The Caldera's Vice

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Bad Move, Vatrino

“It’ll probably be a bit,” Milton said when the elevator paused at the Hub floor.

Victor shrugged, walking out, looking over his shoulder.

“It’ll take the time it takes. Good luck.”

An impish smile twitched Victor’s lips as the whining doors closed.

Milton tapped his foot, puffed of a sigh and glanced at the floor dial slip further into the grim burial grounds of the seedy underbelly of Hellhole until the needle cradled, shivering, near the bottom floor.

He jumped when the floor bumped at the landing. The door hesitated to open.

“Damn elevator,” he grumbled and walked through the door as it struggled to crack a space wide enough for him to slip out. It slammed behind him, echoing into the otherwise silent hall leading to a door at the end.

Three doors down, he reached the back office and knocked.

“Enter,” Silas’ brusque tone made Milton gulp, but he pushed the door open. The kingpin bent over a ledger on the desk, pencil in clawed hand, without a hint of acknowledgment at Milton’s entrance. Scattered paper piles left the desk a white, feathery mess.

Silas didn’t look up from his work.


A Chigaz cigarillo clung on the cliff of his taut lip, perfuming the air with its acrid aroma of rancid dust and burnt powder. Milton sunk into the opposite chair. To his right, the scratch of a record played a twangy banjo and mandolin tune accompanied by a man’s mournful drawl.

“Put your hands on the table, Milton.”


“This ain’t the time to be questioning me.”

Milton licked his lips, leaning forward to comply with the soft anvil head rumble of command with shuddering hands.

“You right or left-handed?”


A pause.

“You and Victor came across a Starved Lifter on your first run,” Silas’s attention was fixed on the paperwork that hissed as he slid it across the desk.

Smoke plumed from the bull nostrils of the kingpin’s Roman nose, coiling around the septum piercing. Milton’s eyes followed its descent towards the first couple of buttons undone on the dragon’s chest where the gold twinkle of a necklace gleamed. A heart-shaped locket dangled in its oval center.

Silas paused to ease back in his chair and unhook a Colt from his Wranglers, the barrel clinked against his belt buckle tensed Milton’s marrow and set it on a stack of papers with a soft thud. Milton eyed it. A rabbit’s gaze on a coyote hidden in the creosotes.

“That’s correct.”

The kingpin set his pencil next to a dark, earthy clump and shifted his dragon eyes to clench Milton’s soul with a deific glower. The Colt lay idle at his fingertips, mere millimeters away. Milton’s mouth hung open, breath pulsing out like a strained lizard in the desert sun. Twangy banjo scratched on the phonograph.

“You shot him and a regular Lifter dead, and brought the attention of the Mammon cops.”

“It won’t happen again,” Milton blurted.

At the last syllable of his sentence, Silas’s snake strike for the gun left Milton with no time to respond. Tendons, sinew and cartilage exploded as the bullet ripped through the back of his hand, crushing them all before it exited into the desk. Gunsmoke billowed.


Milton swallowed his scream, forcing his lips shut and gritting his teeth to keep his anguished convulsions at bay. Pangs rippled in waves from the gushing hole up to his arm and his ears. Fiery blood screamed below his skin. Tears bulged and trembled down his cheeks as he sucked another breath through his teeth, bracing the waves of compounding gruel.

“Look at me,” Silas said.

Milton quivered and forced himself to rip his nurturing and horrified stare from his wounded hand. Bruises immediately formed into welts of blood leaking out from the circular imprint the bullet forged.

“Look at me!” the ensuing thunderous bellow rang in Milton’s ears, a draconic, ancestral guttural roar. Milton jumped, flickering his gaze at his employer. Stinted breath blew through his teeth like a steam engine’s hiss, a mortifying tear rolled down his cheek.

“You’re damn right it won’t happen again.”

