The Caldera's Vice

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CHAPTER 31

Dragon Anthro Mutt And Purebred Vampire

Milton arrived at his apartment and gasped at the glowing ember at the other side of the room before he flicked on the light and found Victor smoking a boffer. He sighed and stood in the doorway, silent, both of them watching each other before he finally walked in and slammed the door.

“What did you do?” Milton’s accusatory question teased a smile out of Victor. He blew out a puff of smoke.

“How kind of you to suspect I’ve done something and by the sound of it, sounds like I’m in a tad bit of trouble. Who needs a nagging wife when I have you?”

Milton cleared his throat and dropped his coat on the back of the moth eaten couch.

“I have a guess,” he started to unbutton his shirt. A stain caught his eye. Blood.

Victor tilted his head to the side, grinning, “Oh?”

“You looked for him.”

“Bingo.”

“Did you find him?” Milton blurted and no amount of wincing could make him take it back.

Victor sighed, shaking his head, turning to snub out the roach of his boffer into an ash tray

“Yes.”

Milton lost a breath.

“How?” He whispered, coming closer.

“I spoke to Japheth and did a little digging,” he didn’t look at Milton. “His place of residence turned up.”

“Did you get him?”

“I can’t do this alone.”

It was silent.

“You know how important this job is to me,” Milton growled.

“Is it important?” Victor’s class clown demeanor swept clean.

“Yes-”

“Or is it your vice? Your band aid covering the reopened scars at seeing the one who mutilated us?”

Milton grit his teeth and stepped forward, his braid swung over his shoulder and oscillated between there and the space below his chin.

“I’m getting a hell of a promotion out of this. Why can’t you just let me have that? Pretty soon we can move out of the slums with the way things are heading. You’re delusional chasing after him.”

“You know I would believe that if we were strangers. But I know better than anyone when you lie, and it takes my skilled eye to see you running away from him.”

Milton gulped.

“Where does he live?” Milton whispered, despite his desire to remain quiet, then shook his head, “He’s leading you to him! He knows he’s a hell of a lot more powerful than both of us and he’s setting us up.”

“We’re grown men that handle Starved Lifters on a regular business-”

Milton marched over and threw his fists on the table until the glasses clinked.

“He’s not a fucking Lifter!”

Victor’s face turned bitter.

“I’m done with this shit fest of a conversation,” Milton pushed himself away from the table and walked away.

***

Milton drove alone, favoring his right hand still recovering from its bludgeoning and the face leftover with peeling scabs of the various attacks he’d suffered. A little snarl escaped his lips as he glanced at himself in the rearview mirror and turned it until it no longer showed his reflection.

Given the hour, the Hub was relatively calm. Distributors wheeled crates of drugs as Milton walked down towards the underground parking lot.

In the center of the Hub, Silas stood with Ruth and several others. The whole of the hunting crew, dubbed affectionally in his mind. There was also several others trying their best to wheel their around them. Milton approached the small little group specializing in the manufacture of the best of the best products.

He stopped in front of Silas.,

“Glad you’re here, son. Ready for another assignment?”

Milton nodded.

“Speak, don’t just nod your damn head,” Silas snapped.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good’n. Now, we got word Rosario got out of that trial Scot-free and we’re aiming for a real parlay. We scheduled with him and he’s got the A-ok for it.”

Milton nodded, then cut it with a curt affirmation.

“Yes sir.”

“Alright, let’s get the hell out of here,” Silas motioned for the parking lot and the others followed.

Silas, Hank and Ruth took up the front bench. Milton wedged in the back between Japheth and Reno. Japheth winked at him as the engines gunned.

“Rising the ranks, I see,” he said, his cigarillo bobbed on his serrated line of teeth.

Milton’s smile pressed the stitching of clotted scabs, sending crumbles of dried blood to the floor.

“Guess I am.”

***

They drove east to the end of Belial fading into a dirt road that split a ghost town halfway. Faded, stenciled lettering on a wind-beaten sign stuck into the roadside labeled Miller’s Lane bobbed in the wind. Beyond that, a modern sign pointed a forward arrow towards Miller’s Park.

A ring of dead trees and gas lamps surrounded a circle of cracked dirt into which the Model A drove parked just out of. Everyone got out and walked into the ring, making a mark like the center dot in a target.

“Alrighty, folks,” Silas said, “Not a damn word from any of you except Ruth.”

