Chapter 10: The blood brotherhood of vampires
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Darlene is amused to see me. I lie, tell her that Martha sent me down for fighting skills in general. So, after she’s finished bleeding me (and this time I don’t manage to touch her at all), she turns me over to a big guy named Hank, who teaches me the finer points of bare-handed wrestling. I lose every fight with both of them.
I’m back the next night. I start with Hank, because Darlene isn’t there, then switch over to her after Hank demonstrates how vampires can’t go through walls, me being the vampire and the wall being the one he keeps hurling me against. By this time, I’ve acquired a following. As Darlene tells me, the news is out that a white cop (I know she was going to say “pig”) is letting himself get beaten repeatedly by black vampires. Even Scratch comes out at one point to watch. I end the second night of this by going one round with a shrimpy little black guy with a sword. I lose every fight, again. As I get ready to leave, Darlene tells me I’m improving. She’s right. I just wish I was learning faster, or that it was less painful.
There’s still no note from Love waiting for me when I wake up the next night, so I head down to the pool hall again. Shorty greets me, Darlene gives me a smile, and tells me Scratch wants to see me a moment. We step into Scratch’s office. I hear Darlene close the door. And the next thing I know, I’ve been slammed down onto the desk, and there is something sharp in my back.
Scratch’s face appears in front of mine. “Hello, Ned,” he says. He smiles. It is not a friendly smile. “That’s Darlene holding a knife to your back. We’re going to play a game, sort of a variation of a game show. We call it ‘Truth and Consequences.’ I’m going to ask you one question. You are going to tell me the truth. And depending on what answer you give, you’ll either live or die. So, don’t think carefully, just answer. Who sent you here to get fight training?”
Well, I know the right answer isn’t “Martha,” because that’s what I already told them. Knowing how well sorcerers and vampires get along, I try for the next best answer, which happens to be true, “A sorcerer sent me.” I close my eyes, wait for the thrust of the knife.
I hear Scratch’s voice. “Let him go, Darlene.” The knife and the arm holding me down go away.
Scratch gives Darlene a look. She leaves while he takes a seat behind the desk, motions for me to have a seat on my side.
I sit down. I consider my situation, and then go for broke. What have I got to lose after almost being killed? “Want to tell me why I’m alive? Maybe even what this is all about?”
Scratch gives me an amused smile. “I could say because I don’t know whether to like you or feel sorry for you, Ned. Truth is, partly because of the answer you gave, partly because of something you did several nights ago.” He leans forward, gives me a serious look. “The other night, when you came here, you told me Martha had sent you. I’d heard you two had split, so I sent a message to her. She sent a message back to me last night, telling me I was free to kill you.”
So much for Mother’s care for her children. But I’m even more puzzled. So I say, “But you’re not going to. Why? I thought you and Martha are allies.”
Scratch nods, leans back. “We are. But there’s that answer you gave. Ain’t the first time sorcerers have cropped up in connection with Martha.” He gives me another smile, a friendlier one this time. “Tell me, Ned, the sorcerer employing you: white guy, about five-eight, maybe in his thirties, brown hair, sunglasses all the time?”
I shake my head. “Not even close.”
“Hmph.” Scratch looks thoughtful. “Let me tell you a story, Ned. Once upon a time, these vampires came to town. They were basically tourists, preying on other tourists. We paid them no mind. They got into a fight with the cops. Most of them got killed. And one of them, someone no one had ever heard of before, got it in her head to start a vendetta against the cops.
“You don’t just rise up from minor gang member to gang leader overnight, Ned. Not normally. So no one paid much attention to the vampire in question. She was so short, so harmless looking. Marco Polo, the head of the Italian vampire gang, even told Martha to lay off. Martha challenged him to a duel. He specified knives. Marco was over six feet tall. It would be a pushover.
“Except it wasn’t. Darlene was there. She saw Martha take apart Marco. I’d trust her judgment on a knife fight anytime. She says Martha did things even a vampire can’t do. In her opinion, Martha had the help of a sorcerer.
