Chapter 15: Aye, marry, I’ll be gone about it straight.
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Yes, Ivy called me Shylock. That was my name when I was growing up. My father, as I mentioned, was an actor. He decided to name all of his children after morally dubious characters in Shakespeare. My sister came first. She got Hecate from Macbeth. And it was downhill from there. I came next, and got Shylock, after the Jew in The Merchant of Venice. My poor brother came last. He was named Iago, after the villain in Othello.
My father wasn’t a very good parent, being much more concerned with the theater than his children. My mother was much the same. Ivy became my substitute parent, mentor, counselor, and lover. When she was killed, I decided to become a cop to keep other people from being killed. Once my father died, I changed my name to “Sherlock” to signal my intentions. Ivy just kept on using my old name. She’s the only person I allowed to do so.
My brother also changed his name after our father died, to Jacob. My sister never bothered to legally change her name. She had been called Kate as a child, and continued using that name as an adult. If people assumed it was short for Katherine, she did not bother to contradict them.
As adults, we siblings were not a particularly close family, largely because we made greatly different choices in life. Jake inherited the acting bug, and moved to Hollywood. We got the occasional letter from him, little else. Kate was the beauty of the family, and used her looks to snag a rich husband when she was just 16. We didn’t move in the same circles, Kate was in “Society,” but her door was always open to me, and we helped each other out when we could.
The hard, dull part of detective work is gathering information, so many people think. If you’re one of them, then you’re not cut out to be a detective. Finding and pulling together the information I need to solve a crime or find a solution to a problem is one of the things that makes the job for me.
That night, my job was to understand sorcerers. Sorcerers were involved in city politics at a high level, and a sorcerer had interfered with Ivy’s protection of me. I had a personal and professional reason to learn everything I could about them.
Even though Ivy was a sorceress, that didn’t mean I could just ask her. Ivy believed that I learned best what I learned in my own way. She’d help me find sources in the library, she’d fill in blanks if I asked intelligent questions, but she wouldn’t just give me the answers if I could get them some other practical way. And she was right. What I learned through my efforts I understood better and could use more effectively.
There’s a pecking order among supernatural creatures. The more magical power they’ve got, the more ways they can use it, the higher they rank. Sorcerers are at the top. They use their souls to channel magical power, which they can use any way they want, given enough power and the proper spells. Even though Ivy was dead, she still had a soul, that’s what her ghost was, so she could still do magic, though she did not have as much power as when she was alive. No one knows why ghostly sorcerers are weaker, partly because so few sorcerers become ghosts: most use up all their power trying to hold onto life.
No other supernatural entity is as versatile as sorcerers. They are all bound by their natures to a more limited range of magical power.
In America, at least, vampires usually come next. We’ve got some control over our supernatural power. We can change shape at will into bats or wolves and enthrall normal people to different levels. But vampires can’t “do” magic, which is to say we can’t use it freely. You need a soul to do that, and vampires famously lose their souls when they die the first time.
Werewolves, ghouls, ghosts, shape-shifters of various kinds, and less common entities usually rank lower than vampires because they are less powerful. There’s one exception: some of these creatures, such as werewolves, have souls and can in theory become sorcerers, in which case they rise to the top and hang out with the other sorcerers. But that’s very rare. For instance, Ivy told me there was no record of a werewolf sorcerer in the United States, ever.
Each of the supernatural races looks down on the entities below it. But the big gap is between sorcerers and vampires. Sorcerers usually consider all other supernatural creatures to be inferiors barely worthy of notice. And while all the other supernatural creatures have their pecking order, they make common cause in disliking sorcerers. Vampires in particular have a long and bitter history of hating sorcerers. This isn’t just resentment at being inferior. Vampire culture has kept alive accounts of how sorcerers have interfered in vampire affairs from time to time. While they feign indifference toward vampires, sorcerers know how much vampires hate them, and usually each sorcerer has a spell in place to protect him from being enthralled by a vampire.