An unquenchable fire raged behind Milton’s irises but fear’s frostbite crept in and kept him obedient, damming the riotous flood gurgling from his gullet with his set jaw and grinding teeth. Blood slopped from the gape and soaked Milton’s tremulous fingers before pooling onto the desk. The song changed, a jaunty honky-tonk tinkled.

Silas leaned back, “One of my Falcons got a word in about you.”

Milton’s shudder blocked his ability to respond.

“Says you outright volunteered to catch up to those bastards who’ve been slinging downright lethal Tastees.”

Milton’s bumbling lips parted.

“He knows you’re a mule here, a new one at that, and that it ain’t part of your job.”

Silas’ eyes twinkled, a specter of a smile glinted as he sucked in a drag.

“I like that.”

Milton chirped, “Excuse me?”

“That you went out of your way to look into it. Shows initiative. Shows grit, the kind of toughness I mentioned on day one.”

Milton’s pain kept him from forming a response.

“In light of that, I’m offering you a second chance.”

“D-doing what?”

“Go on with your investigation. You’ll be doing the job of a Falcon, but I won’t pay you more until you’ve proven yourself.”

Milton glanced at his bleeding hand, suppressing a gag.

“Continue with the runs. Get a hold of the new drug. I hear it’s a rare, tricky bastard to find. Sling it back to me so we can have Kemp or Hunter give it a look under the microscope or whatever the hell it is those chemists do. Sound like a plan?”

Milton quivered, his teeth rattled as his gaze slipped to his hand and the clotting blood.


Silas nodded, extended his clawed hand, which Milton took. The grip made Milton wince and blood dripped between Silas’ fingers.

“Alright, get the hell out of here and get that hand patched up. I can’t afford to lose folks.”

Blood soaked through the white fabric of the handkerchief from his shirt pocket he had made into a bandage around his palm. Crippling, shuffling steps lead him in agonized slowness towards the elevator. His fingers smeared blood over the button. While he waited, his reality was a tilt-a-whirl of nausea and daggers and he fiddled with the indigenous symbol attached to the lowermost knot of his braid as a futile distraction.

He limped through the Hub, veering to the furthest left of the three pronged hallway and hugging the wall for support. It was a steep incline down into the bowels of the underground parking lot housing all of the mule vehicles. After a few long seconds of searching the enormous room, his eyes spotted Victor leaning against the side of a Model A conversing with a fellow mule.

“Vic,” Milton crashed into the car’s side paneling. A dent appeared when he peeled away. Victor’s eyes immediately looked down at the injured hand, raising a brow, teasing a grin.

“Received your hazing, did you?”

Milton’s scowl only served to spread Victor’s grin further, erupting into a hearty laugh.

“Just get me to a doctor,” he brushed past his guffawing friend and headed for the Model T they always took.

Victor’s smile extinguished in one quick sweep, “Alright.”

Milton crawled into the passenger seat.

“He wants me to do the work of a Falcon to look for the new drug on top of our usual runs.”

He used his fingertips to shut his door, grimacing, tears dripping down his cheeks. His breaths a cacophonous roar in his head.

“Why aren’t you starting the car?” Milton, raged with pain, turned.

Victor was still.

“I know why you’re doing this,” Victor’s jokester tone was gone.

“Start the car, asshole, I’m going to bleed to death!”

“Old boogeyman is back in town.”

“Victor, start the car,” Milton snapped.

The engines coughed to life with the old diesel and hummed along towards a door large enough to host the largest Model A truck opened like a chute. Victor stepped on the gas through the hallway lit by sparse placements of electric bulbs.

Milton’s breaths were short bursts. The light staccato stabbed his writhing, bloody fingers.

“One glance and it was enough to scare you downright silly,” Victor’s tone was genuine. The Model T made a sharp incline through the tunnels, climbing higher and higher until another door opened, this time revealing the dim light of the city nightscape. Despite the winter chill, beads of bullet sweat dripped down Milton’s forehead, intermingling with his tears.

“So much that even Silas maiming your hand couldn’t keep you from running away.”

