The Caldera's Vice

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CHAPTER 25

The Pekolna Kuka

Once, twenty years ago, Milton experienced a thunderstorm. Hellhole’s recent witness to a churning throng of clouds, a black, roiling goliath of lightning, thunder, and stinging rain. The works minus fire and brimstone.

The next morning, at twenty-nine years old, that furious tempest of vociferation from his kingpin kept his nerves taut behind the thin shield of the office door. Hesitation grappled him. The underground compound walls shrunk in terror from the volcanic dragon’s wrath. He rapped his tremulous knuckles on the door but the roars from within drowned them out so he unlatched it and peeped in.

“Damned Vatrinos don’t got a lick of respect,” Silas roared, his cowboy drawl twanged something dreadful.

Ruth withstood the feverish tumult, anchored into the black foundation of her apathy. The dragon’s minotaur nostrils flared, the shimmering razors of his maw barred, his golden eyes trapped Milton into a steely gaze.

“You better have a damn good reason for sneakin’ in here.”

Milton entered.

“You need something?”

Silas’s gaze cooled.

“Well, damn if that’s not the single most decent thing I’ve heard all day.”

Milton licked his lips, “What happened?”

Ruth’s explanation was vapid, par usual.

“The Vatrinos killed Mort Garrison. Hellhole’s racket hub boss.”

“Brought the brass and they raided that clip joint dry. Now they know we sling our product there and I’ve half a mind to assume they got eyes on that place like a vulture on a dyin’ lupine. We’re gonna go for the Big Cheese.”

Milton gulped.

“Zaros Vatrino. He owns the Pekolna Kuka, the classiest Vatrino clip joint on that mountain. Big vampire. My height. Fat as a country fair prize winnin’ bovine. I hired my hitmen to do the honors. Zaros is gonna think we’re extendin’ a cordial hello.”

In Milton’s eye, the letter flicked at the front of his mind before he promptly stashed it away. His response wasn’t a moment’s hesitation.

“I’ll go. Alone. They won’t expect someone like me to rub him out.”

“He’s right. There’s not an intimidating bone in his body,” Ruth said, vapid.

Milton resisted the urge to snarl at her.

Silas pointed at Milton, “You know what, I think you may be right. Alright, git on out and kill the bastard. Do it quick and get out faster.”

Ruth stepped forward, drawing out a sawed-off rifle from her holster and handing it to him butt first. He inspected the wiley machine, a hybrid abomination of killing machine and womanly daintiness. A cursive engraving adorned the handle’s side.

Velsing

“It has six rounds of wooden stakes. Get his heart,” she said.

Milton nodded.

“Alright,” Milton dipped his chin and made for the door, stopping when Silas said his name.

“If you survive this raid, you’re getting a bump up in pay. You’re a damn fine worker.”

“Thank you, sir,” Milton fought the urge to smile as he turned for the door.

The underground parking lot buzzed as Milton searched for an unattended car but found most of them gone, save for a Tin Lizzy. An onyx demon sporting two thin braids leaned against it, smoking a cigarette.

“Hey,” Milton jerked his chin up at the demon, approaching the car.

When he stopped, the onyx’s silver eyes focused on Milton’s braid, his only response a gentle nod. Milton’s hand subconsciously trailed to his braid.

“I need a car, mind if I use yours?”

Despite the rumble of engines flooring it towards the exit, it was silent.

“Silas wants me to run an important mission,” Milton rubbed his lower lip with his upper teeth, using his bottom row as a fulcrum to pivot from. Again, the onyx demon only stared at Milton’s braid.

Milton ignored him studying the braid until he could no longer stand it.

He frowned, “Can you talk?”

“You’re of the Saddleback Dune tribes. Soyala.”

Milton snapped, “What about it?”

The onyx flicked the cigarette butt to the side and gestured for the door.

“Come on,” he neared Milton, who fought to still his racing heart, and paused, extending his hand, “Reven.”

“Milton.”

They climbed into the car and Milton glanced over as Reven started the engines.

