Chapter Five: Revelations
Hogan's Bar and Grill
Dirk sat down at the bar, resting his arms heavily on the counter. "Got anything strong?"
"Been a rough day?" The bartender asked.
"Rough couple," he replied. "Something strong would probably do me good."
"You a vodka man?" He asked.
Dirk shook his head. "I prefer not to grout my insides, thanks. I could use something hard, still."
"Whiskey coming up," the bartender replied. Dirk looked around, and finally his eyes lit on the man he was looking for. He sat in the corner, with a group of people that Dirk was almost certain were not human. He squinted momentarily, as though trying to focus. Then, he heard the sound of a glass hitting the bar, and he diverted his attention back to the drink.
"Thanks," he said. "I needed this." Dirk tilted the glass back, and his esophagus burned painfully. He put the glass down, and nodded to the bartender. "I could use a refill, if you don't mind." He watched the man out of his peripheral vision. Then, he noticed the other men in the far corner, watching him. Bulges in the pockets, probably firearms. Sixth sense for trouble, and they seem to be focused on the seedier people here. Either ex-military or police. Possibly both. Dirk pounded back the drink a fourth time, and then got up and went outside. He knew he did not have to stay inside. His quarry would leave eventually, and...
"Hey." Dirk froze. It was the man, calling him over. Mentally, he had to fight the initial rise of panic. Calm down. It could be nothing. He amended the thought almost immediately. Could be. Probably isn't, though. He walked over, mentally measuring his steps and heartbeat. No fear. No fear. He repeated the statement over and over, though it did little to actually help his mental state.
"You were staring at us earlier." The man leered at him. "Got a problem?" Dirk shrugged.
"You were just getting loud," he said simply.
The man looked at him, his eyes narrowing. "I'm gonna ask you again, kid. Got a problem?"
It was all Dirk could do not to say Issues for days. Instead, he answered evenly, "No, I don't. Unless you do."
"I do." The man got up. "You come in here, and you wanna disrespect me? Stare at me like I'm some thug? I think I got a problem with that."
"I'd leave it alone," Dirk said softly, hoping that it would not actually come to a confrontation. He had hoped that maybe he could avoid pushing the issue further, but it seemed that that was not in fact the case. No one said I have to be a pushover though. "This doesn't have to get messy."
The man pushed his friend out of the way and now was standing right in front of Dirk. "Yes, it does." The hunter sighed, feeling his pulse accelerate in anticipation of a fight.
"If you insist." He saw the haymaker coming out of the corner of his eye long before it would have struck him across the chin. His left arm snapped up, and he stopped the blow inches from the side of his head. "Though I'd urge you to reconsider." The next one was a straight punch aimed at Dirk's face, but he deflected it to the side and stepped close. He saw the man's eyes go from blue to red, and his canines became more pronounced. As his face changed, Dirk simply backhanded him across the jaw. As his hand connected, the hunter processed what he felt. Thick bone structure, compacted facial features, strong jawline. Definitely mammilian and probably a Ruursa.
The man fell back, his red eyes glowing malevolently. "Eat him alive." The others moved toward him, their faces changing to mirror that of large, ursine creatures, but marked like no bear on Earth. Their eyes were red, and their grey fur was mottled with coppery splotches. Ruursa, definitely.
The blows came from all around him now; one slashed his back, though the coat absorbed a good portion of the damage. Another went for his face, and he barely managed to push the attacking limb away. Another claw slashed though Dirk's shirt, sending ripped bits of flesh into the air. Another tore at his shoulder, but the slash did not penetrate too deeply. Then the first Ruursa stepped forward and struck Dirk with a brutal uppercut, gashing his chest and stomach and throwing him back against a table. Around him, Dirk was vaguely aware of people scrambling to get out. Most of them, Dirk knew, would be creatures, but he had not had time to make sure.
The Ruursa moved in now, determined to tear this man apart. However, that would not be so simple. One tried to slash at his throat again, but this time, Dirk was ready. He deflected the strike, stepped in close, and boxed the bear's ears. The force of the blow was such the creature reeled, and Dirk saw a claw strike coming from behind him at that moment. He turned and misdirected the attack again, sending the two monsters crashing into each other.
Another came at him, but now Dirk drew a long metal baton from his belt and thrust it at the were-bear's head. As the beast roared, the stick delivered a seventy-thousand volt shock to the base of its spine. It jerked and twitched for a moment before collapsing to the floor. He spun the weapon and hit another button, extending the second Taser prod into another Ruursa. It, too, spasmed as it fell. The last Ruursa slammed into him from behind, bodying him against the wall. It swung again, claws outstretched. Dirk ducked, and the limb punched through the wall behind him. As the bear struggled to free its arm, Dirk struck it with the baton, shocking it into submission.
