MC Ch. 14

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Chapter 14: If Fortune be a woman, she’s a good wench

Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.

Remember I said I liked cute librarians? The one person I trusted in those days was a cute reference librarian. Even though she had been dead for years by that time, she was still cute, and the very best reference librarian a vampire could ever ask for. For you see, Ivy McIlwraith had not been just a librarian. She had also been a sorceress while she was alive. And the combination of those two roles made her the best-informed person in the world on the supernatural.

Ivy and I probably would never become friends except that she spoke with a Scottish accent. I’m mostly Scottish: “Kammen” is what the Germans made out of “Cameron” when my ancestors fled their native land after the ’45 (that’s 1745, folks, look it up) and settled in Bavaria. And my father was an actor who did a great many accents, but who insisted that our native accent was Scottish. So when I asked this new librarian a question and she answered in an accent that I’d never heard outside of my own family, I was intrigued.

Lucky for me, Ivy was just as interested in me. In those days I was a bully and a bookworm, an odd combination for a kid. Ivy would tell me years later that she looked into the future and saw that I would turn into a mass murderer, a real psycho. She decided to change me, bend my character into nobler channels using her sorcery. She even seduced me as part of her program to change my character. Was she sexually manipulating an inexperienced youth? You bet. I never knew so young a body with so old a head, and became completely dependent on her. Was that unethical? She figured that, by the time I was twenty, she’d have straightened me out completely so that I would be naturally good and stay that way, and then she planned to release me. In retrospect, I can’t condemn her. I sure as hell couldn’t at the time, either.

Unfortunately for both of us, Ivy was killed when I was seventeen. She just disappeared, and the cops could find no evidence of foul play, or anything else to show what had happened to her. Five days later she turned up in my bed, telling me she was a ghost, and absolutely refusing to tell me what had happened to her. It was the most devastating experience of my life. Compared to that, waking up in a coffin with Martha cackling over me was a cakewalk.

ii.

The old library building in 1903, and how it looks today as the Chicago Cultural Center

The old library building in 1903, and how it looks today as the Chicago Cultural Center

Ivy sometimes came to me, but the most reliable way for me to see her was to visit her in the main library. This was the old central library, a glorious Victorian structure with a lavish display of wood, marble, and glass in the interior, not the modern building that went up a few decades later. I used the duplicate keys I had made to get into the library and walked over to her old station in the library, carrying the binder Ned O’Donnell had given me.

An interior view of the old library building

An interior view of the old library building

Ivy never showed up immediately. She was a restless person while she was alive, and became a restless ghost, always wandering about the library while reading a book. This time, I heard her footsteps coming down the long hall, leather soles ringing on the marble floor.

Of course, she wasn’t actually wearing leather soles; she was a ghost. But Ivy still had some of her sorceress’s powers. She couldn’t really materialize, but she could use sorcery to interact with the material world. When she’d been alive, she’d loved the loud sound of leather soles on the library’s floors. So she’d taken to making that sound when walking about in the library. The stories you might have heard about ghostly footsteps in the main branch of the Chicago Public Library? That’s Ivy playing a joke on the patrons and staff.

Another view of the interior. You can see why Ivy loved haunting this place.

Another view of the interior. You can see why Ivy loved haunting this place.

Ivy liked to change her ghostly appearance frequently. This night, I could see her coming toward me in a flapper’s outfit from the 1920s, the yellow fabric complemented by her bobbed blond hair. (In life, Ivy had had black hair.) I was sitting in her old chair, so she just jumped into my lap, gave me the ghost of a kiss, and asked, “What’s cookin’, Shylock?”

(Yes, she called me Shylock. I’ll explain later.)

I pointed to the binder. “I just got a job offer, Ivy.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Medical leech? Aren’t you a bit big for the job?”

I scowled at her. “Give me some encouragement, my dear. That is a proposal for a CPD vampire police bureau, courtesy of one Ned O’Donnell, who used to be a young flatfoot in his twenties, is now a vampire, and styles himself acting bureau chief.”

