MC Ch. 17

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Chapter 17: To unburden all my plots and purposes

Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.

About a week later I was back at my North Side diner. Edna was on duty, as usual, and remarked upon my absence for several nights as she served up my cup of coffee.

I sat there for a while, working on some more policy issues about dealing with vampire gangs that Zalensky and I had cooked up. Every so often, I’d stare out the windows of the diner and wonder how it got to the point that Zalensky was the nearest thing I had to a partner at that point. And he was staying on Ned O’Donnell’s good side, too, despite agreeing with me, and even after telling Ned we should recruit some female vampires as cops, a suggestion Ned dismissed out of hand.

She did look rather like Barbara Feldon, but I definitely didn't look like Don Adams

She did look rather like Barbara Feldon, but I definitely didn’t look like Don Adams

I was hunkered down over Zalensky’s notes when someone sat down opposite me. I looked up, and there to my astonishment was Ivy. It was rare to see her appear spontaneously outside of the library. And this was the first I knew that she was back from her trip investigating Martha Fokker. As usual, she’d changed her appearance, so that between her hair and her clothing she looked much like Barbara Feldon on Get Smart. It was a good look for her.

“Hi, Agent Shylock,” she quietly purred at me.

“I hope that’s not a comment on my intelligence, Ivy,” I replied.

Whatever Ivy’s response would have been, she held back because Edna came over with a menu. Edna was broadcasting a smile at me, as if she now had something on me. I was going to wave her off, Ivy being a ghost, when Ivy turned to Edna and said, “I’ll have a beer with whatever your biggest steak dinner is, the steak done medium, mashed potatoes and string beans, and a salad with that, too, blue cheese dressing, please.” Without a word, Edna spun around and headed toward the kitchen. Ivy must have sensed my surprise, because she turned back to me and said, “She was going to make a big production about it to find out who I was, so I just sent her on her way.”

“I’d ask you to make it permanent, but it would look conspicuous if she suddenly stopped talking to me as a rule.” I sat back against the bench. “What are you going to do with the food?”

“Eat it, of course,” Ivy replied. “Or at least it will look that way. I really feel as if I could eat a horse. I’ve been across the country three times in one week. That was tiring enough when I was alive.”

“How come? You were supposed to be tracking down Martha. She spend time on the East Coast?”

“I’ll get to that,” she replied as she lit up a cigarette. (I wasn’t sure if it was real or ghostly. Judging from the smell, real. I missed smoking.) “First let’s start with Martha’s friend Vic. He turned out to be easy. What Martha told Ned was pretty accurate. The only thing else I learned of any importance is that Victor Smith was his real name, that he became a vampire while living in Seattle, and very soon after moved to Los Angeles, where Martha claimed to have met him. From there to San Francisco to here to die. Straighforward.

“Martha was another kettle of fish entirely. She was much more difficult to trace, despite her short stature and youthful appearance. First off, she apparently changes her name every time she moves, and she moves frequently. In San Francisco she was Lady Sunshine’s Dawn . . .”

“LSD,” I interjected.

Ivy nodded. “. . . and in Los Angeles she was Nancy Fay. In both cities she and Vic were considered a very odd pair. Vic appeared to be the dominant partner, though under questioning no one could quite explain why they thought so.

“Martha told people in L.A. that she was from Santa Fe, and people in San Francisco that she was from Philadelphia. I suspect she was lying through her teeth both times. Can’t tell for sure about Santa Fe, the vampire community there is in chaos, but she definitely wasn’t in Philly in the last half century.

“Despite what Martha told Ned, I think she and Vic knew each other in Seattle. It may even be that she made Vic into a vampire. No one in Seattle could tell me who did it, and there was a mysterious independent vampire lurking in the city at the right time who could well have been Martha.”

I thought about what Ivy said. “The custom among vampires is that you don’t have to tell other vampires about your past, and you never ask, so there’s no need to lie. All this lying and name changing makes no sense. Martha’s acting as if she’s hiding something. But what? And from who? Who the hell would care where she was beforehand? Certainly not other vampires. And the normal humans haven’t raised an alarm for any vampire like her. At least nothing that’s reached Chicago.”