Victor’s words melted in Milton’s mind as the pain tugged his eyelids down like anvils. Nausea wound a knob in his gullet. The city of Hellhole rushed past in a haze until it stopped at a white, grecian home in Mammon across the park.

“There’s only so many things to put padding on old wound.”

Victor’s words rolled in his foggy head. His vision blurred as he was lead up to the front door and collapsed.


Milton was out within two hours. A bandage was folded several times over his hand as he and Victor treked to the Model T.

“What a fine trooper you are, waiting only two hours,” Victor grumbled, starting the engines. Milton grunted but made no remark.

Victor dug into his pocket and handed Milton a slip.

“Get a good look at the customer list tonight.”

Milton snatched the sheet of paper, getting pretty close to ripping it, and looked it over in the dim city lights of the business district.

“Only three?”

“They’re in the slums,” Victor said, driving down Belial. Milton’s eyes caught a flicker of movement in the corner of his eye, flinched towards his gun and looked only to find a couple of red demons duking it out in the street. A grimace spread across his face, revealing his blunt teeth at the mistake.

“We can hit up Japheth and see what else he knows.”

Victor turned down a side street, down Belial towards Johnny’s Paradise until they reached them. The vaporous plume of sulfur drifted over the smokestacks from the industrial district. Milton wrinkled his hooked nose and followed Victor down the street.

Beneath a flickering streetlight stood two demons beating gums in the alley’s dim edge.

“We’re not very discreet are we?” Milton said under his breath, touching the hilt of his gun.

“Nope. This is Johnny’s Paradise, Milton. The cops won’t care unless there is a lethally dangerous altercation. There are some mules, believe it or not, that deliver to candy stores.”

Milton stopped and looked over at Victor, incredulity spread across his face.

“Candy stores?”

Victor grinned and nodded, “Oh come now, you can’t expect us to be a moral bunch..”

Milton’s eyes widened a bit but he didn’t say anything.

“Why be discreet when you can hide in broad daylight?” Victor said as they reached the alleyway.

Victor let out a piercing whistle that made Milton wince a bit and the demons crawled out from the woodwork, their eyes glowing.

“Hey Vic,” One of them said, he had a cigarette hanging from between his teeth.

“As usual, your Simio,” Victor said, handing over the baggie as the customer exchanged it with a wad of crinkled up cash.

“Thank you kindly, Vic,” the demon said, saluting lazily with the side of his knuckles and taking out a glass pipe from his grimy coat pocket.

Milton looked at Victor, and Victor said, “Sammy old sport, you wouldn’t happen to be in a chatty mood tonight?”

Sammy fixed his attention on flicking black, slimy globs that bore a suspicious resemblance to feces dipped in gasoline into the bowl.

“What’s on your mind, Vic?”

Victor gave Milton the floor.

Milton’s voice carried a reluctant treble, “We’re looking for some information.”

“A bit of an extra baggie in it for you,” Victor winked, dipped into his coat pocket and pulled out another baggie half the size of the other one.

The demon’s glazed eyes flashed a famished gleam and licked his lips, “Anything you need to know, Vic.”

Victor flourished his hand at Milton who stepped closer.

“There’s a new strain in town-”

“The one that turns twiggy guys into real life picture theater monsters?” Sammy said, nodding and striking a match into his bowl, lighting up his serrated lips and face full of patchwork scars and discolored splotches, “Yeah, I’ve heard of that one. People call it Diesel.”

Sammy took a puff and blew it out in the exhale, releasing it both from his nostrils and mouth and leaned his head back, closing his eyes, “First hit is always the best.”

Milton cleared his throat, “Diesel?”

Sammy jerked like he’d been shaken from a short nap and nodded, quick, the pipe stuck between his teeth. A pungent smell akin to rotting fruit wafted.

“Around here more people get it and people talk,” he shrugged. “Someone with Chigaz always gets gunned down by some guy hopped up on Diesel.”

“We know that,” Milton nodded quickly “Do you know where we can find it?”

