Twilight fell on Hellhole and Renshu stood in front of the police station, a cigarette smoke trail drizzled over his head and caught in the air’s freezing’s drift.
“January is colder, if you can believe it,” Officer Price said from behind him, “Though this year we have record lows.”
Renshu shivered and tucked his coat tighter as he watched her descend the steps, “We’re spoiled in Mayville. The weather is fairly mild, but I suppose our proximity to the ocean may account for that.”
“Must be nice,” she coughed out a bitter laugh as they walked to the Daimler, “Let’s get this over with.”
As the Daimler rolled over Belial and into the desert just outside of the outskirts of town, arriving into the blown out dustiness of Old Towne where the past continued to rear its ugly head. Ancient winds eroded the streets bare of the cheap asphalt unveiling the original dirt path upon which carriage wheels engrained their memorials of the town’s historical fetidness. Renshu parked the Daimler in front of the courthouse and cut the engine.
“I don’t know how this will go,” Price admitted.
“It’s best not to think of such things,” Renshu winked and got out of the car. The dead breeze sweeping through the dusty street sunk its teeth into their bones. It billowed rancid and ancient dirt. From the sulfuric sands of Hell itself or from the last inhabitants was left for the visitor to imagine. They walked up the old steps into the courthouse, through the double saloon doors, revealing those who had already arrived, including the judge who sat idly reading a pulp atop the decrepit pulpit which stood as an extension of the bandstand stage. They took their places in the pews situated into the left wall like bleachers.
“Pray it goes quickly,” she grumbled.
“The evidence is quite damning,” Renshu replied in a hushed tone.
The doors squealed, the two threw their glances over. A weighted, heavy silence clenched the air as three vampires strolled in, all trussed in varying shades of crimson tuxedos. The center one, tall and handsome if that were an appropriate adjective for a vampire, grinned at those who sat in the jury of saloon tables before he eased into the defendant’s seat in front of them.
The judge threw down her gavel and yelled.
“The court is now in session!”
Renshu cleared his throat and looked over at the vampire in the middle.
“Will Rosario Vatrino make himself known?” the judge said, her voice shrill and loud.
The crown prince of the Vatrinos stood, acknowledging everyone with a prim and proper gentleman’s congeniality, his red candelabra eyes alighted on each jury member and fell on Renshu. The detective held still. The vampire’s nostrils flared, a barely perceptible sniff, and flashed a hungry grin. The prince resumed his seat and adjusted his garnet tie clip.
“Does the defendant have a lawyer?” The judge asked.
The vampire next to Rosario Vatrino rose and tipped his red trilby. In one hand, he held a black briefcase. Renshu’s eyes narrowed at its glistening visage, his head tilted with his tell-tale birdlike jerk.
He spoke with a thick Slavic accent, “Yes, it is I.”
“You may sit,” the judge motioned for the lawyer to take a seat.
“Now, the defendant has come in here today in defense of the accession that he, Rosario Vatrino, has been accused of multiple cases of identity fraud, extortion, and murder.”
“Does the dependent plead guilty or not guilty?” The judge looked up from her report and swung her stare at the vampire. The Prince replied with suave regality buttering his Romalian accent.
“We will proceed with the witness’s testimony,” the judge said.
Officer Price sniggered from next to Renshu, “There was nothing but witnesses there with their lives threatened. His goose is cooked.”
“Yes, witnesses,” Rosario’s smile remained despite the accusations.
“We call this person to the stand at this moment to testify as witness to the proceedings,” the judge said.
Price smiled, it was one of the patrol officers.
“The trial cannot have police as witnesses, hum?” Rosario rose his finger like a dutiful elementary school child.
Price grumbled and crossed her arms over her chest, the buckles of her single breasted buttons crumpled.
“Like you give a damn about the law.”
“I suppose you’re correct,” the judge sighed, “Can we get an actual witness up here for Christ’s sake?”
She waved her hand dismissively and produced another witness, in this case a black mamba reptilian anthro trussed in a matching tuxedo.
“State your name and put your hand on the Bible,” the judge picked at something from beneath her claws.
“I’m not a christian,” the black mamba objected.
“It’s a symbolic gesture, I don’t make the rules around here,” the judge grunted from her simmering bowles.
The mamba rose a brow and put his clawed hand on the Bible, a decrepit old tome missing a few pages and those remaining frayed at their pink tinted edges, suggesting the book had seen many better decades.
He stated his name and spoke that under penalty of perjury he would speak nothing but the truth.
“Proceed with your witness,” the judge said.
The mamba sat in the hot seat, “Well, I was at a party, see. Parties are always in the Mammon Country Club and well this one was no different.”
He licked his lips and glanced over at Rosario, which Renshu caught.
“No different? Your entire place was raided by three vampires hopped on some lethal drug that turned them into bigger monsters than they already are,” Virginia shouted. The black mamba cleared his throat, ignoring her outburst, his eyes focused on the vampire prince.
“Order!” The judge slammed her gavel down.
Captain Price heaved a sigh out of her nose.
“I move to call another witness to the stand,” Officer Price said.
“Perhaps it would be best if you observe as opposed to interfering,” Renshu sidelong his statement at her.