Ivy gave me a broad grin. “You’re going to love this next bit. When I was in Philly, I swung over to Manhattan to see an old friend, a sorcerer I knew when I first came to this country. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him about Martha. And the next thing I knew, he produced a magazine photograph from about 1890 that looks just like her. See?” And she conjured up an image of the magazine photo, laid out on the table. It was labeled “BAR HARBOR – Caroline Amelia, Countess of Annandale and her ward Lydia Bruce on the Shore Drive.” The figure on the right, dressed in what looked like a child’s clothing, was an absolutely idiotic-looking Martha Fokker.

I studied it for quite a bit. “Lousy quality, but it does look like her. What’s she doing in Maine, and who’s the taller woman beside her?”

The Countess of Annandale and her ward came to Bar Harbor by steamboat

The Countess of Annandale and her ward came to Bar Harbor by steamboat

Ivy shook her head. “Whoever she is, she’s not what she says she is. I know Scottish titles, and there was no Countess of Annandale in those days. As for why they’re in Bar Harbor, it was a resort where rich New Yorkers went back then. My old friend is doing research to see what else he can uncover about those two.”

“I had been thinking Martha had to be about a century old or more. Looks like this confirms it.”

Ivy gestured toward the picture, a smirk on her face. “Anything else about that picture strike you as odd, Mr. Detective?”

I looked at it, hard. It took me a while before I saw it, because previously it wouldn’t have meant anything. I looked up, my mouth open. “That picture looks like it was taken in the daylight.”

Ivy gave a knowing nod. “‘That is the very defect of the matter, sir.’ Your Martha either wasn’t a vampire, or already was working with a sorcerer.” She pointed at the taller brunette. “My bet is that this woman’s now in Chicago, and if you find her, you’ve found Martha’s sorceress.”

As it turns out, Ivy was dead right, as far as she went. That woman was Make Love Not War. But neither Ivy nor I knew about her at that point.

ii.

I left the diner with Ivy. I didn’t want to endure the inevitable questioning I would get from Edna about Ivy. Maybe I was just tired. More likely, I was thinking about the meeting I was going to have the next evening, the meeting I was going to have with Sally. I’d arranged the meeting when we’d parted a week ago. I’d just been thinking about what I wanted her to find out for me. I hadn’t really thought about how I’d feel about seeing her again. I didn’t love Sally. But I wasn’t indifferent to her welfare. I’d hurt her, I’d pleased her, and when I woke up the night for our scheduled meeting I had to face the fact that I had no idea how she felt about me now, or of what kind of reception I’d get.

We’d agreed on another dimly-lit bar, the Sheldon Hotel’s, a bit swanky. I’d put on a suit and tie. I sat facing the entrance from the lobby. And for an hour after I arrived, Sally didn’t show.

I was about to leave, when Sally came in, dressed in a basic black dress, pearls around her neck, heels on her feet. It was the fanciest outfit I’d ever seen her in. She saw me, came over, and waved her hands at me. “Move. I want the seat facing the entrance.”

I did as she asked and she settled into my place. “Sorry,” she said with a worried look on her face, “about being late. I think I was being followed and had to ditch my tail. If he comes in, I don’t want him to see you.”

That didn’t sound good. The waitress came over, I ordered for the both of us, and she departed. And then the two of us spent the next few minutes shifting back and forth between looking uneasily at each other, trying to start a conversation, and looking away.

The waitress came back with the drinks, unusually speedy service at the Sheldon. Sally drained about half her bourbon. To my raised eyebrow, she replied, “Dutch courage.” She looked back at her drink, and then looked up at me. “You have no idea how much I didn’t want to come here tonight.”

What could I say? “I’m sorry, Sally, for all of it. If you want to put an end . . .”

Sally cut me off. “Kammen, shut up. I’m here. I don’t know exactly why I’m here or what I expect of you . . .” She took a deep breath, got herself under control. “You have no idea how much trouble you’ve unleashed.”

