MC Ch. 16

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Chapter 16: The shadowed livery of the burnished sun

I must say this for Ned O’Donnell: he rapidly developed a model for running his incipient Vampire Bureau, as he called it. Knowing that he was himself young and inexperienced, all four of the people he first recruited were experienced cops. Me and Zalensky you already know about. Ned had recruited Carson, who had a reputation as a cop’s cop, to be his adviser on patrol cops, but Carson was interested only in getting back on the beat, and had little to contribute to discussions. He may have been brave, once, but he really wasn’t all that bright. Instead, the other guy brought on before me, an Armenian named Hagopian who had had an odd career floating from precinct to precinct, took on the role Ned had slated for Carson.

Ned made some decisions himself. But if he needed advice or thought a decision would be controversial, he floated it to his informal steering committee, Zalensky, Hagopian, and me. We’d argue, Ned would listen, and eventually he’d come to a decision.

So when I came on board the night after meeting with Sally Truax, I was able to get Ned to agree to some things fairly quickly. He agreed that we should scout out future prospects more carefully, even interview them, before offering them a place in the proposed bureau. He agreed that we should debrief all present and future members on their experiences as vampires, to build up our understanding of the local vampire community, and incidentally on our members. We started the process that very evening, with Hagopian, who knew shorthand, debriefing the rest of us, and me taking down Hagopian’s account.

On the other hand, Ned strongly resisted the idea that we’d probably have to police vampires right up front. He wanted us to start by showing how we could police normal humans better than human cops. Hagopian sided with Ned, Zalensky with me, and so Ned decided we’d continue to emphasize policing humans, but that Zalensky and I were free to develop a plan to police vampires.

And he would not budge on Martha. The first time I brought her up, he gave me a hard look and said, “She is no longer in the city and is no longer an issue.” I got the exact same answer out of him the second time, and gave up going after him directly on the issue. Worse, when he wrote up the account of his life as a vampire for our files, it looked to me like he had omitted anything that would give a clue to where Martha was or what had happened to her. In fact, he had left out everything about Make Love Not War, the commune she lived in, and what she and Ned had done to Martha. But I wouldn’t learn that until much later.

I didn’t say a word to Ned about the pledge I’d made to Sally, not yet. I wanted to hear back from her whether Zalensky was a plant before I mentioned her to Ned. Besides, Ned made it clear that we were supposed to keep the whole project secret for now, and even made us pledge to keep it so. I wasn’t quite ready to tell him my first night on his team that I’d already broken a rule, not when I was already disagreeing with him on two major issues.

ii.

Naturally, I wanted to find out more about Martha. She had said surprisingly little about her past to most of her children. Ned actually got more from her than the rest of us combined. Although it wasn’t clear quite yet, it turned out she had told Ned more than she told all the other cops combined.

Figuring that I wouldn’t be traveling long distances until I could reliably shield myself from the daylight, Ivy agreed to go to California and check out Martha’s story about her past there. I was going to do some local checking on Martha.

Officially, that was not what I was doing. Ned’s account made it clear that Martha had played a role in the balance between the vampire gangs in the city. I argued that we needed to find out how her absence had affected the balance, and that the logical place was to start with Scratch Wilson and his gang, since Ned said he was on good terms with Scratch. Ned agreed, and wanted to go himself, but Zalensky and I talked him out of it. He was now our chief, and we couldn’t risk him getting humiliated in a knife fight with Darlene again.

The last time I’d been down in Bronzeville was working for the Vice Squad, breaking up a prostitution ring that operated half a dozen whorehouses south of the Loop. I passed by one of them only a few blocks from the pool hall where Scratch hung out. It was back in business.

The same vampire bouncer was working in the pool hall as when Ned and Martha had visited. He took one look at me and said, “Youse about the whites’ boy dat’s come in here. This ain’t no place for ya. Leave.”

I stood my ground. “I’m here to see Scratch Wilson.”

“What you want him foah?” The guy was faking the illiterate language; he couldn’t get the accent right. Apparently he was so stupid he couldn’t even fake stupid.