“That’s your job,” the grumbled from the side of her mouth back at him.
“Very well. Call another witness to the stand,” the judge pointed to the crowd. Another reptilian, a green slinky lizard anthro tugged on his tie and rose. He proceeded with the same short process as the Mamba and sat in the hot seat.
“Can you testify to the things you’ve witnessed?”
The reptilian glanced at the Vatrinos, gulped and spoke in a shaky voice.
“Well, actually yes I can affirm Officer Price’s convictions,” he said. He had a small voice, almost impossible to hear, and spoke instead into the microphone.
“Yes? Can you tell us what happened the night of the 13th that you were at the party at the Mammon Country Club the night that this event supposedly took place?”
“My band was performing at the Mammon Country Club that night. Our usual gig. Then I see three vampires come walking in the door. Next thing I know, they’re killing everyone in sight, all of them larger than they’d been before and thirstier than ever,” the reptilian glanced at the Rosario who returned a hungry gaze.
“Objection,” the lawyer vampire rose his voice, “There is no evidence that these vampires are of our family lineage.”
“There isn’t a single vampire in this city who isn’t related to the Vatrino family in some form,” Officer Price said.
“Is this true?”
The judge asked the Vatrinos who shifted in their seats just before the lawyer nodded with a sheepish, “Yes”.
“Will the detective please present the evidence?” The judge said.
“That appears to be me,” he rose and walked up to the stand. He ignored the predatory glances thrown at him. He gulped as he procured and unfolded Garrison’s note in his shaking hands.
“On the night of the 13th, there was a slip of paper found in the office of Mammon’s Country Club’s owner Garrison, found dead on the scene. ”
He read off the contents of the letter.
“The letter is a clear case of extortion from Rosario to Garrison in a business exchange with illegal drugs,” Renshu glanced at the vampires eyeing him like choice cut beef.
“Thank you, Detective Karasu, we will now call Rosario Vatrino to the stand,” the judge said.
Renshu nodded and walked over to sit back next to Officer Price. He glanced at the briefcase beneath the vampire lawyer’s claws.
“Mr. Vatrino, is that alright if I call you that or do you prefer Prince of the Vampires?” a white snake in a tux spoke, perhaps the lawyer from the other side, pacing like a cat around Rosario.
“Rosario is well with me,” he waved his hand in a genteel way, allowing the lawyer to continue.
“Where were you at 6pm on November 13th?”
“In my office swigging a fine Fresco Valadacci,” Rosario grinned.
The lawyer cleared his throat, “Are you familiar with the note found on Garrison’s person?”
“I would hope so. I wrote it,” Rosario’s response was immediate, not a second’s worth of hesitation nor remorse.
“So you admit to writing this letter?”
“Is that not what I said?”
“And so you admit to the content therein?”
Rosario nodded, “You are an unobservant lawyer.”
The lawyer glared.
“Can you tell us what this Diesel is?”
Rosario laughed and leaned back, his canines glittering in the dusty light.
“All you want is Diesel. None of my other masterpieces of narcotic invention.”
“If you could focus Mr. Vatrino that would be great,” the lawyer quipped.
“Diesel is a drug, as Tengu detective has said,” he motioned for Renshu before turning back to the lawyer.
“What kind of drug?”
“That I cannot disclose. I receive shipment from Diesel client. He paid me extra to keep him secret,” Rosario winked.
“You extorted Garrison into a business exchange to use his country club as a distribution center?”
“To Garrison? No. He is too superstitious to march to progress,” Vatrino was nonchalant as ever.
“Were you aware that your own kind ingested the Diesel?”
Rosario widened his grin, “Yes. I gave it to them. The consequences of refusing the crown, hum?”
“So you were aware of the effects of Diesel?” The lawyer said.
“I did,“ Rosario nodded “But we do not sell Diesel. My family only sells what we make, we pride ourselves on the craftsmanship of our product.”
There was silence as the lawyer sat and contemplated the exchange.
“And what of Garrison’s death?”
“What of it?”
Rosario chuckled, “I was not present at the time of his death.”
“He won’t be convicted for murder,” Price growled.
“But he will be convicted of drug dealing and extortion,” Renshu replied.
The judge slammed down her gavel, “Thank you. Everyone is dismissed barring the members of the jury.”
Officer Price and Renshu stood near the bar. Renshu glanced at the vampires. Rosario flicked his crimson gaze up and down the Tengu, sniffing. He turned, flicked open the briefcase, revealing stacks of cash. Renshu cleared his throat and turned to Officer Price.
“How pleasant the defendant is,” his voice dripped with sarcasm.
“Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. He’s a sick fellow,” Price rolled her eyes but before Renshu could respond, the judge reappeared waving everyone back.
Everyone sat in their respective seats and awaited word from the jury. Officer Price folded her hands in her lap, her foot bobbing.
Then, one of the jury, a red demon in farmer’s clothes, stood up. Sweat gleamed on his brow as he glanced at the open briefcase filled with the cash. Then his eyes fell on Rosario who nodded to him. His rustic blue collar accent twanged.
“The members of the jury find Rosario Vatrino to be….” he took the paper in his hand, turning it, biting his lip and said “Not guilty.”