Curiously, vampires and sorcerers share a common trait: they both tend to become more powerful with age. The several regional supreme sorcerers that made up the North American council in those days were all over 70, at least, even if their sorcery kept them looking younger. And you’ve read Ned’s description of how Martha was faster and tougher than him. When I heard his account (a few nights later), I figured Martha had to be at least a century old as a vampire.
Sorcerers aren’t invulnerable. They certainly manage to kill each other off frequently enough, notwithstanding the council’s feeble attempts to prevent it. But a vampire who tries to go one-on-one with a sorcerer is normally going to lose. This was bad news, for me personally and for the future of a vampire police bureau. If we were ever to police sorcerers along with all the other supernatural creatures, we’d have to find a way to take them down if we needed to. My night’s reading on the subject generated few ideas on how that might be done, none worth trying without a great deal more thought and information.
Before dawn broke, I wrapped up my research, hunted down Sally Truax’s apartment, and left a note on her kitchen table. I had promised Ned O’Donnell I would give him my answer in two nights. I needed to talk to Sally before then.
The next night, I went to O’Brien’s. It was a quiet out-of-the-way bar where Sally and I used to meet after she had finished investigating me.
You see, Sally was in Internal Affairs. A few years before, she had been assigned to investigate whether I was a crooked cop because of a sting operation I was in that went bad. I had a reputation in the force of being a “fag” (which I’ll explain later), and Sally reasonably wondered if I had a criminal lover or was being blackmailed. I was very careful to keep my sex life well hidden, but Sally managed to uncover it. However, Sally didn’t much care how strange a cop was, so long as he wasn’t corrupt as a cop, so she didn’t report my conduct. In fact, she was fascinated by out-of-the ordinary experiences, and always wanted to try them herself. After the investigation was over, she made it clear she wanted to try out both sides of sado-masochism with me. I agreed, we had two encounters, and while she made it clear she wanted no more, we became friends and helped each other out in police matters when we could.
I walked into O’Brien’s only half an hour after sunset. It was an old bar, a lot of dark woodwork, furniture showing heavy signs of wear, a clientele mostly interested in drinking itself drunk over a few hours and otherwise minding its business. It was the sort of place where you wore clothing you could spill beer on and not regret it.
Sally had such a plain and forgettable appearance that even her friends had to look at her twice to recognize her. So it took me a few seconds to pick her out at the bar. The dim lighting didn’t help. I walked over, took the stool to her left, and leered at her. She turned, saw me, turned white as a sheet, and gave out a yelp.
One thing O’Brien’s was good at: getting rid of trouble. The manager liked it quiet. So the sound of her cry brought the bartender over immediately. “This man bothering you, ma’am?”
Sally quickly recovered. “No, I’m all right. He’s an old friend. Just startled me, that’s all.”
The bartender looked dubious, so I tossed in, “The lady will have her usual bourbon on the rocks, and I’ll have a Bloody Mary.”
Sally gave the bartender a weak smile, which was enough. He went away to fill our order. Sally turned to me, lit up. “Kammen! It really is you. I couldn’t believe that note, but . . . a Bloody Mary! Christ, your sense of humor hasn’t changed.”
I smiled, sincerely this time. “Sally, you’ve no idea how good it feels to be talking to someone on the force again. Particularly since it’s you.”
She gave me a shrewd glance. “You’ve been . . . how shall we say, out of circulation for months. I presume this is not a purely social call.”
“No, not purely, Sally. Still, I’m happy to see you.”
I was going to say more, but the bartender came back with our drinks. I think he was still trying to decide if I was trouble. I paid and at Sally’s suggestion we moved over to a booth.
The moment we settled down, Sally demanded, “The fangs. Let me see them.”
I laughed. “I figured you’d ask.” I leaned forward and let them come out as I opened my mouth.
