his comrade's gun, had managed to ignore his wound enough to turn over on his belly and aim his gun at the creature. I'm not sure why that would matter to me. I had just met the stray and this fight was none of her concern, but I seized the back of his head and crushed his skull between the floor and my palm.

The sound of his skull giving way must have registered and she looked up from her own kill. Her gaze switched from me to the human and the gun still his limp grip. Despite the delicious hemoglobin staining her snout and the fact she had torn someone's throat out, she did not give off a dangerous aura. She had when her jaws were locked on the human's throat, but now she appeared curious at my presence since the potential threat had been delt with. Her brilliant brown eyes radiated with intelligence and they bore into me. I swore I had seen this dog somewhere before and she clearly remembered me, but I did not.

I stood slowly and she watched me like hawk, her eyes never leaving my face. I was not afraid, but she had done me a favor by saving me a kill and I had no desire to harm the creature because she interpreted a sudden move as a hostile one.

Both of our heads whipped east. She no doubt had caught the sound of police sirens as I had. The entire scuffle couldn't have lasted more than thirty seconds, but every cop in Manhattan would converge onto this spot in a matter of minutes. While everyone like to joke that cops only move quickly when someone says "free donuts", the words "Shots fired" was more accurate and I fired a good number of them myself.

The bitch growled at the sirens.

"Relax," I chuckled. "They won't bother you." I smiled at her and she cocked her head. "Just go back -" I paused and looked around.

Something was wrong.

I played back the fight in my head. There had been five humans excluding Christine. Since she was nowhere to be seen, I figured she had slipped away during the commotion. I began mentally cycling through the humans I had killed. There was the one with the sprained ankle, one. Then I had driven my elbow into the one of pair that drawn their guns. I looked to see blood and bile around his mouth where he lay, now dead. That made two. My German companion had ripped one of their throats out and I had finished off the one who had tried to shoot her. Both of those made it four.

I had missed one!

As if to obliterate the notion he had simply fled while I slaughtered his comrades, a seventh gunshot rang loud in the night and it was quickly followed by a dog's yelp.

I turned just in time to see him, standing from behind another dumpster. His hair was shaved close to his head and he was wearing a black sports shirt with golden numbers under a thin hoodie. He had black hair, brown eyes and a medium build. I guessed he was the leader of the group since he seemed to be the oldest, somewhere in his late twenties.

He had just enough time to twitch the gun in my direction before my hand was around his throat and he was off the ground. My hand, too small to properly wring his neck, instinctively tightened and he was so frightened that he did not bother kicking as I expected.

" ¡Dios mio!" He wheezed as his hands tried to remove mine from his thoat. "¡Eres el diablo!"

"No." I growled. "Pero darle mis saludos."

I brought him close and then slammed him as hard as I could against the floor. He bounced slightly, hardly a quarter of an inch, but he was dead before he fell onto the floor a second time. Blood began running from the back of his caved skull and I was sure there would be brain matter when he was moved.

I was half a second from leaving the alley, the sirens were becoming louder, and walking the mere seven blocks to my apartment, but I still had a few hours of night left and fate was not about let me have them to myself. Part of me wondered if I was ever going to get to see Tim Curry's appearance as Doctor Frank N. Furter. For god's sake, I had only seen the first two scenes.

I heard the strange gloppy noise again and I turned to see some sort of silvery gray haze envelope the dog. Hardly a second passed before the haze faded and instead of wounded dog, a naked Christine lay curled up on the cold ground.

So my sweet Christine was a Shifter.

Part of me, the bit not shocked beyond belief, felt betrayed. We had talked about everything together at one time or another. Surely the fact she could turn into quite the literal bitch was something she could have told me. I could keep a secret. Not one of my friends were aware of my less than happy family. If by some chance I did tell someone, who'd believe me? Werewolves were a well known urban legend, but not Were-dogs.

I went to her and knelt. Despite the freezing temperature, her skin felt hot to the touch. I saw the bullet had gone into her lower abdomen just a few inches higher and to the right of her navel. I had never seen a gunshot wound, but it looked major if the heavy bleeding was anything to go on. Her breathing was rapid and the cold air made it look she was making smoke signals with her mouth, but the steam from the bloody hole in her side was like a chimney in nineteenth century England.

I gently laid a hand on her neck to check her pulse, but she grasped my wrist with sudden burst of desperate strength.

"D-D-Dominick . . ." she choked through the pain, her eyes having difficulty staying on me. "I-i-is it you?"

"Yes." I said quietly and took off my coat.

Barnabé would stake me if he could see how badly I was about to ruin my coat. I noticed my cane was tucked away in the special pocket that ran along the inside and metal chastised myself for not using it. I laid it out flat next to Christine and spared a look around. Those police sirens would be here in seconds and we needed to disappear. I quickly pulled her onto the coat, which I did not begrudge her for crying out at the sudden movement, and wrapped her up in it.

I quickly stood, Christine in a tight bundle in my arms, and looked down to the end I had entered from. The sirens were deafening now and I could see red and blue lights bouncing off windows of cars and stores which dyed the corners of the alley in the same colors. Then i turned to see the other end. It seemed I or Christine hadn't run out of luck. The end that led to Elizabeth Street was clear, or it appeared to be. From there, I was sure I could reach my apartment relatively unseen. It was only seven blocks and everyone would head in the other direction to see what the commotion was. Not to mention my vampiric speed would render us a blur.

"You're dead." I heard Christine whispered.

"Yes." I looked down at her.

"Am I?" I could hear the fear in her voice and I saw it in her eyes. "Am I, Dom?"

"Not yet."

Then I took off toward Elizabeth Street with the love of my life in my arms, naked as the she was born.

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