I was about to reply when a familiar face came forward. His name was “Tommy the Commie” Hall, and the last time I’d seen him he’d definitely been human. (If you’d asked me back in those days, I would have said he was subhuman, like all pimps. With us both being vampires now, I wasn’t sure if “subhuman” was still an insult.) He got a solid look at me, turned to the big guy, and said, “Shorty, it’s cool. This is Detective Kammen, who once hauled me in for selling tail.” He dropped his voice. “Not that he ever had any himself.” He gave me an insolent grin. “Not having any now, either, are you?”

Tommy was mostly bluster. The only people he ever smacked around were women. (That I had just done as much to Sally was not a thought that crossed my mind at the time. Anyhow, that was different. Tommy hurt women as a matter of course.) So I smiled back at him and loudly said, “I gave up being a Buddhist pacifist and a fag when I became a vampire, Tommy. But you look pretty enough. Maybe I’ll make an exception for you. I’ll even cut you a few times, just so you know what it was like for your girls.”

Tommy looked like he was going to explode with rage, which would be dangerous only to people he could slap around. He turned and shouted, “Shorty, get this bastard out of here!”

Shorty wasn’t impressed by Tommy’s rage, either. He gave me an uncertain look. I shook my head.

By this time, everyone else in the front part of the hall was staring at us. So it wasn’t surprising that another person decided to join the party. I recognized her from the description Ned had given. Not too many women are taller than me and carry several matched pairs of knives on their belt. (The only other one I’d met was a dominatrix, but she was white.) This had to be Darlene. She chimed in, “What’s this about someone cutting girls?”

I caught her eye, nodded my head at Tommy. Darlene turned to stare at him. Tommy decided at that point that he did not want a conversation with Darlene and scurried away.

I said to Darlene, “You must be Darlene. Ned O’Donnell warned me to select water pistols if I have to have a duel with you.”

“You know Ned? Is he OK?”

“I work for him. That’s one of the reasons I want to see Scratch.”

 iii.

Scratch was busy, so I spent nearly an hour fending off Darlene’s questions. I did tell her several stories about Tommy, some of which were even true, about how he used to cut his whores when they disobeyed him. It was probably no coincidence that Tommy was never seen again after that night.

Once Scratch was free, Darlene showed me into his office, and took up a position by the door. I gathered I wasn’t exactly trusted. Scratch didn’t look too pleased to meet me, either. He opened up with, “Darlene tells me you’re working for Ned O’Donnell.” There was a trace of a sneer in his voice. Scratch didn’t sound as if he were the bosom friend Ned had described.

I nodded. “Yeah. Ned wants to thank you for your past advice, so he asked me to pass along a bit of information for free. Martha’s gone from Chicago. She won’t be playing politics with the vampire gangs anymore.”

Scratch raised an eyebrow. “What’s that to me?”

I started to stand up. “If you’re just going to play games with me, I think I’ll be going.”

He waved me down. “Don’t get in a huff. You come out of nowhere and ask me to trust you over something like that.”

I sat back down, smiled at him. “‘The seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest.’ Can’t blame you for not trusting me. I’d say I was asking you to trust Ned, but I’m not sure that helps much. It’s on the level. Figured you’d want to know for sure so you could be ready for the push from the other gangs when they find out.”

Scratch gave a small nod, a bleak smile. “It will help, if it’s on the level. So how exactly am I supposed to fall all over myself to help you now?”

“Information is all I want. That’s all I gave you, that’s all I want. Answers to three questions.” I counted on my fingers. “One, are you going to be able to stand up to the white gangs when they find out about Martha? Two, have any more sorcerers been poking into vampire affairs, Martha’s in particular? Three, know of any of cops who Martha turned into vampires operating in your area?”

Scratch leaned back in his chair, stared at me a bit, neutral expression on his face. Finally he replied, “‘No’ to the last two questions, though considering what Ned told me, I ought to be asking you about sorcerers. And I can’t say we’ve been looking for vampires who were cops. Not high on our list, you know. They’d stick out, though, so I doubt there are any operating down here. And the answer to the first question is ‘none of your business.’”