Sally took one look, and then reached out to touch them. Knowing Sally, I was expecting that, but I pulled back sharply and glared at her. “Don’t ever do that to a vampire unless you ask first, Sally. You put flesh near a vampire’s fangs, and he’ll instinctively bite down and start drinking your blood. It’s the vampiric equivalent of stripping naked and climbing into bed with someone.”
Sally wasn’t to be stopped. “Then lean forward and practice self-control, Sherlock,” she demanded.
So I did. Sally being Sally, not only did she reach out and touch my fangs, she took her time about it. I got over the initial instinctive reaction without too much trouble, but after several seconds I started having fantasies about Sally that were a combination of vampirism and my memories of what she was really like the one time she played a submissive masochist to try it out with me. I had to bat her hand away after about twenty seconds.
She must have understood at least part of what was happening, because she reddened in embarrassment. “Sorry, Kammen. I just never . . . well, I was just curious.”
I waved my hand in dismissal. “Just don’t make a practice of it.”
That killed our conversation for a bit. Sally wasn’t sure exactly what she’d done wrong. If I’d understood this right then, I could have saved us a world of trouble by explaining in detail how vampirism worked and what it had done to me. But I was too busy trying to resist the desire to enthrall her and drink her blood. Sally’s voice finally jarred me out of it. “So what’s on your mind, Sherlock? Do I need to go arrest some vampires or something?”
“The other way,” I told her. “I’m part of a group of cops, well, ex-cops turned vampire, who want to get back on the force. I want your help to make it happen.”
Sally started to shake her head, and then got a thoughtful look on her face. “This wouldn’t happen to involve a patrolman named . . . um, eh . . . O’Donnell, would it?”
There was no point in hiding my surprise from Sally. “Yeah, he’s actually the head of it. How do you know about him?”
She emitted a bare chuckle. “His former partner, an older guy named Patowski, reported that O’Donnell came to visit him, said he still considered himself a cop. IA got involved because Patowski and O’Donnell cooked up a story to explain why Patowski didn’t follow standing orders and try to shoot O’Donnell.”
“What happened to Patowski?”
Sally shrugged. “Nothing. Oh, we got the truth out of him. But the guy’s only a few years from retirement and, hell, it was his ex-partner. No one really wanted to blame the guy for not trying to kill his partner.” She paused, gave me an odd look, and then added, “Oh, and for the record, this meeting is not taking place and if anyone ever learns about it, well, geez, I just happened to forget to strap on my holster this evening and had no way of killing you.”
“Bad thing for a cop in IA to have such a bad memory,” I quipped. I could see her shoulder holster under her jacket.
“Tell me about it. So this O’Donnell, you say, he’s the leader of this effort? The kid’s only been on the force a few years, Sherlock.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “I know. Might not be a bad thing, though. Good for the image: clean-cut kid as face of police unit made up of hideous monsters. Besides, you won’t believe this, but Zalensky’s agreed to be subordinate to him.”
That set Sally back for a moment. “I’m not sure which I’m finding more unbelievable: Zalensky taking orders from anyone with less seniority, or the thought of you and Zalensky working together.”
I grinned. “Tell me about it. It may be on the up-and-up. Or . . . Zalensky might be a plant. That’s one of the things I want you to check into.”
Sally nodded. “Nice to see you’re still as trusting as ever, Sherlock. What else?”
“Whatever you can get your hands on about O’Donnell. If he’s going to be our ‘fearless leader,’ I want to know everything about him. And finally, I want anything you can find out about sorcerers, particularly if they’re involved in city politics or CPD.”
The latter caused Sally’s mouth to drop open. When I finished, she said, “Investigating O’Donnell I understand. But sorcerers? You don’t want to go there unless you have to. I mean it, Kammen. People who’ve poked too much into the affairs of sorcerers have disappeared.”
“Or become vampires,” I told her. “This Martha Fokker, the vampire who turned all of us cops into vampires, there’s a sorcerer backing her. I need to find out why. Because you can bet that the brass won’t accept vampire cops until we get the vampire who’s been killing cops.”