“So, after that, when Martha asked if any other gang wanted to take issue with her, I went the other way and offered her my support. Vampires don’t tangle with sorcerers unless they can’t help it. Jackie the Polock didn’t know. He told Martha to lay off. Two nights later, he and all his lieutenants went missing. The night after that, they were found. They’d all been tied up and left in the sun. Wasn’t much left of them. And Martha, even with no visible gang behind her, became the uncrowned king of Chicago. No vampire gang would dare cross her after that.
“I don’t much like the situation, so I go to Edward Cross. Cross is the supreme sorcerer for the Midwest, the guy who sits on the sorcerers’ council. I told him that I thought some sorcerer was meddling in vampire affairs. Cross thanked me for the information and dismissed me. That was all I expected of him, by the way. Even if he knew something, he wouldn’t tell me. That’s the way sorcerers are. But two weeks later there was a sorcerer going around asking about Martha. He’s the guy I described to you.
“So it seems like there are at least three sorcerers involved: whoever’s helping Martha, Cross’s agent, and whoever is behind you, Ned.”
I’m not sure where this is going, but I interject, “How do you know mine isn’t one of the other two?”
Scratch laughs. “Well, you told me he’s not Cross’s agent, and you aren’t working for Martha right now, so someone else isn’t happy with her.” Scratch sits up, leans forward. “There’s an old rule, Ned: when sorcerers come out to play, vampires get out of the way. You are caught up in some sorcerers’ game, Ned. Do yourself a favor. Get out of it as quickly as you can.”
I pull a wry face. “I’m committed for now, Scratch. But I appreciate the advice.”
He leans back in his chair again. “Sure. But if you have to cut and run, come see me. We’ll take you in, or if it gets too hot, we can get you away from here.”
That offer surprises me. “How come you’re so willing to stick your neck out for me, Scratch? It’s not like . . . I’ve done you any favors.” I was going to say I’m not black, and then decided not to.
Scratch plays with his fingers for a bit before answering. “You’re not responsible for sorcerers, Ned. When it comes to them, the safest rule is for vampires to stick together. And, you know how I mentioned something you did a few nights back? Remember how some nights ago you were poaching on my turf, a couple, Jim and Hildy Thompson?”
It only takes me a second. “Yeah, that was me.” I figure if he knows, he knows. If he’s going to make an issue of it, now’s the time to deal with it.
He laughs. “I know it was you. One of my people, Dot, was flying overhead. She dropped down to observe you. Recognized you from your visit here. Said she’d never seen such a badly done attack on prey in years.”
I color with embarrassment.
Scratch continues. “What took her by surprise is that she heard you asking that couple what they wanted, and promising them you’d help them out somehow.” He laughs again. “I get so much in the way of white trash vampires coming in and treating my people like scum, and you go and apologize to black folk for biting them! I didn’t much like you when you first came here, Ned. You were just another white cop with an attitude. But when I heard about that, I told myself I owed you one. So there it is.”
I’m not sure quite what to say to Scratch. Partly I’m bewildered because my poaching on his grounds has actually worked to my benefit. Partly I’m buoyed up by the way Scratch refers to the humans in his neighborhood as his people. Because if I’m ever going to get the vampire cops to work, I’m going to have to get vampires to treat people like people, as well as prey. And Scratch actually feels that way, at least about people of his own color, at least some of the time. Maybe it’s just his own people, but I don’t have to be so exclusive. Can’t be, if I’m going to help police the whole city.
Scratch interrupts my thinking. “Go run along and get some more training, Ned. And remember: when you hear the sorcerers getting ready to stomp you into the ground, come for help.”
I thank him, awkwardly, and leave. I spend the rest of the night training. And the next night, too. And I do it with better spirits. I’m not doing this just to help Love. I’m doing this to help myself stay human. Or at least as human as a vampire can be.
End of chapter ten