I leaned back in my chair, too. “Fair value. I’m through. Anything you want to ask me?”

“Do I have to pay for it?”

I shrugged. “Maybe. Depends on the question.”

Scratch thought a bit. “You say you’re working for Ned. He starting up a gang?”

“Not exactly. He’s forming a unit of vampires to serve as cops, to maintain order in the vampire community.”

Scratch’s eyebrows shot up. He barked out a laugh. “A gang by another name.”

“Not really. We’ll be enforcing the law. To do that, we’ll be playing by different rules. Among other things, we don’t accept or make personal challenges. You challenge one of us, you challenge all of us, period.” That does describe police mentality, by the way. As Hunter Thompson could tell you, it described the mentality of the Hell’s Angels, too. You draw the inferences you want from that.

Scratch pondered that for a bit, gave a look to Darlene. I had a fairly good idea of what was going to happen next. Darlene was going to challenge me. Not because Scratch wanted to get into a fight with Ned, but because he wanted to test what I’d just said. Skipping the fact that I’d lose to Darlene, who was a trained fighter if I ever saw one, it was not my job to start up a feud with Scratch and his gang. I grew up with stage people, and that included a number of stage magicians. I’d practiced with them. It was time to call on that bag of tricks.

Darlene swung around to get in front of me. “Stand up, Kammen.”

She was ready for several moves, but I had to fool her. I stood up. “You don’t want to do this, Darlene.”

Rather than answer, she swung at me with her open palm. I made an ineffectual attempt to block her slap with my left arm and staggered when her hand struck my face. Poor, foolish Kammen! She didn’t see my right hand lift a knife from her, and wasn’t ready when it ended up just under her chin, the point against her throat.

We formed a nice tableau there for a few seconds, Scratch’s eyes popping open, me giving my best impression of an insane grin, Darlene staring at me in horror, knowing she had better not make a move. I kept grinning at her as I said, “Have I made my point, Scratch?”

He took a few seconds to reply, “Why don’t you tell us what it is, so I know for sure?”

“We vampire cops don’t accept challenges. But you can’t just push us around, either.” I pulled the knife back, flipped it, offered it to Darlene.

She took it, returned it back to her belt, gave me a sullen glance. “You won’t be able to play that trick twice on me.”

I sat down, gave her a serious look. “If I thought I’d have to, you’d be dead from the first time.”

Scratch intervened. “Darlene, go get yourself a drink.” She looked dubiously at him, but he continued. “It’s OK. If the guy was going to try to kill me, he’d have made his move then.”

Darlene flashed me an angry look and left. Once she was gone, Scratch spoke up. “I’m impressed, Kammen. So what’s your game?”

“I told you. I’m the first of the new vampire cops you’ll see. We want to know what’s going on with the gangs. You and Ned being blood brothers and all, you’re getting the news first.”

Scratch winced at my turn of phrase. “I gave Ned a lift when he needed one. That’s all.”

I shook my head. “Whatever. I’m not trying to presume on your gratitude or anything.”

Scratch barked out a laugh at that, gave me another look. “You’re officially cops again?”

“Not yet, but we will be.”

Scratch smiled at that, as if I was pulling his leg. “I take it Ned got out of his fix with sorcerers.”

I had no idea about what Scratch was talking about, that being a detail Ned had thoughtfully left out. But I wasn’t going to show my ignorance, so I replied, “Yeah, clean away. They have nothing to do with this, for or against.” I was lying, of course, if you counted Ivy.

“So what will you guys do if the white gangs up north try to move in on me? Your gratitude extend to taking sides against people of your own color?”

“We won’t take sides, either way. We’ll mediate. If anyone resorts to violence, white or black, we’ll put them down. We’re going to put an end to vampire gang wars. It’s time we stopped killing each other.” I could see Scratch didn’t appreciate the finer points of our plans, so I tossed in, “Stake your claims before we go live and official, Scratch, because after that we can’t do you any favors.”

