Milton trekked deeper into the forest’s night, the pines draped and drenched him in cold shadow. He tugged his coat tighter, fighting the merciless chill, and came upon a clearing midway up the mountain where a Victorian house stood and found a slew of vampires speaking amongst themselves in liquescent Romalian on the porch beneath a lantern. Smoke plumed around them in a haze. He cleared his throat, perking the attention of the nearest one who squinted into the darkness and sniffed. Milton crept to the light’s edge, standing below the vampires.
“Hello? Some birdies told me I could get some Diesel?” Milton’s voice shook. Bubbles surfaced in his belly from an empty stomach high on nerves. The vampire jumped off the porch and approached him with a curious smirk, the red eyes trailed to the incisions on Milton’s neck.
“Yes. A new drug strain. They told me the Vatrinos are the only ones who sling it.”
He followed the vampire’s glance to his pistol where his hand shook, poised to strike at the first sign of trouble. At the porch, the other two vampires whispered to each other and then to the vampire in front of Milton and shrugged.
“We don’t know this Diesel,” his thin, broken lip line spread across his face in the same way skin splits from a knife slash, “But we have others you may like, yes?”
Milton nodded, “Gimme your strongest stuff.”
The vampire grinned, and slapped Milton’s shoulder “I like your thinking, hm?”
Veins spiderwebbed across the bony back of the pale hand. Claws, curled and rusty tipped, stretched out of the fingers more than an inch, thick and barbed.
“So, can I have it now? I have the money for it, just didn’t want to waste my walk,” Milton said.
The vampire turned and spoke to the others then turned to Milton, “They will get you a selection and you make a choice, yes?”
The other vampires left in a flash of bloody mist, startling Milton.
“Sounds good,” Milton nodded, resisting the urge to shrug off vampire’s hand on his shoulder. The chill of those marble digits frosted through his coat and radiated off the creature standing well over a foot above him.
“You have come far, no?”
“What do you mean?”
The vampire’s grin exposed the fanged maw glinting the amber lantern glow. Stringy, platinum blonde hair twisting in the breeze.
“You are from town, no?” he nodded to BANC’s vague glare through the pines. Milton suppressed his gulp.
“What gave you that impression?”
“There are no coalies here. Only vampires and dragons. But you already knew, hm?”
The slur slapped Milton’s ears but he ignored it. The vampire flipped a tin from his vest crimson velvet pocket
“You come far for Vatrino Tastees. Hellhole Proper knows nothing about quality.”
He procured a cigarillo and offered one to Milton who politely refused.
“You are right to risk the climb,” the vampire lit the cigarillo.
“You don’t deliver in town?”
The vampire scoffed, revealing that every tooth in his mouth was a canine other than his four fangs.
“No, no, it is outside of our territory. Only half of Mammon and the blood wealth in these woods. There is nothing but filth in the Hellhole municipality. Only coalies and rusties. No rich, no profit. But that’s business, no?”
The Vatrino cackled and smacked Milton with the back of his hand. Air crackled next to them and the other vampires were back in a puff of bloody mist. Wooden crates in their pin-striped suited arms that they set on a stump. Milton’s mouth went dry.
“I suspect you can pay,” the vampire winked, “Might cost an arm and leg for a coaly like you.”
The two vampires opened up the boxes. Crimson velvet lined the insides, and the contents were equally lush. Individually wrapped white silky bags, each stamped with a stylized “V”, and all labeled in Romalian.
“What are they?”
“Top three favorites,” the vampire pointed first to the white bags on the left side and snatched up a bag.
“Taga is a downer. Very smooth for mind, muscle relaxant and a bit of a hallucinogen for little stars in the eyes. Nice, no?”
“Mesachinata, ahhh yes!” the vampire continued, lifting a lilac colored bag. “Or Mesha for the-how do you say-street name. Beautiful floating, no up or down, only drifting on a heaven cloud. Time? Nothing! Only heaven.”
Milton shivered when the vampire pointed on the last bag, a crimson so bright it burned his eyes.
“And our little king,” the vampire rubbed his hands together, “Ogan. It is an upper beyond them all.”
“Is it better than Chigaz?” Milton blurted.
The vampire flipped his hand in a dismissive gesture, “Ogan steps on Chigaz and spits on its crushed bones. Chigaz is…” he wiggled his fingers, searching for the word, turning to the other two vampires and asking them a question in their native tongue.
“For bitches,” one vampire grinned.
“I’ll take a sample of each,” Milton said.
“Aha, you are smart,” the vampire clucked his tongue, “No more Chigaz filth for you, only good things.”
The vampires set to opening the velvet bags and taking even smaller bags out, the same colors as their parent bags.
“That will be fifty each,” the vampire sucked a drag. Milton winced, groaned and took out his wallet, emptying it.
“Enjoy, no?” the vampire said as Milton stuffed the bags into his vest pockets, the Ogan into his right on its own.
Milton tipped his fedora in respectful dismissal before he began to walk back down the mountain.
“Silly coaly,” the Vatrino said from behind him. He turned, and a rocket force punch slugged his jaw and brought him down on his left side. The drugs in his left pocket crushed against his weight. Above him, the Vatrino appeared and kicked him in the lower back.
“Jeez!” Milton blurted as he curled into the fetal position as the Vatrino wailed on his back with super speed. The other two vampires took him by the shoulders and heaved him to his feet, conversing in Romalian as they dragged his stunned body into the woods outside the trail. Black night draped over them. A punch to Milton’s gut interrupted his struggle, his shoulders slumped as he worked his hands into his right pocket for a baggy.