Milton nodded, shivering in the wind, touching the tip of his Colt, glancing at the lone gremlin setting up to light the gas lamps. The soft hum of a motor in the distance alerted him someone was on their way and when he turned a crimson Isotta-Fraschini round the last bit of Miller’s Lane and parked.

“Steady,” Silas’ voice was a low rumble.

Guns clicked. The doors of the Fraschini opened. A quartet of vampires emerged and walked out to the center of the ring, allowing a few yards of distance. Their pale skin glowed in the violet of twilight, as well as their matching red pinstripe suits. They all carried lanterns beset with a soft golden glow, coming from behind tampered glass colored a bright amber. Center front stood infamous vampire kingpin, Rosario Vatrino.

Red eyes, burning bright crimson candelabras, glowed from the black pits of his deep eye sockets. Pale skin streaked in spiderweb veins pulled taut with his grin, the tip of his bat nose turned up and revealed the rusty tipped fangs. Platinum hair draped down to his shoulder line twirled in the breeze.

The two kingpins stared each other down. The dragon anthro mutt and the purebred vampire.

“Howdy,” Silas started.

Rosario grinned, his incisors and fangs glittered in the dim light.

“Hello, MaCallister. It has been some time, hum?”

“Quite a bit, yes. I hear you were let off a trial just now.”

Si, si. But that is not our problem tonight, hum? Let us be simple and plain.”

“Agreed,” Silas nodded. “You get our message?”

Rosario tilted his head to the side, “The deal for merging our territories?”

“That’ll be it.”

“I have considered it and more profit can be made between me and my client who gives me Diesel.”

“How do you figure that?” Silas’ snapped, “he’s plucking off your own like squashin’ gnats.”

“My client has grand plans for this town, hum?”

Milton glanced down at Silas’s crunching fist, expecting blood to drip between his fingers.

“You’d profit more from joining me. I’m already established in this town, pretty damn well known and successful. This new distributor don’t know a damn thing about what they’re doing with sending out this new drug.”

Milton glanced over at Ruth who kept her gaze on Silas’ forearm.

“This Diesel, I get from buyer I know not his name but I don’t care for that. Only for the chance to make deal with Garrison.”

“And that’s where you went wrong,” Silas said, pointing his index claw at the vampire king, “Garrison’s is my territory.”

Rosario grinned and chuckled, “Territory is tribal and trivial, hum?”

“We made an agreement years ago to not infringe on each other’s turf out of plain bureaucratic respect.”

“What Silas means to say is that you’re breaking an oath you’ve made,” Ruth said, putting her hand on Silas’s forearm to steady the rising tide of his rage.

Rosario nodded, then sighed, looking down at the hard packed sand.

“Times change, my pup.”

“The fuck did you call me?”

“Silas,” Ruth’s warning tone, calmed the flicker of Silas’s flame.

“I cannot accept your offer, MaCallister. Not when our adversary is so much more cunning than you will ever amount to.”

Silas jerked and Ruth caught him, Rosario laughing but behind him the vampires drew forth their claws and fangs, readying themselves for an attack. Everyone was silent. Milton hitched for his gun, as did the other bodyguards in their troupe.

“A madman genius runs this new strain and I wish to make the most of it. Business, hum?”

Silas snarled, “You’re gonna regret not expanding with me.”

Rosario’s head flung back in a cackle, revealing canines all the way to his throat.

“Oh, no, it is you MaCallister for not seizing opportunity to join hands with the enemy and become his friend,” Rosario winked.

Milton looked at Silas who appeared close to hurtling into an uncontrolled fit of rage.

“Have a good evening, pup,” Rosario donned a fedora as he turned to leave. The other vampires followed and left the others in quietude.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Silas snapped.

***

No one spoke the ride back to headquarters and Milton refused to breathe. Finally they were back in the parking lot.

“Everyone, come to my office,” Silas said in a tone that suggested it was a demand, not a request.

The snug office compressed with all of the people inside.

“It’s more than obvious they betrayed us,” Silas began, slamming into the seat behind his desk.

“I wouldn’t make any decisions right now, Silas,” Ruth said from the other side of the room, near the phonograph.

“This is the optimal time for a decision, Ruthie.”

“Our best bet is to keep slinging our product,” she ignored him “Our latest strain Heaven’s Ash is up and ready to go. We’ll expand and sling on Vatrino turf.”

