The scream is always worth it.
“So, I trust we have an understanding now, Marv.” I smiled. “Cuz if we didn’t, I dunno, I might lose my grip. It’s a long way down.”
Hal’s agency had been hired by the parents of one Amanda Lei to “discourage” Amanda’s former boyfriend Marvin Ladhoff, who’d gone all stalker and was starting to get dangerous. No police involvement, no court order of protection. Just Marv and me and the roof of the Standard Oil Building.
I picked Marv here up in the alley behind the Lei’s home. Marv had a switchblade and a Smith and Wesson .38 Special on him. How typical. Marv screamed then, too. I crushed both weapons, locked Marv in the back of the Monster and drove downtown. I know a security guard at the Standard Oil Building (yes, I know it’s not called that anymore). He let me in and turned off the cameras so I could take ol’ buddy Marv up to the roof. I was dangling him out over the city, holding him by his left ankle. One by one, I released a finger. Gotta hand it to Marv, he desperately held onto his delusion of romantic love with Amanda. Until I was down to my index finger and thumb. THEN reality kicked in. Marv soiled himself both ways, which would be funny in anyone’s book, but made more so by him being upside down. I hauled him in. He was crying, hysterical, curled up on the roof. I stood him up, shook him a bit and got him to concentrate on me.
“Now, Marv. About that understanding.” I said, again smiling. “You are not going to EVER see Amanda again, am I right?”
“y-y-yes.” Marvin said, trying hard not to look at me.
“And I wasn’t here, you never saw me, you never met me, right?”
I took his chin in my hand and made him look at me. “Because, if for any reason, I need to talk to you again, well, learn how to fly.”
I took him back to the ground floor, and outside, tossing my man at the building a fifty. I hailed a cab, put Marv in it, and handed the cabby Marv’s driers license.
“Take him to this address, and nowhere else. Here’s a hundy for your trouble.” The cab pulled away, and I got back in my car. The job paid a grand, minus the hundred and fifty I just shelled out. The Lei’s were in the clear. They’d never see Marvin again.
I drove on home. Home is an old funeral parlor on Irving Park road in Chicago, just across the border from Elmwood Park. It has nice living quarters upstairs, plenty of room to move around in downstairs, and a huge garage to park my vehicles. The old shop that was used to prepare bodies is now my weapons shop. I added a library in one of the visitation rooms along with a desk, wi fi and a computer. The security system is as good as it gets, and I sweep for bugs once a month. The neighbors know I live here, and they’re OK with that. Keeps the gang bangers low and out of sight.
I parked the Monster next to the Tomahawk and went upstairs. The Tomahawk? The Tomahawk is a concept vehicle designed by Chrysler. It’s kind of like a motorcycle, but has a Dodge Viper V10 engine, and front and rear side by side tires. Top end is 300 miles per hour. Including mine, nine were sold. It’ not street legal, but that doesn’t stop me from using it.
I still use an old style answering machine. There were no messages. That was good. I’d been running since I got back from Oregon. Four wives cheating on their husbands, two husbands cheating on their wives, a recovery of a child from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent, and tonight’s stalker. Oh yeah, and bodyguard duty for a celebrity client. I can’t tell you his name due to his request of client confidentiality, but he used to be on Friends and when you pick him up at the airport, the sign has to read “Johnny Plastics”.
I wasn’t hungry. But then again, I usually eat because I have a taste for something, or to be polite, or to provide material for the nannites. After I got back from battling the Wendigo, I ate two large Lou Malnoti’s stuffed pizzas, a bucket of KFC, and a whole cannoli cake. A 24 hour sleep, and I was good as new.
So I sat down to watch TV. Toho’s “Frankenstein Conquers the World” was on. I laughed at the kismet. I mean, here was Frankenstein watching a Frankenstein movie. And a bad Japanese giant monster one at that. At least it wasn’t Jet Jaguar. I wonder if Dracula has experienced this. My mind drifted. I was thinking about that evening at Squirrels. Carla had a little too much to drink, and on the way back to the motel…
My cell phone rang. Magnison flashed on caller ID. He’s CPD’s Special Response Unit honcho. He only calls me with bad news. I accepted the call.