“I’ve got it. I have no idea. That’s kind of why I came here, Sally. I have no idea.”

Sally gave me a puzzled frown, then sat back, reached into her purse for a cigarette. She was an infrequent smoker, generally only when stressed. She lit up, took a few puffs. “Sorry, Sherlock. What between seeing you again and what’s going on at the office and the guy tailing me tonight . . . it got to me.” She crushed out her cigarette in the ash tray, took a sip from her drink, leaned forward, dropped her voice. “Okay, first the easy parts. There’s not much on O’Donnell, IA never looked into him. Lived at home with his parents and youngest sister. He’s third in a family of five. The other three siblings are all somewhere in the city. Usual good conduct stuff in his file. The guy’s vanilla.”

Sally took a breath and a sip. “On to the next one. Much as though it’s tempting to think so, Zalensky is almost certainly not a plant. Somebody high up would have to be a lot smarter than they are for such a plot to work. The force couldn’t figure out what sort of pattern Martha Fokker was following in picking cops, save that she had started to go for cops higher up in the ranks. Zalensky’s the highest cop she nailed. Do you know how she got him?”

I shook my head.

“She nailed him in his own bed, with his wife looking on, absolutely paralyzed.”

I had to chuckle. “Sounds like Martha. Probably she had enthralled the wife to be passive. Martha’s a fairly powerful vampire. Most vampires, at least when they’re young, can’t enthrall more than one person at a time except by biting them, which is why we’re vulnerable to multiple simultaneous attacks.”

Sally nodded. “Fits with our success in nailing vampires, to judge from reports. Maybe the reason we haven’t been able to cope with Martha.”

“I doubt anything short of a high-caliber bullet through her heart or skull would bring Martha down, Sally. She’s an old vampire, at least a century old. We get tougher as we get older.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you hit me, Sherlock.” She looked down at her drink, spoke to it. “Damn, I’m sorry about that. I was going to stick to business.”

I nudged her. “This earned you a tail?”

Relieved that I wasn’t going to make an issue out of her remark, she looked up with a slight smile on her face. “I don’t think so. I think it was looking into sorcerers that got me that privilege. That and having my ass hauled in for a conversation with the deputy superintendent. Oh, did I say ‘conversation?’ I should have said ‘interrogation.’” Sally reached for another cigarette, immediately put it back, signaled to the waitress for a refill. “There was another person who was in the room with the deputy supe before I got there, who stayed only a few minutes. Not a cop. I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him before, always in the company of Daley and Cross. The deputy supe was grilling me about working for a sorcerer. After a few minutes, the civilian left, and the deputy supe’s questions became increasingly clueless.”

“Sounds like the other guy was a sorcerer checking you out.”

Sally nodded. “That’s what I think, too. The deputy supe was there to throw a scare into me.” Sally’s drink arrived, and she took a long sip. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Sherlock, but couldn’t a sorcerer make me do just about anything he wanted me to do? That’s what a friend of mine who’s into the occult says.”

“Pretty much. You might not even realize it. Or you might even already be on his side, and the story of the tail is just bunk.”

“That’s what I don’t get. If he really could do that to me, if they wanted you, they’d have you now. We can’t be that important to them. So who are ‘they?’ Who’s on whose side, and what’s the contest?”

I sat back, thought of how to articulate what I hadn’t really worked out. “Best guess is sorcerers at war for Chicago, Cross versus whoever is behind Martha. But for some reason the war isn’t being waged directly. Whoever is behind Martha is using the vampires somehow, and Cross doesn’t seem to be able to get a handle on Martha or the sorcerer behind her. And since Martha’s not in the city any more, presumably the conflict will switch from the vampires to another battleground. But Cross might not know Martha’s gone.”

“Martha Fokker’s gone from Chicago? You sure about that, Sherlock?”

“Yeah. Ned O’Donnell says so, and I’ve been asking around. And have you heard of her biting any more cops?”