Milton clutched the tip of the braid where a symbol wound into the leather cord held the ensemble. He glimpsed the back of Reven’s hair, a half bun cascading into ponytail trailing down below it like petals from the bud. The car lurched along moving through the business district where on the fringes of downtown escaped behind them in the rearview mirror. Milton would glance at Reven from time to time, working up a bit of nerve.

“You’re Soyala too?”

“Was.”

“You broke away from the tribe?”

“After the Purging twenty years ago. The Catholic Priest ordered the Cactus Cathedral to burn. The clerics stuffed the children into the underground hogans. They knew the cathedral’s resin would melt and trap them. Some hybrid found their bodies. It wasn’t a fire that killed them. Not from what I heard. Fire can’t twist limbs like that. Were you there when that happened?”

Milton’s mouth dried. The passing side streets absorbed his attention as his stomach wound in a knot, his grip on the braid tightened.

“I was one of the kids that got out.”

A lone road that whipped around the business district lead them towards the mountains where the desert flats faded into hills. The Lizzy crept up a side street and lumbered into the arboreal dimness on a trail that rollicked the car around like a dinky boat on the ocean. From the caldera’s summit, Milton spied the hazy glow of the BANC through the trees.

Stain glass windows glowed amber lights from within a black Victorian mansion. Massive pine Grecian pillars lined the veranda, stopping at the stairway leading up to the front door, wrapped in poison ivy.

Birds held their tweets. Rodents held their breath. Milton gulped but he continued for the front door until he grasped the door knocker and gave it a few raps.

A vampire, short and disfigured opened the door, visibly disgusted by Milton’s onyx demon complexion.

“I’m here to talk to Zaros on behalf of Silas MaCallister.”

The vampire hesitated, then nodded and let Milton in.

Vampires swarmed every inch of the lush restaurant getup. The myriad Romalian voices cascaded into a velvety symphony. Platinum blond flappers and gentlemen callers in crimson pinstriped tuxedos clinked glasses and scraped silverware on plates. In one corner, a trio of musicians played a violin, an accordion, and a mandolin.

The doorman lead him through the restaurant. Plush red carpet felt like firm pillows beneath his feet. As they passed through the field of vampires, Milton’s stomach churned, forcing bile up his throat. Crimson eyes of old blood inside shadowy sockets glanced at his presence.

In the back sat an alcohol bar. Wine and beer barrels lined the back wall where ordinarily a mirror would have been. Below the barrels, stood bottles of hexagonal tempered glass labeled Vino de Sangue and Prateria de Sangue

“Hello,” a voice from the bar said, making Milton tear his gaze from the beverages. It was a vampire trussed in a red suit with black pinstripes. He grinned at them, his fangs glimmering in the dim, amber light. The doorman vampire and the barkeep gabbed in a Romalian exchange before the barkeep regarded Milton again.

“Come to see Zarros, eh? I will show you.”

Milton fought his urge to glance back at the vampires undoubtedly watching him ascending the steps. His palms dripped. At the end of a long hall, with rooms on either side, illuminated by amber lights inside of translucent glass fixed inside of black iron lamps.

Paintings of vampires throughout the centuries, ranging from the Renaissance to the last decade, peppered the wooden walls. The final one, a sepia photograph, was of a vampire in a pinstripe suit and broad rimmed fedora. Milton’s gaze fell on the name.

Rosario Vatrino

Rosario, prince of the Vatrinos. His eyes burned bright against the pale skin streaked with spiderweb veins, the circles sagged beneath the eyes, accentuating the shape of the skull. White hair draped his shoulders. A bat nose pulled teardrop nostrils upwards toward the thick bridge and his faint smile revealed fangs.

He followed the barkeep into the room at the other end.

Bearish snorts and slurps came from a vampire devouring the contents of a silver platter. At the table side, several domes waited to be unveiled, glinting the amber light of the black wrought iron lamp on the desk. At the desk sat a vampire whose extremities jiggled both from fat, large bones and bulky muscles. Platinum blonde curls trailed down to the bloodied silk napkin tucked into his collar like a bib.