“Wassup?” I asked. “It’s after midnight, so this can’t be good,”
“It’s not.” He replied. “Can you come down here?”
“Hmmm…OK, see you in an hour.”
Captain Eric Magnison of the Chicago Police Department was currently in charge of the Special Response Unit, or more commonly called the Unit. He’s a veteran officer and a former SWAT commander. He was transferred to the Unit when his SWAT team ran afoul of a sewer troll in 1992. Magnison was the only one left alive, stopping the troll by going full auto on a Barret Light .50 rifle. The monster dropped two feet short of him. He returned to work after six months of rehab. He was transferred to the Unit after that. Since trolls regenerate, I’m sure the troll was confiscated by the spooks. The only reason I know this is because Hal is a weirdness magnet and’s been dealing with this stuff since his early twenties, starting back in 1985. At the time, Hal worked the supernatural cases with Doctor Alex Velsig, an intern at Loyola studying psychiatry. Velsig was a vampire hunter as well as a doctor. Anyway, their antics attracted the attention of detective sergeant Ralf Steranko of CPD homicide. Steranko entered the world of the shadow. After Steranko thwarted an attempt to kill and replace Mayor Daley by the shapeshifter Andrew Cobb, the Mayor had Steranko promoted all the way to Captain, and given permission to recruit officers who survived encounters with the supernatural into the Unit. The Special Response Unit is officially listed as an “anti-terrorist” specialty unit independent of SWAT. And I’m sure if there was a terrorist attack, they’d respond. But the public is generally unaware of their true purpose. Steranko retired in 2005, and was replaced by Magnison.
I drove the Monster to meet Magnison at Chicago Police headquarters at 35th and Michigan. The Unit is based in the converted sub-basement. It connects to the old tunnels beneath parts of the city. I parked and went in. I checked in at the desk officer, who rang Magnison. He came up, and escorted me down into the bowels of the building.
“Glad you came, Garrett.” he said quietly. “This is pretty bizarre.”
The elevator doors opened and we entered Unit land. Officers were breaking down and cleaning weapons. Some were taking off tactical armor. They’d been out that night. We walked thru the squad room and entered their own morgue.
On a metal table, a decomposing dead body lay.
“Wow. Yep, he’s dead.” I said.
“Yeah, the problem is he and another dozen of his pals were ambulatory and trying to break into the Field Museum of Natural History. The officers responding to the alarm were overwhelmed. We responded and shot these things to pieces but they didn’t fall, not even with a head shot. Finally, they just all collapsed.”
“Well, that’s freaky.” They make any noises?”
“No. They just staggered towards us, and wouldn’t stop. Look, they tried to strangled the two responding officers. Are these zombies? I’m surprised they didn’t eat ’em.”.
“No. Not zombies. Forget that crap you see in George Romero movies. Zombies aren’t actually undead. They’re alive. A zombie is created by a bokor, which is a bad gut voodoo priest. He uses toxins to slow the victim’s vitals, then he uses his black magic to sort of… put his victim’s soul in a vessel. The body is still alive and as soon as the bokor releases the soul, the victim will be all right again. Until then, however, the zombie is the bokor’s robotic slave. They don’t eat. Hey, there’s a couple of major fruit companies that pay a bokor to provide them with zombie pickers. They don’t pay the zombies, and even after paying the bokor, they’re still ahead. Haiti’s secret police, the Ton Ton Macoute, were loaded with bokors before Baby Doc fled the country.”
“Then what were these?” Magnison asked.
“Animated corpses, probably from a graveyard.” I replied. “They were moving, but not alive or undead. Just puppets. Necromancers can do that. Some of your more powerful vampires can as well. So, there’s something in the museum our hidden puppet master wants. What, well, guess we gotta find out.”