A tight expression that was neither a smile nor a frown crossed Sally’s face. “I see the logic. And you know it’s going to be tough to get the brass to accept vampire cops at all.”
“What, accept cops that are faster, stronger, and tougher than most cops and will worker for less money provided we can get blood? Pitched right, they should be begging for our help.” I grinned, sat back in my seat. “So, what’s this going to cost me, Sally?”
Sally also leaned against her seat back, gave what was left of her drink a long stare. Then she looked up at me. “You get three things, Sherlock, I get three things.”
Fair enough, and I knew Sally well enough to know these wouldn’t be unreasonable requests. “Madam, with all my heart, I shall obey you in all fair commands.”
Sally cracked a smile. “I don’t know how I survived all these months without having you quote Shakespeare at me.” She sighed. “OK, first thing: intel on vampires. What CPD has is mostly rumor. We don’t even know if being bitten by a vampire is enough to make you a vampire.”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t. That’s crap out of Dracula. You have to be killed by being drained of blood by a vampire to become a vampire. You’ve got other questions about vampires, Sally, I’ll answer them. I figured on that as a given from the start. So what are two and three?”
“Two: if CPD does accept vampire cops, makes them into a unit of some kind, you take me along. Make me your human liaison or something. I need to get out of IA, Sherlock. I’m sick of crooked cops.”
This wasn’t entirely a surprise. Sally had never wanted to be in Internal Affairs, but the brass had put her there as punishment. For what, you ask? Well, for being a girl, there not being many female cops in those days. And for using political pull from outside the department to be made a cop. That last was even more unforgivable than being female. She might have eventually got herself reassigned, except that she was so good in IA, thanks to natural talent and her family connections, that IA had made it clear they’d never let her go.
So I said to her, “I can’t promise it will happen, Sally, but I’ll do everything I can. It’s another good reason to give you intel on vampires: if you come across as the expert, they’ll have to reassign you.”
She nodded at that. And then she just dropped her eyes until she was looking into her own lap. We sat there for a bit, and I was going to prompt her, when, without raising her head, she spoke in a barely audible voice. “Third . . . I don’t know how to say this, but here goes. The reason I know how little CPD knows about vampires is that I tracked it all down and read it when you were killed.” She quickly looked up at me. “Or whatever you call what happened to you.” She dropped her eyes again. “Hearing you were killed kind of shook me up, Sherlock. I don’t have many friends. The other cops hate me. And I’ve had crappy luck with men in general. You’ve been a friend, sometimes more than one.” She looked up at me again, and with a noticeable tremor in her voice she said, “Take me home, Sherlock. Take my clothes off, hold me, and do whatever you do now, drink my blood, beat me, whatever. Just let me know you care.”
I figured that something must have hit Sally pretty hard recently, and I wasn’t wrong. Once we got back to her apartment, she spent most of that evening talking, more than she’d ever done before with me, or, to judge from the way it all gushed out, with anyone else. There was a lot Sally was unhappy about, everything from her job to her personal life. She was so depressed that she was depressed about how she was depressed. In particular, it really bothered her that having some guy dump her in a particularly humiliating fashion had upset her more than her mother’s death.
Listening I could do. I’m a detective, I do a lot of it. But Sally didn’t just want to unload her sorrows. She wanted to make me happy, she needed to make me happy, as much for herself as for me. She became increasingly flagrant in her attempts to seduce me somehow, whether with sex or blood, and she repeatedly made it clear she was willing to let me hurt her if that was what I wanted. She did not really understand how becoming a vampire had changed me, how it had made it even harder for me to control my sadistic tendencies, how her life could be in danger as it never had been when I was human. She thought I was being chivalrous and self-denying, while I was really doing was desperately trying to find some way to get her to stop the attempted seduction without making her feel rejected and even more worthless. But I could hardly think straight. Sally was doing all she could to excite me, and it was working. My blood lust, our past history, and her warm flesh and blood in front of me combined in my imagination into impossible fantasies of taking Sally and torturing her while using her sexually and drinking her blood, fantasies that were becoming more graphic and more urgent by the moment. At the same time, I was getting angrier and angrier at her for putting me in this situation. It became a race to see if I’d lose control due to the lust she was provoking or the anger.