Milton sat down, glancing at the dinner. Spirals and layers of oyster shells filled with slimy blood clots.

“I’m here on behalf of-” he began, then cringed as Zaros crunched into an oyster shell, black shards flung across the desk.

Zaros didn’t stop, wholly consumed in devouring the contents of the dish, greasing the platter with oil and mucusy blood with his tongue as he lapped up the remains. Milton cleared his throat, beginning to speak when Zaros stopped to wipe blood from his swollen fat lips with a silk napkin. The upper fangs protruding from the lips still bloodied, a stain rather than fresh blood. A testimony shining decades of feeding.

Zaros cleansed his throat with a giant gurgle and washed whatever was left with a swig from a twine wrapped bottle labeled Prateria de Sangue.

“MaCallister, hm?”

Zaros, like the many Vatrinos Milton he’d met, spoke the familiar Romalian accent, but his bulldog underbite fangs made for a considerable lisp. Milton nodded, ripping his eyes from the fangs, leaning forward to casually place his hand on the butt of the Velsing for a quick draw. A blip of agonizing terror began its first turn to swirl in his gut.

“He sends a coalie to do his work?” Zaros chuckled, gurgled another bear cough and sneezed, spewing blood and mucus on the table.

Milton shrugged, unsettled when Zaros reached for another platter and opened it to show another mass of blood clot oyster shells.

“His man calls me earlier,” Zaros slurps up a clot and goes for another, “Says the Mammon country club has been compromised.”

“You don’t agree?” Milton rose a brow, fondling the Velsing’s cool metal handle. Rest assured the kick would agonize the wound in his healing palm.

“Mammon is not Vatrino territory,” Zaros trailed off, cracked an oyster shell and plopped the shard into his mouth. Milton’s wince deepened with each ensuing crunch.

“It’s none of your business,” Milton finished Zaro’s sentence, affirmed by a slow nod of the vampire’s multilayered fleshy head.

Milton gulped, fingering the butt of the gun and pulling it out by an inch. The moment of which stirred the sands of anxiety in his bowels anew into a frenzied whirlpool ready to swarm into a tsunami of breakfast bile.

“But it was your men, wasn’t it? The ones who attacked the country club,” Milton forced himself to remain calm despite his sweat slick hands.

“Vatrinos?” Zaros rose a brow so white it appeared as a hairless muscle.

He shrugged, then nodded, “Yes, yes they were Vatrino, but Rosario had not sent for them.”

Milton’s stomach tightened.

“You don’t know if they tried to strike a deal with Garrison?” Pure curiosity filled his lungs, pushing out his words.

“Rogue Vatrinos with stupid ideas,” Zaros bumped his temple with his rusty claw, “A misunderstanding. Know that if Mort’s fall, so too does the rest of Hellhole’s rackets.”

“Why would there be rogues if it’s such a delicate situation?” Milton bit his tongue.

Silence.

“Why are you here, coaly?” Zaros spoke through a full mouth, then swallowed.

Milton’s core chilled, his fingers gripped the butt of the gun.

It was a moment of tense silence, a glint of curiosity in Zaros’ eyes. Milton flinched, the Velsing halfway out of his suspender strap, as he shifted to let it pull through.

“Silas sent me with good tidings,” Milton’s stomach tightened.

Zaros held still, eyeing Milton as he wiped his lower lip, his tone suggested danger lurked nearby. A distant tome of a warning bell.

“Is that so?”

Milton’s blood surged.

“I’m just the messenger.”

“A messenger, eh?”

In a blink of a bloody mist, Zaros vanished. Milton scrambled for the Velsing.

“Shit.”

The weight of a train crushed into Milton’s back and sent him wailing into the table, his right hand gripped the Velsing tighter. An oyster shard sliced into his cheek.

Zaros spoke in Romalian, his claws sunk into Milton’s neck dangerously close to the arteries. Blood squirted on the table and Milton panicked, flailing his arms and choking but Zaros continued muttering in his Slavic Italiano hybrid native tongue. Zaros yanked him back and held him aloft so his feet kicked in the air and hit the tabletop. The vampire’s talons dug deep into his neck, Milton’s eyes rolling back as the blood drained. Zaros chuckled.