We walked back to the elevator.
“Look,” I said, “I’ll start looking into it. Two grand standard consulting fee. If I have to get involved, well, the rate goes up. It’ll be OK to rebury them. They’re dead. You run into these again, use .308 or better to blow them to pieces. .223 doesn’t do anything.”
I returned to the garage, got in my car, and pulled out. I tuned in a night time jazz show I listen to. The host is a guy named Lon Midnight. I kind of appreciate his dry wit. I headed back home, windows down to catch the late spring air.
In the morning, I went thru my mail. Not much comes to my home. Most people who need to contact me either send or care of the Dempster Agency or go thru my attorneys, Dallas and Fielding. So we had sales flyers, coupons for carpet cleaning, the park district quarterly… OH! The Kingsize catalogue. I’d look at that later.
What I was looking for was this manila envelope. Doctor Goldman sent it. Inside were copies of my latest x-rays, and a briefing on the physical he gave me when I got back from Oregon. I looked at the x-rays, not seeing any breaks, which was good. Beyond that I’m unqualified to go beyond that. So, I read the doctor’s briefing. Hmmm… blood pressure, pulse, respirations all on the very low end of human norms, and that’s at rest. Test shows subject able to hold breath for over an hour. Well, I knew that. Subject shows indications of increased bone and muscle fiber density. I took that to mean that the things in me that make me “me” were making a better me in response to the punishment I endured fighting the Wendigo. Sometimes being inhuman is SO cool. I just hoped I wouldn’t get any uglier. Let’s see, what else. No diseases, no signs of cancer, Vision better than 20/20. Nightvision due to being able to see higher and lower into the spectrum. For me, a clean bill of health. Great! A shower and a cup of coffee and I was out the door.
I pulled out of the garage. My neighbors. The Shimmels, waved hi. I waved back. They weren’t too thrilled with me moving in, but they warmed up after I sat on some white trash vandalizing heir house with swastika graffiti. “Alt Right” they call these assholes these days. I gave ’em some alt rights and some alt lefts. I was pretty tough on them. You might say I violated their alt rights. I’m so cool.
Someone was animating the dead and using them to try to gain access to the museum. Which presents me with two mysteries. Who is doing it, and what do they want. I thought I’d start with door number one. I drove into the city, headed for the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel. It’s at 636 S. Michigan. In a bygone age, movie stars and gangsters like Al Capone, and even US Presidents patronized it. It’s home to Chicago’s legendary “smoke filled room” that selected nominees and fixed elections. It’s been thoroughly renovated. It’s beautiful, a monument to things that were, and we all kind of hope would return. I popped my phone out and called ahead. One does not call on the king of the city unannounced.
The hotel has 21 floors, 22 really, but folks superstitiously never count the 13th floor. Most buildings don’t have a 13th floor, but the Blackstone does, complete with its own elevator. Originally, the Capone mob used it for special purposes, particularly when meeting with out of town guests like Lucky Luciano. There’s a private staircase that connects it to a room on the 14th floor. The G-Men never found out about it, and eventually, the 13th floor was taken over by Salvatore Alighieri, Chicago’s king.
Every decently large city in North America, Europe, South America, and Asia has a “king” or “queen”. That one supernatural entity that’s more powerful than any other in the territory. The king attracts the expected entourage of toadies, expects tribute from those under his control, and grants license to be in his territory, as long as you follow his rules. Visitors are expected to present themselves before the king’s court to pay homage. And due to their ability to move unnoticed in public, at least half the kings are vampires.
Guys like me don’t get permission or pay homage as we’re too powerful to do too much about. A sort of… truce, if you will, exists.