Ivy didn’t even touch the binder, just used magic to flip it open and turn all the pages in under a minute. Being dead has upped her reading speed. She turned back to me and gave me a thoughtful look. “It looks good to me, though I don’t know all the details you’d need for CPD. In fact, Shylock, I’d say it’s what you need. You’ve been worried about controlling your dark side on your own ever since you became a vampire. I take it the problem is with this O’Donnell?”

I grimaced. “That’s minor. The kid seems reasonable. In fact, Zalensky, who’s also a vampire now, is backing him, and I’ve never known Zalensky to stand on the wrong side of an issue politically. It’s the fact that Zalensky is backing him that’s got me worried. Why does he think CPD will accept vampires as cops, when they’ve killed every single ex-cop they could get their hands on? What does he think CPD will want to do with vampire cops?”

Ivy got out of my lap, swung around to the other side of the desk, and started pacing. Out of the side of her mouth she said, “If I were CPD, I’d use vampire cops to hunt vampires.”

“And that is what I bet Zalensky thinks, too. But, as you read, that’s not what O’Donnell has in mind. He thinks CPD will let us start by policing humans, then vampires, then other supernatural creatures, and finally sorcerers. In fact, he’s ignoring the obvious first target for a vampire police bureau: Martha Fokker. Catching cop killers is second only to getting better press at CPD.”

Ivy curled her lip at my last comment before tossing me an inquiring look. “Is O’Donnell another one of Martha’s vampire offspring?”

I nodded. “And Zalensky, too. In fact, O’Donnell has a list of all the cops Martha turned into vampires, and they’re going to be his recruitment base. He got the list from Martha, which means he’s on good terms with her. And that, I’m betting, is why he’s ignoring the obvious.”

Ivy came to a stop directly opposite me and leaned forward with her arms on the desk. “So what are you going to do about it, my dear?”

What, indeed. I’d been leaning in favor of it for a lot of reasons. It would be good to be on the force again, with colleagues. Being a vampire had made it harder for me to control my sadistic impulses, vampirism being inherently sadistic. On the other hand, as I told Ivy, I had my reservations.

“I’ll go with O’Donnell on this,” I answered. “He says he expects everyone to help make this proposal as good as it can be, and I’ll hold him to that. I’ll push him on the vampires-policing-vampires angle, him and Zalensky. Maybe I can get Zalensky mad enough that he’ll say something revealing.”

Ivy and I both smiled at the thought. She had heard about my previous run-ins with Zalensky when we were both cops.

“And,” I concluded, “I’m not going to just depend on O’Donnell and Zalensky to make this work. My ventures will not in one bottom be trusted. I’m a detective, dammit, and those two are not. They don’t know how to go about getting information the way I do, nor do they have my contacts.” Had to wonder how many of my contacts would still want to speak to me now that I was a vampire.

Ivy observed, “Zalensky’s well-connected among the higher-ups in the department.”

“Ah, but I know two women who have even better contacts than Zalensky, and I’m pretty sure they’ll both still talk to me.”

Ivy’s expression turned arch. “Former mistresses, perhaps? Are you going to beat them into submission and drink their blood?”

That seemed a bit raw, coming from Ivy. Must have struck a jealous streak. I gave an emphatic shake of my head. “No way, Ivy. The two women I’m thinking of are my sister Kate and Sally Truax.”

Ivy brightened up with a smile. “Good choices.”

Relieved, I replied, “Provided Truax doesn’t try to pry out one of my fangs to see if it’s real.” Hell, I wouldn’t have put it past her to demand I feed on her so she knew what it was like. “And I am going to hunt down Martha. If that little creep is going to cause us problems, I want to be ready for her.”