Sammy laughed, his stubble beard stretching across his chin, “You of all people to ask, mule.”

“It’s not ours,” Victor said.

Sammy’s grin faded, and took another puff, “Figured. That shit’s deadly.”

“Do you know anyone who could lead us there?” Milton pressed.

Sammy’s nod was grave, “Yeah. Smoky, we call him. Not a single drug he hasn’t tried and if he hasn’t tried, he’s known someone who has.”

“Do you know where Smoky lives?”

“Way out East nearby,” he tapped his head against the brick wall behind him as if to jog the memory, “the factories, you know? There’s a few shacks out there in the desert behind the old cotton mill. Saddleback Dunes.”

“We know where that is,” Victor and Milton shared a knowing glance, Milton’s lower lip dragged down on the sides in a grimace.

“Alrighty, old sport,” Victor clamped his hand down on Sammy’s shoulder, while extending the second baggie of Simio “As promised.”

Sammy grinned and took the bag, stuffing it into his pocket, “You take good care, Vic. Don’t let this rube newb get you into too much trouble, alright?”

“That’s assuming he already hasn’t,” Victor grinned, grim and bitter.

Milton rolled his eyes, turning, “Let’s go.”

“You knew he was going to tell us something,” Milton said under his breath on the way back to the car.

“Sammy knows quite a few people. Not nearly as many as Japheth let on but he knows who we need.”

“And you scored him another bag,” Milton opened his door and slipped in. Victor followed suit on the driver’s side.

“This seems inconsequential.”

“Won’t you get in trouble?”

Victor shrugged, “What’s a little trouble if this investigation will soothe the reopened scar in your soul?”

Milton froze as the car lurched back down the road and headed for the East side, brushing away from the slums and nearing the industrial district where lines of factories surrounded the single laned curving road. His expectant glimpses searched for the auburn hybrid haunting his subconscious.

“Why do you think he’s back?” Milton toyed with a fray in the upholstery in his seat, his focus solely on the white strands and puffy styrofoam.

Victor’s tone was a shrug, “People have their reasons for what they do.”

“Don’t be vague.”

“I can’t read his mind. And the implication that he might be back to prey on us again is far too chilling for me to bother considering.”

Milton looked out the window, the structures towered over and cast their enormous shadows on the road, swallowing the Model T like the mouth of a giant monster. He looked ahead into the desert expanding around the curve of the road. As promised, a few shacks littered the sandy landscape. Beyond those, the black rise of the caldera’s all encompassing peak.

“I hated working out here,” Milton said, grimacing as they passed the cotton mill adorned with three smoke stacks that lay dormant. Bits of cotton fluttered in the frozen air, mocking the slightest chance of snow. Its dusty odor gradually pinched his nose as it wafted, stretching its gnarled hand into the cabin of the Model T.

“Oh, just you wait,” Victor sniggered something nasty, “If you haven’t seen it already with the Starved Lifter who killed three people with his bare hands. Being a mule will make the factory a picnic.”

Victor drove off the road. The car rolled around like a rowboat in the ocean. Unloosed pebbles spat into the wheel wells’ undersides and nicked the bulbed fenders as they progressed deeper into a black sea of sand glittering under the dim winter moon. The clatter filled the silence.

To the far East, an oblong structure of resin encapsulating weaved cactus glowed; an incandescent dissimilitude against the caldera’s bleak penumbra.

The Cactus Cathedral.

“Sometimes I smell their skin burning when I drift into sleep,” Victor’s sudden voice carried a forlorn timbre. Milton grimaced, turning away, clutching his braid.

They reached the edge of the shacks, the light of the Model T shown on one of the windows festooned with spider webs and cracked glass. A rag with a massive oil stain hung loosely behind to cover it.

Milton quietly opened the door and emerged into the cold. He pulled his jacket over his torso and glanced around, “Guess we’ll see which one it is.”

“He said the one all by itself,” Victor reminded him.

