Hannagan’s was a rough and tumble place that ironically sat on the corner of Blood Alley just north of town. The story went that back in the day the original owner PJ Hannagan threw so many drunkards out mid-brawl that cleaners had to come down every morning and hose blood from the lane way outside. Eventually the lane earned the nickname Blood Alley and when old PJ passed away the City officially named it in his honour. It always struck Gabriel as a strange kind of memorial, but made for a good yarn all the same.
He straightened up on the stool and prepared for what he would say once Harrison arrived. How would he explain his appearance? Or better yet, his disappearance?
“I had money you wouldn’t show,” Harrison laughed as he walked up and took the stool next to Gabriel. “Damn it Gabe, I just can’t get you figured.”
“Well here I am,” he grinned, holding out his arms. “What are you drinking?”
“Beer,” Harrison told him. “I’ll catch the next one.”
He and Harrison had been through hell together and there was a time when Gabriel considered him a brother, but everything was different now. He wasn’t sure if it was the extra sensory perception that came with being a strigoi, or just plain gut instinct, but something was off with his old friend. Way off.
When the bartender placed two beers down on the bar, Gabriel grabbed them and walked back to the table. “So, what’s this all about Harrison? What’s been going on with you and my parents?”
Harrison took a long mouthful before resting the bottle back on the table. “They were worried Gabe. When you disappeared they were distraught, and hell, the Army was on a war path. You went AWOL. You took leave and never came back. Your mother wanted to get the police involved but I told her that might not be a great idea, you know with everything. But hey, you don’t need to thank me. I’m just glad to see you’re alright. Better than alright by the looks.”
Gabriel nodded. He knew when he disappeared there would be hell to pay with his superiors. There was always a chance his parents could call the police, but he figured they had their own ideas about why he left. “Well I appreciate that Harrison. The last thing I needed was the cops sniffing around.”
“That’s what I figured, what with your situation and all.”
Gabriel stared at his old friend and tried not to react. “My situation?”
“That’s right.” Harrison took another swig and shook his head. “For a while now, some weird shit has been going on around town Gabe. Figured you might know something about it?”
The tone of his voice sent a chill through Gabriel. He thought of Aurora and wished he had brought her with him. “What’s going on out there Harrison? Better still, what makes you think I would know anything about it?” He was almost afraid to hear the answer but if it had something to do with vampires or demons he needed to know, now.
Harrison frowned and took another mouthful. “It’s a hell of a thing Gabe. You’ll need to keep an open mind.”
“Well you’ve certainly got my interest. Let’s hear it.”
“After you disappeared, I took some leave of my own from the Army and decided to do some private investigation work, you know, just to top up the bank account. Anyway, I was hired by a woman whose husband was found dead in a cave up in the Peaks along with a bunch of other people. They’d been on a group camping trip with the church of all things. Anyway, when the police wrapped up the initial investigation, they put it down to an animal attack, but she wasn’t convinced. Now you and I, we’ve been through a lot Gabe but this was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The pictures, there was just something about it that didn’t sit right with me, something that didn’t quite add up.”
Gabriel nodded but his mind was reeling. Where was Harrison going with all this?
“Thing is, there were no suspects and no human DNA found on the scene other than what could be traced back to the vics.”
“Right, so it was an animal attack,” Gabriel said. “Seems pretty straight forward?”
“Not as straight forward as you might think.” Harrison grinned and called for a waitress. “See the experts put it down to wolves because wolves, like most carnivores, go for the organs first. Liver, kidneys that kind of thing because offal is high in protein. In wolf packs the older, dominant animals eat first and get the best organs. Then younger ones get the scrap meat. You with me so far?”
Gabriel frowned. “Since when did you become an animal expert?”
“Since that case, and you want to know why?”
Gabriel nodded, keen to find out how much his old friend already knew.
“Because Gabe, only the livers were gone. The rest of the pieces were still littered around the cave.”
After delivering the news Harrison sat back in his chair and stared at Gabriel. “You follow what I’m saying?”
“I’m not sure. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that no wolves, or any other pack of animals hungry enough to kill a group of campers would have left the rest of the meat and offal around the cave. Animals don’t waste food Gabe, you know that.”
Gabriel knew how thorough Harrison could be. Back in the Army he had been an expert sniper. It had been his responsibility to know everything about the mission, to make sure there would be no surprises. He would have done his homework well.
“So what are you getting at Harrison? Spell it out for me.”
“I’m saying that I don’t think animals were responsible for those murders.”
They fell quiet as the waitress placed the beers on the table.
“So, who was?”
“Not who mate…” Harrison looked around to make sure no one else was listening. “What.”
Gabriel stiffened. Was it possible that Harrison already knew about the existence of vampires? Did he know about demons? Worse still, did he know about him?
“What in the hell are you talking about? What do you think it was then? Werewolves? Bigfoot? What?”
But Harrison ignored the remark. “You can’t tell me that anyone who would do something like that could be classed as human. They’re monsters mate, monsters who need to be caught and brought to justice.”
Gabriel breathed a sigh of relief. When Harrison said monsters, he meant people who did things that were inconceivably bad, not the kind of monsters he and Aurora were after. Harrison knew nothing of vampires, only the evil that humans could do. Gabriel was starting to wonder which was worse. He took a long mouthful and calmed himself. Whatever Harrison was chasing had nothing to do with him. His secret was safe.