Now Sal, and he hates when I call him that, is a vampire. He used to be an up and coming mobster until he was wacked by the Giancana mob for reasons unknown. Left to die on the walkway on lower Wacker Drive, he was found by Matilda, a vampires that used to pose as a homeless person. She turned Sal, who returned the favor by draining Matilda, destroying her and absorbing her power. Vampires can do that to one another, regardless of type. It’s frowned upon by them, being regarded as anything from “unsporting” to an unpardonable offense. But they do it none the less. It’s why Dracula is so much more powerful than a lot of ancients.
Anyway, Sal repeated the process, in between feeding on hookers and other street people, until he was powerful enough to take control of Chicago from its previous king, Michael Flynn, the Hull House Devil Baby all grown up. Michael’s still around, but he pretty much stays out of sight.
There’s a lot of types of vampires. Go on Wikipedia and see. Regional names, local variations, different origins, as well as draining each other, creates great confusion. But there’s not as many types as folklorists and paranormal researchers think. Pretty much you have arch types. The European Vampire in all its regional names like strigoi and vrykolakes and vampire; the plague bearing hideous Nosferatu; the Chiang Shi of China; the Ghul of central Asia; the Camazotz of the pre-Columbian Americas; the Asema of Africa and the Caribbean; and the Lilitan of the Mideast. There are other, smaller groups, but these are the ones that matter. Unless of course you’re attacked by tone of them.
Sal is a European vampire. These are the ones that inspired most of the folklore that went into every vampire movie from Todd Browning’s “Dracula” to Francis Ford Cappolas’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (The more recent fictional vampires on TV and in films were inspired by an author gaining audience with a Lilitan in New Orleans.) European vampires CAN move about in daylight but lose their supernatural abilities like transformation and controlling weather. They keep their strength and speed though. Holy water burns them, they aren’t too fond of garlic, wolvesbane, or wild roses. They are repelled by the crucifix, not the cross, and the blessed host used in Catholic mass. But here’s the trick. You have to have faith. Just pulling out a crucifix if you’re not devout means nothing. To kill one, you have to behead them, which is not as easy as it sounds. Driving a stake thru their heart will put them in a death-like torpor, but it has to be a stake of white ash. No other wood will do. Neither will a metal spike or a bowie knife. Pulling the stake allows the vampire to “reactivate” if you will. So, while it’s immobilized by the stake, that’s when the hunter should behead it, then bury or better burn the head at another location after the body turns to ash. Silver DOES NOT hurt them. That’s werewolves.
I parked and entered the Blackstone. The lobby was busy with guests checking in and checking out, bell hops moving luggage carriers, and staff hurrying to meet guests’ requests. It’s a great place. Personally, I prefer the Drake, but that’s just me. If these people knew what went happened on the 13th floor…
I crossed the lobby to the private elevator to the 13th floor. Rocco and Vito, the Gatsenculo brothers, met me at the elevator door. They aren’t undead, just mooks. They looked me up and down to make sure I wasn’t carrying my revolver and knife. They are way too big to conceal without a trench coat or duster. So, convinced I was unarmed, like that mattered, they allowed me access to the elevator. Sal’s toadie, Victor “Spongey” Moko, was inside to greet me and escort me.
“Good morning, Mister Frankenstein.” Spongey began. “Don Salvatore is expecting you. We were surprised to receive your call. Is today’s visit congenial or more “business” oriented?”
“Relax, Spongey, I’m just here to ask a few friendly questions.” I said. “Think of it as congenial business.”
Now, Spongey doesn’t really appreciate being called Spongey, but he’s a small creep crawl creep Peter Lorre kind of guy, so he doesn’t object.
“That’s a relief. It took us forever to get the blood out of the carpet from your last visit.”
The elevator door opened, and Spongey hustled to keep up with my stride. He lead me to the double doors to the master suit, Sal’s office. Spongey opened the door and we entered. Spongey cleared his throat.
“Mister Johnny Frankenstein to see you, Don Salvatore.” He announced. Sal looked up from his desk. He sized me up. It was one of those surreal moments that I’m still getting used to. The Frankenstein Monster dressed like some biker dude having a stare down with a vampire dressed like Guy Caballero. Nothing prepares you for shit like that. Sal rose. He gestured to a chair.