The whole fight had taken less than ten minutes, but Dirk could feel its effects. Even as his body healed his injuries, he could feel the inevitable pain shooting through the nerves. The rush of blood faded, and now he found himself hearing again. And the first thing he heard was a police officer putting a gun to his head.
"Son," the man's voice was gravelly and harsh, like a dozen movie police officers. Though, unlike them, Dirk was fairly certain it was not an act. "You're coming with us."
Dirk sighed. "You saw them attack me first. I don't see what the problem is here."
"You just electrocuted them into unconsciousness," the man replied. "Whatever weapon you have in that hand, I'm pretty sure it isn't legal."
"So I'm under arrest for awesome technology," Dirk said, a quizzical expression on his face. "Oh-kay?" He put his hands up. "In that case, I'm all yours, officer. As soon as you take these men into custody on multiple counts of assault, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and attempted murder."
The other officer started handcuffing the stunned men. "We will, don't worry." He looked up at Dirk. "We've got a lot of questions for you, if you don't mind. And I am sorry, but we will have to take that weapon for the time being." Dirk sighed and handed it to the officer.
"There. Now might I ask who's arresting me?"
"The police department of Seattle," he replied. "And the FBI."
Seattle Police Station
Two hours later
Dirk sat at the table, his arms cuffed to it.
"So, what can I make clearer for you gentlemen?"
"You can start by explaining how you ended up fighting a bunch of man-bears in a bar with a Taser stick," the police chief said. "Because that requires explaining."
"First." Dirk tried to hold up a hand in a dramatic gesture, which would have been a whole lot easier if he had not been seated and cuffed to a metal table. "They're not man-bears. Their common name is Ruursa. They're Russian in origin, from what I've uncovered, but we don't know much more."
"So why did they attack you?" Lucas asked.
"They're territorial," Dirk explained. "It might be because he saw me as a threat."
Douglas looked curiously at him. "You're a hunter, then?"
"A bounty hunter of sorts," he said. "These creatures have laws of their own, and I help bring in some of the worse offenders."
"So you're here about the murders," Lucas surmised.
Dirk grinned. "You better believe it. And I found out that Richard Locklear was responsible for several unrelated murders in town. There's not a whole lot I can do about that, but he has a regenerative healing factor. Your bullets wouldn't do much more than make him angry."
"And your weapon?" Douglas queried. "Where did that come from?"
"A gift," Dirk said succinctly. And no more than that.
The police chief looked at him. "A gift. A million-dollar piece of equipment with enough firepower to knock a half-ton beast on his haunches."
"What can I say?" Dirk replied, shrugging his one good shoulder and stump. "It pays well. It turns out murder and terrorism make you powerful enemies, and enemies with a lot of money in their wallets."
"Killing people for money is still murder," Lucas pointed out.
Dirk looked at him quizzically. "Remind me. At what point did I say I killed them?"
"You didn't..." Lucas looked confused. "But you said your name was van Helsing. Didn't van Helsing kill Dracula?"
"Depends on whose account you're reading," Dirk replied. "Look, I'm not a murderer."
Douglas sighed. "Look, can we keep you around? We might need your help figuring this stuff out." The hunter shook his head.
"I can't stay," he said. "There's a lot going on, and I'm needed. But..." Dirk squirmed in the chair. "Check my coat. There should be a pocket with two pairs of glasses in them. Until you learn to look right, they should help. There's a book in there, too. You can borrow it, if you'd like."
"What will we see?" Douglas asked.
Dirk sighed. "Too much, my friend. But at least you won't be stuck in the dark anymore."
Alestair straightened his tie, for the first time in awhile unsure of himself. Bet your life. Sure, because losing it once wasn't enough, he thought, feeling his usually tepid skin heating up. Calm down, Alestair. It's not like you haven't done this, what, a dozen times before? Calm down.
The bouncer stopped him at the door. "Weapons?" Alestair raised his arms.
"Search me," he replied. The man did so, wanding him down and then turning out his pockets.
After he was satisfied, the bouncer waved him through. "You know the rules, yeah?"
"No cheating," Alestair said. "And have fun."
"Good man." The vampire stepped into the club, almost instantly feeling the atmosphere hit him. It was congestive, stifling, and painful. All around him, he could smell the usual stench: tobacco, cocaine, marijuana, human pheromones, loneliness, desire, all of it.
This is where we'd feed if it weren't our own kind, he thought. Looking over, he saw the poker table. The family heads were sitting around it. So they are in town. He looked at the dealer, who he recognized from somewhere long ago. The man flashed him a knowing smile and gestured for him to take a seat.
"Welcome to The Final Gambit," he said. "And you are?"
The vampire looked at him. "Alestair Harker."
"Mr. Harker," he said evenly. "You grace us with your presence."