Sally shook her head. “Your O’Donnell was the next to last. The last one turned up with a stake in his heart maybe a week later.”

“Hmph. Now that’s curious . . .”

Sally interrupted me. “My tail just walked in. Hasn’t seen me yet.”

I did some speedy thinking. “Let him see you, Sally. Act normally. I’ve got a plan.”

Sally gave me an excessively cheerful smile. “I hope your plan does not involve killing him right here. I’d have too much explaining to do. And how is the weather?”

I returned her smile with an evil grin. “Keep it up, Sally. No, I don’t plan to kill him, at least not here. But I am a vampire. It’s time I started taking advantage of my abilities.”

With a glint in her eye, Sally said, “I take it that’s what you did to me the other night at my place.”

That put a genuine smile on my face. “I can’t think of a better cause.”

She smiled despite herself. “Stop leering at me like that. Don’t think because you can pull some sort of vampire trickery on me . . .” Her smile went away. “Change the topic, Sherlock. I can’t talk about us and keep it together.”

Talk about getting mixed signals. So I switched to baseball. We chatted aimlessly for a few minutes, then Sally said, “He’s at the bar, white, about average height, dark blond hair, glasses, grey blazer and trousers, black shoes. Three seats from the end nearest the door.”

“Just what I need to know. ‘For she is wise, if I can judge of her.’” Sally recognized the line and couldn’t stop another smile from reaching her face, which brought one from mine. “Hold the fort. I’ll be right back.” I got up, walked as if I was heading toward the men’s room, then detoured at the last moment to stand behind the vacant seat next to the guy. “Excuse me, sir,” I said to him, and when he turned, I enthralled him.

Back to our booth I went, with Sally’s tail following me, under my thrall. I had him sit down next to me. Sally was looking puzzled, and even more so when I said to her tail, “I think you know Officer Truax. Why don’t you get out your ID, so she can learn who you are?” The guy obediently pulled out his wallet from his trouser pocket, and his badge from his blazer’s inner pocket, handed them both over to Sally.

Sally looked at them. “Oh, shit, he’s from the Subversives section of the Intelligence Division.” She took another look at the guy, who was staring blankly ahead. “What did you do to him?”

“Enthralled him. He’ll do whatever I say. He’ll answer any questions you have, too.” So this guy was a cop who usually infiltrated politically suspect groups. Not good.

“Really? Any question?”

“Any question, every question. He’s in my thrall. He has no choice.”

Sally gave me an alarmed look. “Isn’t that part of what we . . . no, forget that for now. Let’s stick to business.” She thought a moment, and then asked him, “How did you manage to follow me here?”

The guy reached into his pocket, pulled out what looked like a small metal matchbox. In an emotionless voice, he said, “I used this.”

I took it from him. It had unfamiliar symbols on each side. And it felt as if there was some sort of magic on it or in it.

“Let me see that,” a voice said, and the next thing I knew Ivy had plucked it out of my hand. She was sitting beside Sally, who jerked back in surprise at finding someone suddenly sitting beside her. Ivy still looked like Barbara Feldon, except now she was dressed in a black frock identical to Sally’s, even to matching pearls. After holding it in her hand for a moment, Ivy said, “Simple bit of sorcery. It’s a tracker. There’s some hair from the girl in it.”

Sally started to say something, but I cut her off. “It’s all right, Sally, she’s on our side.”

Sally wasn’t entirely convinced, but she lowered her voice. “OK, but if she calls me a ‘girl’ again . . .”

Ivy ignored her. Instead, she went poking in my mind, looking for how our little party had come together. Once she’d found what she wanted, Ivy addressed us both. “I’m going to find out who he’s working for, so drop your enthrallment, Shylock.”

I did. The guy didn’t even have a moment to recover before Ivy put him under her spell. And then, only a few seconds later, he gave a bit of a jerk. Vampires have to be able to tell the difference between living prey and a corpse, it’s a survival skill. Even though the tail was still sitting upright, I knew that in that moment the guy had died.