“And there’s been sightings reported,” Harrison added. “Of a stranger around town.”
“A stranger?” Gabriel laughed out loud. “This is hardly a country town Harrison, of course there are strangers.”
“Alright, alright, my mistake. Not strangers as much as people who are strange.”
“In particular, a male, mid 30s with pale skin and long white hair always tied back in a plait. People say he’s just weird looking.”
Gabriel swallowed hard. Lucius. “Weird looking? And that’s a crime these days?”
“People say he just doesn’t look right,” Harrison continued. “Like he’s sick or something. What do you make of that?”
“Pretty broad, could be anything. Maybe he is sick?”
“Or it could be something.”
“Alright, you obviously have a theory Harrison I know you too well. What is it? Better still, what the hell does it have to do with me?”
“Too right I do.” Harrison sat up taller and got comfortable in his chair. “I’ve been doing some research and the black market for stolen organs is wide open.”
Gabriel stared back at him. It was the last thing he expected to hear. “Wait, let me get this straight. You think this stranger with white hair who looks sick, murdered a bunch of people and stole their organs right here in Hania? And then what? Sent a bunch of livers to Mexico in a cooler? That’s a stretch mate, even for you.”
“Maybe. But there’s something else.”
Once again Gabriel tensed. “And what’s that?”
“You seem to know him.”
Gabriel choked on his mouthful of beer and the liquid sprayed out across the table. “What in the hell are you talking about? How would I know him?”
“You tell me Gabe. I’ve got a witness placing you whispering with this guy under a tree out in the middle of nowhere.”
Gabriel’s mind flew back to the night outside Aurora’s farmhouse. How in the hell had anyone seen that? “That’s impossible. I only got back to town a couple of days ago.”
Harrison nodded slowly and peered at Gabriel like a witness on the stand. “I’m no rookie out for the first Gabe. And I know you. I know you’ve been up in the cabin for a lot longer than that.”
“Harrison - ”
“Let me finish. That trip I made up to your cabin, it wasn’t the first.”
Gabriel stared at Harrison and anger coursed up through his chest. How dare he spy on him? Just who the hell did he think he was? “This little catch up is over,” Gabriel announced, standing to leave. “And here’s a tip old friend. I advise you make that trip the last. The very last. Do we understand each other?”
“Sit down mate, I’m not here to make your life difficult. Just hear me out.”
Gabriel fixed him with a look. He had no idea where this was going but if he stormed out now, he would spend the rest of the night wondering what was coming next. “Fine,” he agreed. “But you’re walking a thin line.”
Harrison nodded and leaned in close. “When I saw the photo, I knew right away that it was you.”
“Can I finish?”
Gabriel sat back and crossed his arms like a spoiled child. “Get to the point.”
“At first I didn’t believe it, but there I was staring at a picture of you, my old mate who I thought had left town, talking to the very man I’d been looking for in relation to the murders.”
“Can I interrupt you there?” Gabriel began. “I’m having some trouble connecting the dots. How do you know this guy is connected to the murders and who showed you a photo of me talking to him in the dark?”
“Gabe,” Harrison said. “I never said the photo was taken at night.”
Gabriel immediately cursed himself. Now there was no denying the connection was true. Damn it.
“So you do know him?”
“Just connect the dots for me. How do you link him to the murders?”
“The police have reports from a couple of hikers who saw this guy hanging around the scene immediately after the murders, but like I said, there was no evidence that any human other than the victims was ever in that cave. And they couldn’t track this guy down. All they ever had was the eye witness report. I was at a dead end, couldn’t get shit on this guy until your father called.”
“That’s right. He called me one day saying he thought you were in trouble.”
“My father knows about this?”
“Gabe, your father is a retired Army Colonel. Do you really think he’d just sit back and accept that his son had disappeared? When you vanished, the cabin was the first place he went.”
Gabriel was in shock. For the past 10 years he believed he was the one watching out for his parents when all along it had been his father watching out for him.
“He knew you must have had a good reason for going AWOL and a damn good reason to disappear like that, so he just let you be, for the most part anyway. Every now and again he would check on you, after the Army gave up looking that is.”
“So, my father thinks I’ve been hiding in the cabin and hanging out with some kind of serial killer for the past 10 years? That doesn’t make any sense. Why didn’t he approach me?”
Harrison shrugged. “He didn’t know what to do Gabe. It was the first time he had seen you talk to anyone since you left, and it just happened to be the same guy I was looking for in relation to the murders.”
“So you’ve stayed in touch with him all this time?”
“Of course, we were like brothers you and I. When you vanished I was scared to death. It was only because your father trusted me enough to tell me where you were that I didn’t keep searching for you myself.”
Gabriel couldn’t tell if Harrison was friend or foe and he cursed himself for not realising that people had been watching him. So much for his extraordinary senses. “So how many times have you been to the cabin? How much spying have you been doing?”
“Come on, don’t be like that.” Harrison sat back in his seat and took a mouthful of beer. “The first time was when your father confided in me that you were up there. I had to see for myself Gabe, you understand, just so I knew you were alive. The second time was not long ago after your father called me about the photo he had taken, and the third, well, that was yesterday.”
Gabriel nodded. It was a lot to take in.
“So that’s everything,” Harrison said. “I’ve told you all I know. Now it’s your turn old friend. Let’s start with what really happened to make you disappear like that.”