“We can do that?” Milton said.

“Why the hell not?” Silas said. “We’re going to have to.”

“Can we secure a deal with the Diesel slingers before the Vatrinos do?” Milton blurted out, everyone looked at him.

“If we knew who they are, which apparently the Vatrinos know, I would be all in favor of that,” Silas said.

“And if someone found them before the Vatrinos?” Milton said.

“Assuming they’re easy to wrangle, budabub,” Japheth said.

“I didn’t say they would be,” Milton said, sidelong to Japheth.

“Whoever it is, has affiliations with the Glassberg family,” Ruth said.

“What?” Milton said.

“We found a load of Diesel hidden in Asher Glassberg’s house and put up telecams but nothing’s turned up,” Silas said, but it was directed to Ruth.

Milon glanced at his bandaged hand and licked him lip, his heart racing.

“Has the Diesel been moved?”

“Nope. We’re waiting for someone to come pick it up or drop some more off,” Silas said.

Nausea curled up into a thick ball inside of his intestines.

“Why not take the goods from the Glassberg house and use it against the Vatrinos?”

Silas gave him a hard look. The room went silent.

“Your tone’s borderin’ on mutinous. If you’re looking to stoke the embers you better be damn ready for the fire,” Silas’ warning one were angry church bells in Milton’s ears to stop, but continued regardless of the sirens in his ringing ears.

“Doesn’t it make sense?”

“You don’t know a damn thing you’re talking about.”

“I’ve seen it in the streets,” Milton said, then licked his lips and breathed out “I think I know a thing or two.”

Silas’ silence imploded. The calm before the storm.

“Sir, if you can oblige me a two cent?” Japheth said.

“Shoot.”

“Now, I’ve a notion about this Diesel,” Japheth began “I knew from the start it’s been lethal. I don’t think the Vatrinos be lookin’ to sling as much as scorched earth the competition. Ain’t it funny he didn’t take your expansion negotiation? Only an idiot would turn it down ’less he seen something better, you catch my bone?”

Silas’ expression was stony for a second, “God dammit, you’re right.”

Japheth’s lips quivered, forcing down a smile. It was silent as the grave.

“I believe Japheth when he says that he thinks that this new kingpin wants to wipe us all out so he can get dibs on the territory,” Milton blurted. Silas’s glance was a hateful flinch.

“Wouldn’t it make sense to take them both them out and expand instead?”

The lack of response was more oppressive than a murderous rage and Milton shivered, not daring one glance at his employer. Milton’s throat constricted, wiping his hands on his trousers, every bone in his body trembling

The oppression crunched the molecules in the air, gripping them and crushing them with the twist of uncertainty. Milton licked his lips, only looking so far as Silas’s hands. His veins popped out and Milton didn’t dare to look at the kingpin’s face.

“What do you think?” Milton chirped.

“I think you got iron nuts, son.”

Milton’s eyelids flickered, blinking in incredulity at the faint hint of admiration in his employer’s voice.

“What?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself,” Silas quipped, “No one who’s ever worked for me has talked like that. Not to me. You’re an idiot, Milton, but you got the heart of a griffon, I’ll give you that.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Milton said.

“What do I think of your little idea?”

Milton winced at the dismissal but held his tongue.

“Makes a hell of a lot of sense.”

Milton whipped his attention to Silas who gave him a sidelong glance, the barest of smiles on the dragon’s face.

“Really?”

“I said it, didn’t I? Here’s the new plan, in light of that. We take the demolitions back, all the Diesel, and level those blood-sucking bastards so they have no means to rise again.”

Milton licked his lips, smiling despite himself.

“We can’t get involved that way,” Ruth warned.

“How the hell can’t we?” Silas snapped. “Rosario is aiming to start a war with us.”

Everyone was silent again.

“I’m calling on my cousin Buford,” Silas snarled.

“Silas. Don’t,” Ruth said between her sharp teeth. Milton’s mouth dried.

“We don’t gotta choice, Ruthie,” Silas threw his bellowing behemoth of a roar at her, forcing them back into the oppressed silence.

Milton’s palms sweat. Silas swerved back to Milton, blowing the fumes of his wrath on the exposed little onyx demon until his sweat dripped down his forehead in bullets.

“Come along. We’re going up into dragon country.”

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