Ivy’s voice was strained. “Take the girl and get out of here. Don’t go back to her place. Find a hotel and register under a false name. I made a mistake, and there’s now a sorcerer hunting for us. Go now!”

I got up. Sally gave me a questioning look, so I said, “She knows what she’s talking about, Sally. We’d better go as quickly and quietly as possible.” That was enough for Sally. She got up, took my arm as if we were a couple, and we made a beeline for the entrance back to the hotel lobby. From there it was a quick walk to the door. We almost made it out safely.

Just as we got to the revolving door that led to the street, this man came in from the outside. The next thing I knew I was hit by sorcery coming from him and couldn’t move. Sally stepped back with a gasp, a look of alarm on her face. She recognized him as the civilian who’d sat in on the first few minutes of her meeting with the deputy supe. The sorcerer quietly said to her, “You’re under orders to kill cops who have been turned into vampires, Officer Truax. Do your duty.” The look of fear vanished from Sally’s face, to be replaced by a look of hatred. She pulled her pistol from her purse, aimed at me with both hands, and pulled the trigger.

The first bullet tore into my right side, breaking a rib, puncturing a lung, knocking me back. The second slammed into my left side, and did about the same. The third struck me in the stomach, causing me to double over and fall down. I heard three more shots, but didn’t feel a thing from any of them.

End of chapter seventeen

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8 Responses to MC Ch. 17

  1. Judy says:

    That was unexpected!!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      For all concerned, and that includes the author!

      Much more so than in “Dragon Lady,” the major characters in MC are pursuing their own agendas, which overlap but rarely coincide. Superimposed on all this is a larger conflict that not even the most powerful figures involved fully understand. So Ned and Kammen (and others) find themselves trying to pursue their own normal desires (albeit in the abnormal condition of being vampires) while getting caught up in larger plots and goals that extend beyond their own desires.

      To my surprise, without altering the main idea for the story, this has triggered violent confrontations in both Ned’s and Kammen’s lives earlier than I had anticipated when I sat down to write this story. Ned was originally supposed to part peacefully from Martha after she was through teaching him. But Martha is not a peaceful person when we meet her. And while I can’t tell you about how this chapter was supposed to end originally, I had to recognize that Sally had poked the hornet’s nest, and this had consequences. Sally even warned us this was likely to happen in her previous appearance.

  2. crimsonprose says:

    Masterly twist, excellently timed. But, let’s see you get out of this one!

  3. E. J. Barnes says:

    I had to link back about 5 chapters (and done text searches on every page as I went back) to be reminded who Vic was. “Martha’s friend Vic” could have avoided this labor.
    Ghosts can conjure images? I suppose it fits with their ability to “wear clothes”.
    “…a black frock”…Frock is an Anglicism; would Kammen have actually used it?
    Whew!

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I amended the text to clarify who Vic is. Thank you.

      Ivy’s a dead sorceress, so she can conjure images, and change her appearance, too. Ghosts of regular people would not be able to, or, to be more precise, would not understand how to do those things. I haven’t really gone into the theory of ghosts in the MC world, though it’s similar to the Sillyverse, a bit less lively. In general, ghosts don’t hang around for long.

      Kammen reads Shakespeare. I think we can indulge him an occasional word or phrase from across the water.

  4. Russell says:

    Moving things right along! A lot of great dialogue in here, which is not easy to do when characters are talking about supernatural topics. You strike the right balance between having Sally cognizant of how strange this conversation is while still advancing the story. Interesting clues about Martha’s history and her relationship with Love, as well (speaking of odd sentences). And it all ends with a bang! Sorry — I should really Get Smart about bad puns.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thanks. Like you and CP, I have a lot of exposition to get out there, and I’ve tried to tie it to developments in the story to keep it from bringing the pace to a halt. Easier for me than you two, my world is comparatively normal.

      Worth considering: why are Martha and Love on such friendly terms, when vampires and sorcerers usually are not?

      As for your puns, I guess you’re just losing C.O.N.T.R.O.L.

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