Milton’s eyes fluttered over the shacks and found one a little larger than the rest and strolled over to it, his shoes scuffing against the packed black sand. Frigid wind sang through the Joshua Tree spines, a chorus of ghosts. While he walked, he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Cactus Cathedral’s angelic blaze against the backdrop of the sky.

He found the front door and rapped his bad knuckles on it by accident.

“Gah, fuck!”

Victor chuckled, an aside Milton ignored when he switched hands to give the knock a second try.


He looked around towards the window and saw a soft light glow from behind the dirty sheet covering it. The door squeaked open, revealing a gremlin.

“Smoky?” Milton asked.

“They call me that sometimes, yeah, hm, whaddya want?” Smoky’s voice was a fast stream of gravel and mucus. His focus hopped around with a jack rabbit’s impatience.

“Do you have a minute?” Milton asked.

Smoky shrugged, his ribbed tank top tattered and smelly, lifted with his shoulders.

“Does anybody?”

Milton winced, “I mean to talk.”

“You come along in here and ask me questions in the middle of the night, why don’t you come back in the morning-”

“We need the answers now,” Milton caught the door as it was being closed.

Smoky sneered up at him, “I got shanks I can stab and I can rip new ones, where the hell you two come from?”

Despite his four foot tall stature, the gremlin’s scruffy deportment was a testament to the scuffles of the past, most of which victorious.

Victor sighed and dug into his pocket, taking out a little baggie, “Stick around for a bit of Chigaz?”

Milton whipped around, snarled, “How much did you steal?”

Victor shrugged, “I assumed we would need a lot.”

Milton rolled his eyes, turning back to Smoky, “For a bag of Chigaz, can you give us information?”

Smoky cackled, revealing his four snaggled teeth, “My reputation precedes me, heh? I’d invite you in but there’s no room in the indoors on account of my filthy daughter.”

“We don’t need to come in,” Milton said, “We just need-”

“Questions, yeah, ask ’em the world don’t stop for no demon and what have you.”

“There’s a new drug called Diesel,” Milton said, “Do you know where I could get some?”

“Diesel?” Smoky tilted his head to the side, crunching his jaw and gnashing his teeth “Eh, hmmmm, that the rare one. Tried it but, eh, didn’t do much just brought out the tricksy in me” he sniggered and bit his tongue. Blood, brown and viscous, pooled on his lower lip.

“You’ve had it?” Milton’s eyes sprung wide.

“I just said so, didn’t I?”

“How are you still-I mean how are you not eating me right now?”

“Because drugs don’t stay in the body forever,” Smoky said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“You never raved and attacked someone?” Milton asked.

“If I did someone would let me know or I’d sober up and find blood on my hands but other than my own, it never happened.”

Milton winced, then looked at Victor.

“And you’re sure this is Diesel?” Victor said.

“I know my Tastees better than anyone in this town and I’m telling you, if I haven’t told you forty three hundred thousand fuckin’ times it was the Diesel I ate and nothing else.”

“Do you have any on you?” Milton said.

“Yeah, was saving it for later but figure it’s not worth my time seeing as it didn’t do anything worth mentioning and that’s saying the story because I put more than anything ever than anybody in this whole Hellhole,” Smoky turned, walking into the dim light of the single roomed shack, prattling on to himself. Gas fumes wafted in billows from a lamp made from a coffee tin and a dying wick. Piles of clothes surrounded it, a miracle the shack hadn’t burst into flame.

“We’re in trouble,” Milton said as Smoky talked to himself.

“How do you figure?”

“What if this isn’t the drug?”

Victor shrugged.

“It didn’t affect him like the others.”

“Goddammit Audrey I told you to fuckin’ move your socks! How many times I gotta tell ya to put the damn things away? Jesus Christ...” Smoky tripped and hit his head on the side of a wooden chest, interrupting his tirade. Blood cracked his forehead but Milton didn’t move to help him lest he get trapped in the sea of junk.