Scratch gave that some thought, got a knowing grin on his face, stood up. “Fair warning. You’ll let me know when that will happen?”

“You’ll let me know about any ex-cops you see, or any sorcerers?”

Scratch stuck out his hand and we shook. We had a deal.

With my official business concluded, the two of us went out and had a drink of blood together. Scratch then went off to attend to his other affairs, but I stuck around for a while, buying blood for some of the other vampires and getting them to talk. Judging from what they said, the other gangs hadn’t yet made a move on Scratch in Martha’s absence.

At one point I tried to make amends with Darlene, by sitting down with her and her girlfriend Flora. It didn’t work. Darlene sat there looking daggers at me, and left as quickly as she could.

Flora hadn’t been any more talkative, but as soon as Darlene left, she spoke up. “Stay out of her way, Kammen. If Darlene ever gets you in a dark alley, you’re dead.”

I turned to look at Flora. She couldn’t have been much more than five feet tall. She had an androgynous appearance, smooth-skinned with bright red lipstick, male clothing, as if she were a nine-year-old of indeterminate sex playing with her parents’ clothing and make-up. And she did resemble Scratch, making me wonder if they were related.

I asked Flora, “How come? Ned actually cut her, while I just nicked her neck. Yet she seems to like him.”

“She does. What he did was an accident, and Darlene proved she can beat him in a fair fight.”

“Whereas I tricked her, and she’s had no chance to prove she’s better.”

Flora vigorously nodded. “Bingo. I’m going to have to be extra nice to her for days, and she’ll treat me like dirt the whole time. Thanks for making my life miserable, Kammen.”

“It’s all I came down here to do, Flora. Ned told me there was a woman here almost as short as Martha, and like her in so many ways . . .”

Flora erupted in a cascade of curses and profanity before she realized I was joking, and we end up talking for about an hour. She was fascinated with the concept of vampire cops, and plied me with question after question. In exchange for my answers, I finally got some information on Martha. Flora gave me a detailed account of Martha’s now-defunct alliance with Scratch and the body count that followed, mostly at Martha’s hands. It confirmed something those of us working with Ned were gradually figuring out from all our sources, that Martha had indeed become more violent over time.

 iv.

Guessing at what sort of reception my report would get, I got hold of Ned privately much later that evening and gave it to him verbally. To my surprise, he did not blow up at me. He was angry, but he confined that anger to what he said. “You’re insubordinate, Kammen.”

“Well-chosen words, O’Donnell,” I replied. “Insubordinate. Not mutinous, duplicitous, or traitorous.”

The anger in his voice got a lot stronger. “You violate your pledge of secrecy, you take it on yourself to make and publicly announce policies without any review, you go out of your way to offend a gang leader . . .”

“Now that,” I interjected, “I did not do. As long as we follow through on the course I laid out, we’ll have Scratch’s co-operation and good will. And that’s all you should want from him. We can’t play favorites.”

Ned was sitting down behind a desk Zalensky had scared up for him. He dropped his elbows on the desk, dropped his head, pulled at his hair. Once he was finished he looked up at me. “Zalensky warned me you were going to be troublesome.”

“Yeah, well he and I talked over what our policy would be for the vampire gangs before I went calling on Scratch. You told us we could do some planning and we did. I may be pushy, O’Donnell, but I’m not doing things just on a whim. What I did was based on what Zalensky and I discussed.”

“And what about revealing to Scratch that we’re forming a Vampire Police Brueau?”

I waved the notion off. “I doubt we’d be able to keep it a secret all that long anyhow, not while we’re recruiting. But it was the most reasonable way to make Scratch co-operative. What was I supposed to do, tell him you were organizing a gang? That you are Martha’s successor?” I gave a derisive laugh. “‘‘Twere damnation to think so base a thought.’ If you were, I wouldn’t want to work for you. And what’s this about you being played by sorcerers? I don’t recall that in your account of what you’ve been doing.”

He shook his head. “That’s of no concern to you. It’s over.”