Ivy sat on the desk, hunched her shoulders, contemplated the dust on the desk top. I knew she was thinking, so I kept my mouth shut. Finally she gave me a worried look. “Shylock, I never told you in so many words, but ever since I’ve known you, I’ve been looking out for you. I’ve always known where you were, and always expected to intervene and protect you if you were ever tackled by a supernatural creature you couldn’t handle.”

“I’m not exactly surprised, Ivy.”

She shook her head. “Nor did I expect you to be. If you’d been attacked by a vampire, I should have been able to protect you. But the moment Martha attacked you, I lost all contact with you. I couldn’t even find you to help you. No vampire should have been able to do that.”

Naturally I asked, “What could?”

Ivy threw up her hands, got off the desk and resumed pacing. “The only thing that should be able to do that is another sorcerer.”

“Which means Martha has help. Why would a sorcerer help Martha?”

Ivy shook her head repeatedly while pacing and thinking about the subject. “Pure idle mischief, maybe. More likely politics. Mayor Daley is thick with Edward Cross, the supreme sorcerer for the Midwest. Maybe Martha is part of some subtle intrigue against one or both of them.”

“Maybe they’re the ones behind Martha.”

Ivy puckered her lips, blew me a raspberry. “No way, not their style, either of them. But whoever is behind Martha, they’re dangerous, Shylock. I won’t be able to protect you. So be careful.”

End of chapter fourteen

(Link to next chapter)

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14 Responses to MC Ch. 14

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    “My ventures will not in one bottom be trusted.” What does this mean?
    I would think that if Daley were tight with any sorcerers, it would be someone from the Irish community in Chicago. Would a sorcerer who’s “supreme” across the entire Midwest be from, say, a farming community, picking up his early knowledge from rural folk-magic? Perhaps another story for another time.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      The quoted phrase is a paraphrase of a line in Shakespeare, meaning that the speaker will not depend on just one chance to make his fortune, but will employ many means. Kammen quotes or paraphrases Shakespeare every so often. (In fact, both the chapter titles in part 2 are quotations from Shakespeare.) Why he does this will be more or less explained in the next chapter.

      Daley plays with the people who have power, in order to hold and expand his own. Whether we get into Cross’s history will depend on the story’s needs, and I’ll not say more at present.

  2. Judy says:

    Enjoyed the chapter and the change of POV with the new character. I had the same question as EJ on ‘one bottom’..interesting that!! The other thing that had me reading down and flipping back up was here..”.person I trusted in those days was a cute reference librarian. Even though she had been dead for years by that time” Is that time now? Because further down I read that she was killed when he was 17. It sounded at first like she was dead when they first met. Now I understand that she was not. So it seems to me that in the beginning…would it be clearer to say…the person I trusted most back then was a cute reference librarian and …..even though she had been dead for years by THIS time…..

    Now if the wrong following was just me its ok….I am willing to risk asking a stupid question. Sorry if if the question is messy.

    I like Ivy and Kammen!!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      There’s a firm rule in writing fiction: never change the tense within your story. I have broken this rule and jumped up and down on the fragments. This is why you’re finding Kammen’s references to Ivy’s life and death confusing. I’ve switched from the present tense in Ned’s account to the past tense in Kammen’s account, and as a reader you don’t yet have all the clues to know exactly from what time Kammen is writing.

      So let’s untangle this.

      Kammen is writing about the events of 1969 or not long after. We know from the previous chapter that Ned is a vampire, which means it can’t be any earlier than 1969, and that Ned’s only recruited a few other vampires, which means it can’t be much later.

      But Kammen is NOT writing in 1969. He refers to the old and new buildings for Chicago’s main library branch, which, although he doesn’t specifically say so, means he’s writing in 1991, when the new building was opened, or later.

      Hence the problems with the demonstratives. For Kammen writing after 1991 about events in 1969, “this time” is his present, which is sometime after 1991, while “that time” is the era he’s describing, around 1969. It’s consistent with his use of “back then” and “now” while describing his sexuality in the previous chapter. Once that’s understood, Kammen’s references become clear: Ivy was alive when they first met, died when Kammen was 17, and was a ghost circa 1969. What her status is in 1991 is unclear.