“Different metabolism,” Victor said.

Smoky arrived back at the door, licking the blood dripping down his nose with a black tongue and wiping the rest with his forearm, “Alright, what the hell was I gonna do with this Diesel oh right here you go and don’t complain if it’s less than an ounce left I scored big with that chunk.”

He handed Milton what looked like a small vial, black liquid splashed around towards the bottom.

“Are you sure this is Diesel?” Milton rose a brow and gently shook the tiny amount.

“What do I keep telling you deaf persons? Yes, it’s the damn Diesel, if you don’t want it I can sell for the bigger price to someone who does.”

Milton shook his head, a brusque movement and pocketed the Diesel, “No, we’re good.”

“Who sold it to you?” Victor asked.

Smoky screwed his face, picking at the carmelized blood of his scab and flicked it into his mouth. Milton grimaced.

“Hmm, vampire fellow,” he chewed “That’s all I remember.”

Milton looked at Victor, “Vatrino.”

“As promised,” Victor said, cutting things short and taking out the Chigaz baggie dumping it into Smoky’s open, scarred palms.

“Alright you two not go and do anything dumb with that Diesel, now you here. I heard it downright makes Lifters feel like they’re the muscle man from the circus, one of those guys who strangle the lions till the lion’s head explodes, all head high no body high you get what I mean? Now get out of here I gotta yell at little Audrey for not putting away her socks, damn girl always loses her pairs...” his voice trailed off, muttering to himself as he turned to his mess and slammed the door.

Milton looked at Victor, his eyes wide with discomfort.

“We got what we came for,” Milton said and nodded for the door, turning on his heel and walking over to the car. “We give this to Silas, see what he says.”

They got into the car, Milton’s frown growing.

“This doesn’t make sense. All of the cases Japheth told us about were really violent and each assaulter was high on Diesel. This can’t be the same drug.”

“We’ll take it up with the chemists,” Victor shrugged.

Milton sighed through his nostrils, then let his gaze fall out the window, into the alleyways between the factories, and saw a shadow slip between them. He looked into the rearview, seeing a large shadow emerge from behind the alleyway.

“Who lives out here?”

“Gremlins and lupines. Why?”

The shadow returned to sprint up to the back of the car.

He panicked, gripping the window.

“Someone’s tailing us! God damn he’s fast-”

Milton was interrupted as the body slammed into the back of the Model T, obscuring the side oval of the back window by its girth. Victor gunned the engines, the Model T sputtering to life. Claws raked against the back half of the car.

“Shoot it,” Victor said “Make sure it doesn’t reach the front or we’re both damned.”

Milton nodded and grabbed the bench seat.

“Jeez!” he winced, nursing his wounded hand.

Milton snarled, using his left elbow to hoist himself over the seat and flopped over the bench into the back. The T flipped on a crack in the road, jostled him around as he clumsily whipped out his gun. A loud metallic crunch popped over his head, and when he dared to look up, his pistol halfway out of the crux of his suspenders, it revealed a large dent where two claws poked holes.

“Christ,” he ducked and scrambled for his gun.

He grabbed the Colt with his bum hand and shut his mouth to muffle the ensuing scream. Tears bulged and bled down his cheeks before he shook his head with a groan and proceeded to switch it to his left hand.

“Fucking Silas,” he snarled as he fired into the roof several inches away from the claws and subconsciously switched to his left hand and took another shot. The gun’s kick made him wince and drag his lower lip into his mouth, a soft scream muffled.

“Did you shoot that in the roof?” Victor shouted, careening around the last curve leading into the slums.

“Where the else am I supposed to fucking shoot?”

“Hold on, I’m going to try to shake him,” Victor ignored the snark and roiled the car, weaving in and out on the street in horrific zig zags. Claws scraped across the top of the car but the assailant didn’t budge.