“Please, Johnny, sit down, sit down.” He began. “Can I get you some coffee, some wine maybe?” This was nice. Sal was being hospitable. That was nice. I mean, I was just wearing a t shirt and leather pants, but it’d be a damn shame to mess up that nice white suit. I figured I’d be cordial as well.
“Coffee’s fine, Don Salvatore.” I replied. He nodded at one of his mooks to bring me a cup of espresso.
“So, what brings you all the way up here, Johnny?” Sal asked.
“I need to know who, or what, may have recently arrived in town. Magnison and his guys had to put down some animated corpses that were trying to get into the Field museum last night. The corpses hurt a couple of officers, and then dropped like someone cut their puppet strings. Anyone you know who could do that?”
He sat back thinking. Mario, his mook, brought my espresso. Finally, Sal said “No one currently in town could pull that off that I know of. Of course someone could have slipped into town that I haven’t been made aware of yet. I know I’m not powerful enough.”
“Who would be” I asked.
“A real powerful entity like Eyes So Far, someone who’s powers are all geared to the metaphysical instead of the physical.”
“No, Mikey lays low since I took his throne. He’s a cambion, a half demon. His abilities are a watered-down version of his incubus father’s. No, not him. It’d have to be someone like Ruthven or one of the Karnsteins. Dracula, of course, but you ALWAYS know when he’s in town. One of the ancients, but they don’t like to move around.”
I drained my cup. I’d hoped it was someone who’d followed protocol and come in to present themselves. This might have been a wasted trip.
“Anyone else?” I inquired.
“Well, a necromancer, or a lot of other types of wizards, could pull it off. It’s actually a lot easier for them to pull something like that off than someone like me. Of course, they play by their own rules. I don’t get any info from the Guild unless I negotiate with them and it always is expensive. Then there’s Chinatown. They’re pretty much autonomous. Getting information from them is like pulling teeth.”
“Thank you for your time, Don Salvatore. And the coffee.” I rose. “At least I know where to look next.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a name. it gets hard enough to maintain a lid on things with you around brawling with monsters in public, but I don’t need anyone on the dark side breaking my rules.” He rose and shook my hand. “I heard about that wechuge, that wendigo out in Oregon. That was a good thing you did, taking that sunnavabitch out. I hate things that prey on children.”
Which was true. Sal had outlawed children being used as prey in Chicago. It was a rule that extended into Cook and DuPage Counties. He may be a bloodsucker but he was still an Italian gangster. Family meant a lot to him. He had a soft spot for kids. From secret, he continued to watch over his mortal family. His businesses funded several children’s charities. He was a real conundrum.
Spongey escorted me back downstairs, and I left the Blackstone. Rocco and Vito were noticeably more relaxed as I left. I pulled out and drove away. My next stop was going to be the Guild. And that was not going to be as easy as having a meeting with Sal.
The Ordo Arcanum Argenta, more commonly referred to as the Guild, is located at 1516 North Lakeshore Drive, in a ten bedroom mansion built in 1916. They are THE magical authority in northern Illinois and south eastern Wisconsin. Any visiting or immigrating wizards have to check in here. Any spell lobbers of any kind in the area obey the Guild’s rules about secrecy and who or what can be summoned. Animating the dead isn’t taboo, but doing so in public is a violation. If a spell caster was the one responsible for Magnison’s walking dead guys, they may have already faced “discipline”.
So, with the heads of the insanely wealthy turning at surprise of the Monster cruising thru their neighborhood, I parked in front of the Guild. I got out of the car, and approached the door. There were no security cameras but they already knew I was there. This was going to really take testicular fortitude. A wizard has a hundred ways around my super human attributes to hurt me. I was polite with Sal because he was polite with me. These guys, I was really going to have to kiss their ass. I stepped up to the door and rang the bell.