      HOWEVER, he didn’t have to write that way. He could have adopted the convention you’re suggesting, in which “this time” refers to 1969, which after all is the period he is writing about. To do that, he’d have to make his references to the era in which he is writing as something like “years later,” or “these days, in [year]” or something like that. And that would have been just as reasonable a way to write, so it’s not surprising you read him that way. Maybe I’ll have to revise his language accordingly. I need to think about this, because I can see problems in changing it, too.

      We wouldn’t have this problem had I kept the tenses consistent, and not abruptly changed them going from Ned to Kammen. So why did I break the rule, opening up the possibility of such confusion? Two reasons. First, there’s the author’s objectives: I wanted to give readers a sense of the immediacy of Ned’s confusion and worries when he wakes up a vampire, while Kammen’s account will explain some things that could only be known in retrospect. Second, the way they tell the stories is a clue to their characters. Before he was turned into a vampire, Ned was pretty much an up-front sort of guy who lived in the moment. Kammen, in contrast, was a detective, and an older man: cynical, a bit world-weary, with a strong sense of history and time that a detective needs to reconstruct how crimes come about.

      So my apologies for the confusion. I hope the explanation at least clarifies why I confused you unintentionally!

      • Judy says:

        Ahhh not to worry!! Thanks so much for the time you took responding to the query!! I understand a character shift might also need a pov / time line shift. Sorry to answer back so late!! Right now must jet out of the office but looking forward to my Friday installment reading via my iPad this evening!! 🙂

  3. crimsonprose says:

    If Sherlock (I prefer Shylock) can figure that Martha Fokker will likely be top of CPD’s hit list should this Vampire Division get approval, surely MF can figure that too. So what’s her game in helping Ned to form said Division? Or, has she not seen it, blinded by her arrogance? Or . . . another answer? She’s pushing for showdown, maybe? You’re going to tell me I have to wait till penultimate chapter to find out, aren’t you.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      At least I explain the ambiguity about Kammen’s given name in the next chapter.

      But no, I can’t explain fully what Martha’s thoughts are about being at the top of CPD’s hit list, not yet, though I can guarantee the explanation will happen before the penultimate chapter. But I must acknowledge that she is arrogant enough to think she can stay out of CPD’s clutches; after all, she’s outfoxed them so far and killed a number of them in the process.

  4. Russell says:

    BB, I’m amazed at the amount of research you and CP are doing for your work, whereas I’m basically making up Midhbar as I go. With each chapter of MC, your careful study of Chicago and the CPD pays off for the reader.
    Interesting that both the sorcerers we’ve met so far are female, and both have been instrumental in helping our male characters get where they need to go. I’m curious if we’ll find their motives are primarily altruistic (or even maternal), kinky, opportunistic, or otherwise self-serving. Equally interested to see if the sorcerers, as opposed to the sorceresses, also have a soft spot for the headstrong Scots-Irish contingent of the CPD.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Well, you can take credit for the pictures in this chapter: had you not made the comparison to the movie “Ghostbusters” in a comment a while back, I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time nailing down the details of the history of the Chicago Public Library.

      We will learn more about the motivations of the sorcerers as the story progresses. It can be hard to draw the line between altruistic and self-serving motivations sometime. If I do a good deed that gives me no material benefit, but makes me feel good, does that good feeling mean I was not acting out of altruism, but for my own psychological benefit?

  5. Russell says:

    I am proud to have contributed that pop culture nugget to your vast repository.
    Ah, this altruism/self-interest discussion takes me back to the ethics and philosophy classes that — as an English major — I could take instead of math courses. I think John Stuart Mill’s answer would be “Either way is just as good!”

  6. Russell says:

    Trying to imagine how either philosopher would address the possibility of good outcomes for vampires is not something I’m willing to debate, but it is funny to think about.

  7. Russell says:

    Ha! Go for it, BB!

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