He grimaced and crawled towards the window, rolled it down awkwardly with his left hand and hung out the side, shooting upwards with his left hand. His right hand lay idle. A shot fired against the whistle of the wind that caught his braid in a swirling spiral. The car rolled around a corner, tipping, threatening to fall, the scream of the tires drawing the attention of passerby as they careened around another corner.

Milton dared a look and hung half of his body out the window for better aim. The creature atop the roof turned and snarled at him. Vampire fangs hung from a hissing maw. Platinum hair and crimson pinstripe suit lapels fluttered in the wind. A snub bat nose with teardrop nostrils wiggled, sniffing him with wolfish snorts. Red eyes set deep into the shadows of the sunken sockets glowed in the night. Its claws stuck tight into the roof.

Milton fumbled for the gun and took another shot in the vampire’s face. It rollicked back, shrieking, its free hand rushing to cover the sloshing spray of blood, slamming into the other side but the stuck hand and claws whipped him back. It removed the hand, the flesh stitching together, healing itself, revealing a snarl and dove for him.

The car swung again, Milton almost falling out, before he took another shot and slipped back in.

“It’s a vampire,” he fumbled for the handle to unroll the window so it was down.

“Silas isn’t going to like this,” Victor shouted over his shoulder over the roar of the engines and swung a hard turn around a corner, the Model T’s half side lifting a foot off the ground.

“He’s stuck to the roof, you got anything better than my Colt?”

“My rifle’s under the seat.”

“Exploded will have to be good enough,” Milton took the rifle out from under the seat and, going back to the window and stuck out, holding the rifle with one hand while his favored cradled the barrel.

The rifle clacked against the window and he angled just so he could pull the trigger, aimless and blind to the target. The vampire smacked the rifle, it hit the ground with a loud clatter and fired the trigger. Bullets clanked the Model T’s doors and popped the back tires causing it to swerve a wide circle before it careened onto its side and fell over with a crash.

He slammed down into the right window that ran parallel to the street, breaking his fall with his left elbow. Above him, the car’s right window shattered. Glass shards splintered, falling on his head and shoulders, which he covered with his arms, the snarling vampire on the other side stuck in its clawed hand, swiping.

Milton scrambled for his gun, grabbed with his right.

“Gah!” he screamed, clenched his teeth, switched and trembled in his attempts to aim with the nondominant hand. He fired. The bullet whizzed past the vampire still clawing its way through the glass before it ripped the door off.

“Holy christ,” Milton forced his focus and took another shot. Shoulder wound. Blood sprayed from the vampire’s shoulder, raining down on him, but it didn’t relent as its skin healed itself, reaching further down to where Milton nestled in his boxed fox hole.

The vampire gripped the bottom of the windowpane and tugged. Metal squeaked as the door came loose from its hinges and tore away, letting the vampire down further. Its claws brushed Milton’s bent knees. He scrambled for the gun and fired into the vampire’s chest. Crimson trickled down. Another shot from his side followed by a blinding cloud of gunsmoke left his ear ringing. More blood rained down, covering him, skull shards and brain bits plopped on his suit front.

Milton sputtered, gasping, wiping the blood and body bits from his face in frenzied, slick swipes.

The vampire body slumped forward and fell deeper into the cabin, the marred head leaking more blood and fluids, dripping and slopping onto Milton’s torso. He crawled upwards, pushing the vampire aside, and used his left hand to propel him out.

He tumbled out, tripping and found Victor outside. He glanced from the vampire to Milton.

“You’re covered in blood.”

“I don’t care, so long as he doesn’t come back,” Milton growled, wiping off the last drops from his chin and flung his arm down. “Christ.”

“Silas won’t like this.”

“Has this happened before?”

Victor shook his head, “We’ve always stuck to our turf.”

Milton gulped, “Either way, not good.”

“Oh, no good at all,” Victor chuckled, a bitter sound.

“Come on, we got to tell him what’s up,” Milton took brisk steps back in the direction of the Hub.

“Let’s pray he’s still around filing his ledger.”