Fortunately for Sally, when I did lose it, it was my anger. Had it been the blood lust, I was so keyed up that she would have died that night. Instead, I lashed out. Sally was telling me about things she wanted me to do, and I had to get her to shut up, so I grabbed her by the throat and tightened my grip until she couldn’t speak, indeed throttled her so hard she couldn’t breathe, until she almost passed out. And all the while I was yelling at her, telling her she had to stop what she was doing. It scared her enough that she finally realized that she couldn’t play with me that way. That is, she realized it after a few hours of crying, accusations, tending to her bruises, awkward silences, and recriminations on her part, and apologies, explanations, helping to tend to her bruises, some more yelling, and more apologies and explanations on my part. All in all, a right miserable time.
There should have been a better way. As it was, we finally did hash things out and come to an understanding about each other. By that point, we were worn out and emotionally exhausted, desperate for some simple contact with another person. We just fell into each other’s arms and sat on her couch for a while. And then, slowly, we talked and ever so carefully touched and finally did try to make each other happy, at least as well as a vampire and human can do for each other. At the end, she let me out the door with a kiss and a smile.
Although it was still an hour until dawn, I went back to my coffin and just lay there, trying to understand what had happened, what it meant. Apart from taking prey since I’d become a vampire, something I tried to make pleasant by enthralling my victims, I’d never hurt a woman before without her consent. I hadn’t dared, it was too tempting. Same reason when I was a cop I never participated in beating up a suspect, or let other cops do that in my presence. That’s how I got my reputation as a limp-wristed homosexual, because I wouldn’t beat up suspects. And yet, that evening I had hit a woman I actually liked and respected, which paradoxically was one of the reasons it had happened. I had to wonder if my control was even weaker than I thought, if this meant I was going to give way to my sadistic impulses more freely in future. I had much ado to know myself. It was not a pleasant prospect.
And then there was Sally. I’d almost strangled her, and yet ended up the night pleasing her with a novel combination of vampirism and sex that Kinsey had never heard of. I was not in love with Sally, never had been. That I was sure of. But I had to wonder if, between her desperate loneliness and what we’d done, I was making her fall in love with me. For her sake, I hoped not. For my sake? That I wasn’t sure of.
End of chapter fifteen
He says “Tell me about it” 4 paragraphs after *she* says “Tell me about it.”
Sally’s third request…brought a tear to my eye. Well played.
Kammen repeating the same phrase was deliberate on his part. These two have verbally played off each other in past.
The dialogue between Sally Truax and Sherlock Kammen originally had Sally joking about how Kammen must enjoy being a vampire and Kammen setting her straight on how difficult it was making his life. In other words, it was all about Kammen; Sally was just a two-dimensional figure needed to make the plot work. But I realized the dialogue didn’t really work; Kammen is uncomfortable explaining himself to anyone except Ivy.
So I ended up writing past that point (which, in the text as it stands, is where Kammen says he should have explained), and had to consider what Sally Truax’s motivation was. OK, Kammen is an old colleague and she had a brief sexual liaison with him, but she’s come running when a dead man leaves her a note telling her he’s a vampire and wants to meet with her. What kind of woman does that? What kind of woman can hold her own in an almost entirely male police dept., and still want to do that?
And so the story shifted. It wasn’t just about Kammen any more, it was about Kammen and Truax. And it was very difficult to write, both technically and emotionally, and I struggled to get it right. The issue was not just what exactly happened, it was also how Kammen would describe it in retrospect. How violent would Kammen get? How sexually explicit would he be in recounting what happened?
That was a difficult subject handled with extraordinary sensitivity. As a woman reader I could have found parts of that offensive, were it written in macho-style. And considering Shylock is self-declared SM . . . yea, good piece of writing.