“Ah, Silas. The cowardly dragon.”

Milton gagged, his legs twisting in midair, his hand searching for the Velsing.

“You think you can get retribution through me?” Zaros spoke past Milton to an unseen Silas.

Milton’s eyes lolled about, blood dribbling from his lower lip, before he took out the Velsing and fired a random shot.

Zaros flinched, releasing his grip. Milton’s forehead slammed onto the edge of the table, waking him up. He fumbled for the gun and twisted around as Zaros stampeded into him, firing another shot into Zaros’ clavicle. The vampire flung back, a streak of blood splashed across Milton’s face. Shaking and taking the opportunity of a staggering opponent, he fired another shot into the heart. It tore through cartiledge, crunched against bone, sending Zaros back like a shock wave, but the vampire kept coming at him.

“Gods, gods, gods,” Milton murmured, clicking back the barrel into position before he fired a final steak into the vampire’s head.

Blood sprayed over him, his clothes, but the vampire dropped.

“Gah,” Milton was out of breath, squirming backward from underneath the vampire’s girth and glanced around. A window screamed freedom and he dashed for it, stuffing the Velsing into his suspender before whisking open the window.

He was up three stories.

“Fuck,” he grit his teeth, but he swung a leg over the banister and the foot landed on ground stable for shimmying or cat walking for a slimmer figure. He took the latter route, ignoring the blot entering the room from the opening door. A servant vampire, one of the shorter inbreeds sporting a plain black and white suit three piece combination. Milton ducked and clambered away just as the vampire made eye contact and shouted, most likely an explicative, in Romalian.

Milton was halfway towards a drainpipe by the time the servant caught up to him.

“Jeez-“ he cursed at the servant and at his lost footing. He dared a downward gaze, a second floor roof tile slipped and shattered below him on a brick walkway.

The vampire teleported just above him and stabbed his left hand. Whether it was a kitchen knife or a stake was up for debate as his focus was swept in the tumble to the brick.

His tailbone screamed when he hit the ground on his back, a soft moan escaped his lips and through his pain induced bleary vision saw as the vampire crept its way back up the window, shouting in Romalian.

Milton’s drawn out curse echoed into a mournful whine as he slumped over and used his elbows to crawl away. He found refuge in a hedge and slumped against the wall of the mansion, concealing himself in the brush. He slipped his hand into the haversack Ruth had given him with spare stakes and fumbled to reload it.

Voices in Romalian muttered, guttural and low. Whispers, sniffs, and the scuff of elegant leather soles tip-toeing closer. Milton held still, tilting the barrel upwards to gently click it back in place to line up the stakes. He swallowed back the bile and peered through the bushes.

A figure, cloaked in the black of night, neared him. The sniffing grew louder. Three pairs of nostrils searched him out with animalistic snorts. He eased back the hammer, taking great care that it didn’t click.

At least not just yet.

He put the ball of his palm over it, readying for rapid fire, waiting for the trio to ease as close as they could get. In the dark, there was only one shot.

BANG!

The gunshot was a canon in the tense quiet. Blinding light illuminated three vampires nearing him like hounds, ripping through the air and smacking into the one in first place. The center Vatrino rollicked back. Milton had only a second to turn for another shot, squeezing the trigger just after he clicked down the hammer.

Another shot roared and snagged the second Vatrino’s upper arm. It screamed, blood sprayed, but it didn’t relent. The third dove for Milton from his right. He had a moment to fire and took it right as it lunged for him, striking the vampire in the chest. Blood greased the Velsing.

Two dead vampires and a third, screaming a guttural cry as it clawed for him. He wriggled away, the pain from his tailbone cramped his lower back and made him rigid.

“Oh gods,” he groaned, fumbling with blood slick fingers to pull the trigger. His other hand, also wet and getting stickier as each precious second progressed, landed on the hammer and the last shot blasted out and shredded the vampire’s head. It slumped forward.

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