Milton’s hands trembled as he walked down the hall three stories below the street and knocked on the door. He cleared his throat, and almost knocked again when Silas’ voice called from within.


Milton went inside, Victor trailing behind and saw Silas hadn’t moved since their previous conversation.

“You better have something good,” Silas said, sucking in a Chigaz cigarillo, mountains of paperwork covered the table.

Milton’s smile crept but he forced it down, catching a curious glint from Silas’s eye, and procured the little vial from his pocket. It sloshed in the bottle.

“What we’ve been looking for,” Milton said, and set the bottle on the table. Silas eyed it, cautiously curious, and took it in his giant hands, holding it between two claws.

“The hell is it?”

“Diesel, or at least that’s what they’re calling it,” Milton said.

“Diesel, hm?” Silas twisted it in his in his clawed grip. “No labels?”

Milton shook his head, “We scored it off a Lifter who said there weren’t any.”

Silas nodded and set it on his desk, “We’ll have Manson or Castaneda run a chem test but I sure as hell never seen it.”

Silas was silent and threw a glance up at Milton for the first time, his dragon pupils enlarging, “If this comes out as what we been lookin’ for you did a damn fine job tonight.”

Milton held his breath and his creeping grin, “Thank-”

“I said if, son. Don’t get excited,” Silas said, poking the cigarillo at Milton but there was a suggestion, the barest of a hint of a smile in his eyes.

“Now that you went and did that I’m gonna have you up the game for me. Get me who shills this out. I’ll have Manson continue with the new drug strain he’s been making. Damn bastard seems to be taking his time on it. But we’ll mow down this Diesel here in no time at all. Put the competition in its place.”

“Well, that’s the thing,” Milton scratched the back of his head.


“The Lifter who got us this sample says he purchased from a vampire,” Milton said.

Silas’s expression hardened, “Vatrino?”

“We can’t be sure,” Victor said.

“Only vampires in town are Vatrinos,” Silas shook his head, his lip curling downwards into a feral scowl “I had a feeling.”

“We know who it is now,” Milton shrugged.

“The Vatrinos are my top rival, Milton,” Silas pointed his cigarillo at him “That family’s run this town since before my grandad was even conceived. They get a strain this addictive they got the whole town in their hands and if they have power over the Lifters going wild and killing people, we’re plain fucked.”

“But we were attacked by a vampire on the way back,” Milton blurted.



“I heard what you fuckin’ said, Milton. Victor, this true?”

Victor nodded.

“The Vatrinos never venture in our territory to sell much less sic their dogs on us,” Silas gripped the cigarillo so hard that it crumpled in the center. He pointed it again, the top half fell and burned one of the many papers littering the desk like bird feathers.

“Suicide mission, maybe?” Victor shrugged.

“Vatrinos ain’t that stupid, they gotta royal bloodline to preserve,” Silas shook his head. “Did you lose him?”

“We killed him,” Milton nodded.

“Can’t kill a vampire ’less you blow the whole body or slice off the head,” Silas growled.

“Victor got him in the head.”

Silas shook his head, “He may grow it back depending on how well you shot him. Either way, that was a bad move on the Vatrinos.”

“Considering that I shot him with a rifle less than a foot away, I’m confident the head won’t grow back,” Victor said.

“Huh, suppose he’s as good as dead, then. For now, continue your runs ’till I give you word something’s changed. Good work, boys.”

“Thank you, sir,” Milton nodded.

“Now get the hell out of my office.”

Milton tipped his fedora and made for the door, but then stopped, leaving Victor to continue as he pondered perilous thoughts.

“What is it, son?”

Milton turned, “They made a hit on us. Right?”

Silas remained unmoved.


“Well, can’t we hit them back?’

“I’m assignin’ the hit to my top men. If you’re suggestin’ you’re the man for the job, I’ll tell you right now you ain’t up for it. Now git.”

Milton clenched his fists. The gunshot wound reopened and blood leaked out. An oppressive silence hovered between them.

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