Water rushed ahead. He fought for the bag as their pace quickened, the clench and slack of their grip as they heaved him and he ripped open the bag to stuff the spiny Ogan burs in his mouth. Bitterness attacked his tongue as the vampires shoved him headfirst into the icy stream. Water shot up his nose. He swallowed. The spines scraped his throat, blood trickled and washed the chunky bits into his stomach, choking him. Further, he slipped into the black mire.
An electric surge jolted him, turning his blood into fire, his bones into kindling, his mind into a riotous beehive. He broke the river’s surface and darted out, crashing onto the bank and torpedoed into the nearest vampire. He sniffed a whiff of copper, his fingers working faster than his mind to find the brass knuckles inside the vest pocket, ripping them out and bludgeoning the Vatrino’s nose. Black vampire blood spewed and the others crashed into him. It was a bloody quartet of scrambling fingers, claws shredding his flesh, his blood mixing with the vampire he impaled, teeth scraping, vampire eating vampire. He flung away from the writhing, snorting mass as the vampires ate each other. He ran all the way to headquarters without stopping to catch his breath.
Back at headquarters, Milton ran down the hall to the elevator and caught Hank and Japheth at the end, the doors opening.
“Wait!” Milton cried, rushing for the door. Japheth was the first to turn, grinning.
“How in the Sam Hell did you get back so quick, Jimmie Jung?” he said, as Hank stopped the door with his gargantuan hand. Milton slipped through, wordless as he hit the button for the third below floor and the doors closed with a clamp. Electricity sluiced through his veins and turned his gullet into a writhing storm.
Japheth’s guffaw startled Milton as the weight of the elevator sagged and looked at Hank who smiled back.
“Been sneakin’ them second helpings of flapjacks,” Japheth cocked his head to the side and winked.
Hank backhanded Japheth’s shoulder lightly as to not send him denting the elevator.
“You know I can’t resist my woman’s cookin’, Japhy.”
Milton glanced at the dripping woolsack in Hank’s grip, “What’s that?”
Hank met his stare, then indicated the elephant gun slung over his shoulder.
“The vampire head we cleaned off. Told ya Silas needed his proof.”
The door dinged on that desolate office floor, silent compared to the Hub’s infinite clamor. They walked down the corridor, Milton staring at the blood dripping off the burlap, his heart tremored as they neared Silas’ door at the end.
“Better not swing that killer lady ’round lest you blast a head clean off,” Victor clucked and grinned.
“No worries, this is like a second arm to me,” Hank winked and knocked on Silas’s door.
Milton licked his lips, his breathing stinted.
Hank opened the door. Milton’s first glance fell where the Colt remained, the one that had spent damage to his hand, he flicked his gaze elsewhere and absently brushing the back of his injured hand. Silas leaned away from the otherwise clean table, his eyes falling on Hank’s prize.
“That what I think it is?”
Hank nodded, “Yes sir. Vatrino head just like you asked.”
Hank flipped the bag over and the head dumped with a thud, blood splashed across the table as it rolled. Silas caught it, nearly obscuring each side of the head in his gargantuan grip.
Silas looked at Hank in a pointedly content gesture, “Good on ya.”
“Japheth here was a grand help, Silas. Couldn’t have found the bastard nearly as quick without this sidewinder,” Hank said, sincerity coating his voice.
Silas looked at Japheth, “That right, Mozen?”
“As true as salt,” the young reptilian tipped his hat with his gun.
“How’d you like to shadow Hank, son? Be his partner. Learn his skills. Could use another hitman who ain’t afraid of getting a little dirty,” Silas said.
“That would suit me mighty fine, sir,” Japheth’s grin spread like butter across hot bread.
Silas leaned over the desk, extending his hand, which Japheth met halfway. The two scaled, clawed hands met and shook.
“Now, both of you get your asses out of here so we can talk,” Silas threw his gaze at Milton.
“Take care, boss,” Hank said, followed by Japheth before they left. Japheth glanced at Milton and tipped his hat with a wink, his tongue flickering between his teeth. Milton hesitated, thumbing his bruised hand. At the desk sat the dragon kingpin, sizing him up, a Chigaz cigarillo held taught by his razor canines.
“You’re back. I’m assuming you got something for me from the Diesel case?”
“A few things.” He nodded, glancing at the Colt.
“Well bring ’em here.”
Milton dug into his pocket and took out three bags of drugs, setting them on the desk.
Milton shook his head, “I bought the Vatrino’s top three drugs. They don’t sling Diesel.”
“Hm,” Silas curved his upper lip, and dug into the drug bags, inspecting each one. “They don’t sling it, huh?”
Milton watched, licking his lips.
The Taga glittered a pale opalescent powdery blue; stained glass tears. He flung the bag to the side and it clinked. The Mesha was fleshy flower petal skeins, pale violet with merlot veins culminating on the edges. He tossed the bag aside and went for the Ogan burs, dark brown and spiny.
“Never seen any of these before,” Silas chucked the bag and looked at Milton “Good work, son.”
Milton’s pride threatened to crack a smile when Silas dug into his pocket and thwapped a wad of cash between them.
“Take it, son, you earned it.”
Milton scraped it off the table before Silas could change his mind. When he drew it back he caught Silas looking at the smoldering bruise on his hand but no one commented. Milton pocketed the cash.
“Keep this up and you’ll crawl up the ranks,” Silas sucked in a drag.
Silas eyes narrowed, contemplating, “You know why I hired you?”
Milton cleared his throat and shook his head.
“Better use that voice of yours, son, or someone else will.”
“No, I don’t know why you hired me.”
“You got a good work ethic and I saw that.”
Milton’s shoulder fell but he didn’t comment.
“Now get your ass out of here.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Milton walked towards the door and left.