(sigh of relief)
Remember our discussion about racial attitudes? My problem returned in spades with this passage. Being macho and hitting a woman was much more acceptable in 1969 than now.
But Kammen’s situation, while leading to his self-damnation, is my salvation. Kammen was UNABLE to be macho back in the 1960s. He feared to lose control of his sadistic impulses, which he enjoys and is ashamed of at the same time. Instead, he let people think he was a fag. It’s one reason he became a detective, not a beat cop, one reason he’d never be promoted into a leadership position no matter how well he did. And Kammen is writing not in 1969, but in 1991 or later, when attitudes have changed. Part of the challenge of writing this piece was ultimately to figure out how Kammen would write it in 1991 (and, unlike the reader, knowing what happened to him in the intervening years).
This points out one significant difference between Ned O’Donnell and Shylock Kammen. Ned’s a good guy (by contemporary lights) faced with a new moral problem when he becomes a vampire. Kammen, on the other hand, finds his old moral conflict between his desire and his ethics has been exacerbated by becoming a vampire. This difference has repercussions both in the way they tell their stories and how they deal with each other.
So it’s the softening lens of time that makes Shylock appear ok to us now (C21st) while Ned comes across, by comparison, as more, let’s say, brutal – cos from a female POV that’s how most men did seem in ’69. (Except for those who dropped out, love and peace, man)
Enjoyed Kammen’s overview of the supernatural pecking order. How writers choose to order their worlds and the logic they invent to support it is always interesting to me, and this one is very coherent. The need of a soul to channel magical energies is a good device. It does make me wonder exactly what *else* vampires like Kammen and and Ned lose along with their souls — yes, they struggle to control their blood lust, but only because they haven’t lost their conscience, or their empathy, the way my vampires in E&A have, by contrast. Kammen had sadistic tendencies before he was turned. Ned is still just as hard-headed and pragmatic as he was before he met MF. It seems the lack of a soul hasn’t altered their essential human personalities much. The logical inference is these qualities aren’t part of your soul, and now we’re getting into another big metaphysical debate — I can hear Mill, Kant, and a roomful of others clearing their throats in the background right now. I admire your grit in addressing these issues — my vampires are simple, one-dimensional baddies, while yours are complex and sometimes all too human 🙂
Don’t groan too loudly when I say this, but what else vampires lost is the subject of the sequel to this story, set in present-day NYC. Though I drop some hints here.
The vampires are actually the way they are because I wrote the sequel first (and am going to have to make at least one change to it as a result of this story). I was trying to put vampires into what looks like our world. I couldn’t use the one-dimensional baddie, and I consciously rejected the romantic/glittery vampire, though as we’ll see in the sequel, that image is kicking around in the contemporary culture. Not in 1969, though. Ironically, the original story was not meant to be about vampires at all, but they crept in for various reasons, one of which will crop up in this story at the beginning of part 3.
You’ve got a different story, so different use for vampires. Note I’ve mostly stayed away from adolescents in my stories, as I find them to be tough to write. Not your problem, for sure. 🙂
No groaning here — completely valid answer and I’m happy to know there’s more to come on the subject. I’m curious how MC grew out of a story that didn’t have vampires at all, but certainly applaud your choice to take these archetypes in a different direction than the one we’ve seen lately. Glittery, indeed.
I’m happy with my vamps, as they do serve their purpose well. Glad the adolescents do, too 🙂
The original story featured sorcerers similar to those we see here in MC, going up against a different kind of supernatural creature. Said original story was never finished in that form because the vampires came wandering in, still at odds with the sorcerers in 2008. And I’m going to have to rewrite the revised version of the original story into something much longer to do it justice.
I like the way you describe how ” the vampires came wandering in;” I can sympathize with how certain characters/plot lines can hijack a tale and take it cross-country.
Well, stories that beget more stories isn’t the worst problem to have.