The reaction around the table was far less cordial. "What's he doing here?" A woman asked. Letha Parvad of the Nagai, Alestair remembered. Strange, that he could recall her name but not the dealer's. "He used to be one of the Order's attack dogs."
"Shall we speak of the blood your kind have spilled," another man questioned. This was Grigori Trask, the Ukranian patriarch of the Ruursa. "I, for one, see no harm in giving him a seat at our table. After all, he and his bumbling accomplice have helped us as they once did us harm."
"I don't like it," A third, disembodied voice put in. "But it's just a game."
The dealer raised his hands. "Now, everyone, calm down. " He looked meaningfully at Alestair, whose had had gone to his watch. "We've room for one more," he said, raising his hands as cards passed between them. As they undulated back and forth, the cards glowed with a sickly red light. "I'll deal you in. Provided you have something to bet?"
The vampire tossed a bag on the table. "Twelve pounds of 1258-mint fairy coin. Solid gold, too."
"Say no more, my carnage-loving friend." The cards flew like they had life of their own, until Alestair had his hand. He looked down at it and squinted. Straight flush, he thought. I got lucky. The vampire looked at the faces around him. Unreadable, unless you count that I know they don't like me much. He found himself afraid again, but he did his best to tamp the feelings down. Bet your life, he thought, trying to calm himself down. A woman was the first to place her bet. From the smell, he guessed she was probably a jotnar. She put a half dozen chips into the pot and sat back, looking at him as though he were something she had to clean off her shoes.
"Raise," he said, putting ten in. The next man called his bet. Alestair peered at him, trying to determine what he was; however, by smell alone, he could not tell. The next man raised, and so it went. Call, raise, raise, call. There were one or two drops, but not any surprises. Then they went again, to equalize the bets. Call, raise, drop, drop, call, raise. And then again. One by one they dropped off, until only a thin, rodent-looking man and Alestair were left.
"Put 'em down," the dealer said. Alestair put his hand on the table, as did the other man. "Full house," the dealer said. "Versus straight flush. Our vampire friend takes the victory. We'll break for the moment and return shortly." Suddenly, Alestair heard something out of the ordinary for the casino: the click of a gun hammer being thumbed back. He turned just in time to see someone approaching the table, a .45 in his hand. The vampire's mind raced. He's too far away for me to close the distance, and not everyone's noticed him. Around him, he was vaguely aware that the others had gotten to their feet as well. Correction: they have noticed. Alestair started twisting around the face of his watch, desperately trying to get the garrote wire out of it.
The man raised the gun. "Sic semper tyranus." And he shot two of the players in the head. Alestair knew, from the stench of the gunsmoke, that the bullets had been soaked in holy water. Silver, too. Extract of white oak, from the smell. The vampire had the garrote wire out now, and he went for the shooter. The man raised the gun again, but the invisible silver filaments had wrapped around his arm now, and they did their grisly work. The limb suddenly separated from the rest of his arm as if on its own, showering the richly carpeted floor and the chair and tables and even Alestair with a splatter of gore.
As the blood flew like rain, the vampire sniffed, wrinkling his nose. He reeks of corrupted flesh, he thought. Human, or at least he was. As Alestair watched, the man clutched at his arm briefly, grimacing in pain. Then, to the vampire's astonishment, he knelt to pick up his gun.
Oh no, you don't, he thought, whirling the wires about like a streamer on a maypole. They sliced through the flesh on his other arm, but Alestair could see the other limb had started to regrow. He attacked again, this time looping the wires around the man's neck and pulling them taut.
The man barely managed to choke before the sharp filaments scissored. As the body slumped to the floor, the vampire felt no joy.
"Who..." Letha began, sliding out from under the table. "Who...was that?"
"It was an assassination attempt," Alestair replied. "they're striking at you now. So it'd be a blessing to all of us if you'd kindly share what exactly, or who, more accurately, we're dealing with. " He spun his watch face, retracting the garrote wire. "But again, I don't expect a straight answer. After all, you seem much more content to gamble than to play it safe."
"Wait." The dealer's voice stopped him. "They're calling themselves the Liberatum."
Alestair turned back, folding his arms. "Latin-sounding, but I'm not sure that was their intent. Would you be so kind as to enlighten me?"
"They..." the dealer hesitated.
"Out with it," Alestair said softly.
"They want to go public," the dealer said, finally managing to force the words out. "They want to take you guys off the top of the food chain. Seeing as they're stronger, and they get stronger with each of you they kill, they thought it doable."
"I see." This is a disaster, Alestair thought. If they're really planning on flipping the food chain on its head, we're in a world of hurt. "Keep my bet for the next person who sits down." And the vampire walked out of the casino. Outside, he looked around to make sure no one was watching before he hauled off and punched a concrete pillar. This is not good. This is not good at all.