I burst out, “What’s over? And why do I get the feeling that it’s connected to Martha?”

Ned gave me a stony look, said nothing.

After giving him more than enough time, I said, “Ned, we’re breaking new ground here. We’re not always going to get it right at first. Sometimes we have to change policy on the fly when things come up. I came here to tell you this privately because I don’t want to undermine your leadership.” If Ned had nodded, spoken up at this point, I wouldn’t have gone on to say what I did. But he didn’t, so I concluded, “I trusted you to understand why I did what I did, and hoped you’d trust me enough to level with me. I guess we’re both disappointed.” And I got up and left.

The next night when we got together to discuss our progress, Ned was quite chilly to me. He warmed up a bit as the evening progressed, even offered some words of praise for Zalensky and me for developing a policy for policing vampires, implicitly placing his seal of approval on most of what I’d done with Scratch. But he couldn’t quite drop his reserve toward me, then or later. In retrospect, that was the real start of the breach between us.

End of chapter sixteen

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7 Responses to MC Ch. 16

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    “The same vampire bouncer was there…” I assume at the pool hall, not the whorehouse, but I was still thinking of the whorehouse that was back in business.
    Is “go live” a phrase that a detective in 1969 would use? Prior to popular use of the Web, I’m only familiar with its use in engineering.
    Most Black women don’t “look right” in bright red lipstick (at least the kind used by white women); it’s something that fed the upsurge in cosmetics mass-marketed specifically toward Black women, starting at about this time (although, of course, *really* starting much earlier).

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I amended the text slightly to address the first point. Thank you!

      “Go live” was in common use to describe TV broadcasts well before 1969.

      Flora experiments. She certainly wasn’t wearing bright red lipstick when Ned saw her, and he saw her several times. As you say, it would have stood out. It’s also an odd choice for a vampire, when you think about it. Their lips tend to be darkened by blood spilling over while they suck from their victims. Maybe Flora’s reacting to that?

  2. crimsonprose says:

    Point you raised, of how to insult a vampire. Have you an answer? I mean you, BB, not via voice of your characters?

    • Brian Bixby says:

      There really ought to be some stock insults, shouldn’t there?

      I’ve made two attempts with other people insulting vampires. Ned’s ex-partner called him a “bloodsucker,” a term that undoubtedly was meant to be used as a insult, but one which I expect a more experienced vampire would just shrug off. And in the successor story to this one set in the present (see my interchange with Russell in chapter 15’s comments), a sorcerer takes down a vampire physically and verbally. But that’s just a sorcerer being a sorcerer (albeit in this case a sorcerer being taunted by a vampire for losing his girlfriend, a profoundly stupid move on the vampire’s part).

      What’s really needed for verisimilitude are insults vampires hurl at each other.Tommy’s attempt to insult Kammen is pretty lame, just like Tommy. So what would be the failings of vampires for which they could be insulted? Cowardice, weakness, and stupidity would do. “That vampire’s so stupid he stocks up on Coppertone for the summer.”

      There are three deadly insults I can think of right at this moment. Saying a vampire is preying on kids is accusing him of cowardice and weakness, as well as violating a taboo. Saying a vampire is so desperate that he sucks blood from other vampires implies he’s a weakling or a ripper. (And this despite some exceptions in which this is accepted, such as Darlene’s relationship with Flora.) In fact, calling another vampire a ripper is also deadly, because it is stating out loud that the alleged ripper should be killed immediately.

      All of these, except being called a ripper, could be used in a lighter vein. But there should also be some exclusively lighter insults, for joshing or put-downs that won’t trigger duels. Some will carry over from the human world. And then there will be insults based on vampire customs and in-jokes. Scratch’s West Side and Bronzeville vampires mildly disparage each other’s neighborhoods. When Eric the Red gets a bit too pompous, one of his gang might make some comment about a janitor’s mop, an allusion to a comical but embarrassing incident early in Eric’s career, when he got chased out of an office building by the custodial staff.

      Ned and his crew haven’t really been together long enough to develop their own set of insults. But if they endure . . .

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