Chapter 21: Happy in this, she is not yet so old but she may learn
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Two nights later I showed up for a meeting with Ned, Zalensky, and Hagopian, to find out that our unofficial Vampire Bureau was scheduled to go public in two more nights. I was a bit dubious about the timing. A bunch of radicals were coming to protest only a few days after we would commence operations. I was concerned that their appearance would eclipse our debut. Ned, on the other hand, wanted to use what he expected to be confrontations between the CPD and the protesters to demonstrate our capabilities. Hagopian supported Ned, arguing that the beat cops were straining at the leash to go into action. So Ned carried the day. My difference of opinion did not earn me any new credit with Ned.
To help out, I had already agreed to donate my police radio to the cause. Somehow in the last week Ned had come up with three more, and Hagopian had recruited one more ex-cop. So the bureau broke down into four teams of three; each team consisted of one cop to patrol overhead, just looking for crime, one to listen to the radio looking for criminal situations in which we could intervene, and one to serve as liaison to the other two. Each team was going to be stationed in an area where we expected there to be a high probability of crimes being committed but where the regular CPD patrolmen were unlikely to arrive in time to thwart or to catch the criminals.
Twelve in the teams, thirteen in our bureau; who’s left out? Me. Ned didn’t even bother to go over the protocols for our public operations with me, telling me I could leave at that point in the meeting to do my special assignment. Looked at one way, he was emphasizing how special my assignment was. Looked at another way, he was keeping a troublesome individual out of the way of what he saw as our most important next step.
The night before we were to commence public operations, Ned headed away from our headquarters early and took flight. I had almost never seen him change into a bat before, so I presumed he was going someplace he did not want to be followed. So I transformed into a bat and followed him.
Flying as a bat-like creature (not really a bat) is fun. The configuration of your limbs and senses is so different. You hear a different world, smell a different world. Sight isn’t that great, but that’s about it for the downside. The common lore is that you lose brainpower, but I think that’s really the result of human brains trying to filter bat sensory information as if still human. Once you stop trying to be a human in flight, and accept what you are, it becomes natural.
Ned didn’t seem to quite have the hang of it yet, because his flying was a bit erratic. Naturally he didn’t expect to be followed in the air, so he headed straight to his destination, which turned out to be the back yard of a modest house in an Irish neighborhood. I once had a beat in that neighborhood, a long time ago when I was starting out. Ned dropped into the yard and transformed. I carefully landed in a tree behind him and did likewise. The sturdy branch I had picked creaked a bit under my weight but held.
Ned was facing toward the house, but standing in the dark. He made an odd whistling noise, presumably a signal. The next thing I knew, a girl stepped out of the house.
I first thought this had to be Ned’s girlfriend from before he became a vampire, or maybe new prey, but the girl looked too young, a real girl, probably in her teens. I caught a good view of her in the light from the house, noted a resemblance to Ned, and the pieces fell together: this was his sister, the one Sally mentioned was living at home. Which meant this was Ned’s home. I knew his address, and this could well be it. Had to wonder if Ned had been one of the neighborhood hellions I’d had to cope with in those days when I walked this neighborhood.
Ned and his sister moved behind the shed, out of sight of the house and a bit farther away from me. I could only make out bits and snatches of the conversation, they were talking so quietly. As near as I could tell, Ned was explaining the Vampire Bureau’s plans to his sister, whose name was Nora. She was asking questions, a lot of them, and to my amusement Ned didn’t always seem to have a ready answer. Their facial expressions and postures switched back and forth between being comfortable and being serious with each other. At one point, the sister actually pounded Ned on the chest a few times to make her point, and Ned stood there and took it. I could see why Ned didn’t want it known among us cops that he was taking advice from his teenaged sister. He’d have been the butt of jokes at the very least, and would have lost some of the aura of leadership he was trying to develop.
After a long conversation, Ned gave his sister a hug, and then took off. She watched him transform and fly out of sight.
I decided to take a gamble. I flew down to where Ned had been standing, and transformed directly in front of his sister. She was startled, but once that wore off she backed up, tossed away the can of soda she’d been drinking, and took up what was supposed to be some sort of martial arts stance. Without raising her voice much, she called out, “Who are you? You’d better identify yourself or I’ll hurt you.”
I laughed without being too loud. “I’ve actually had martial arts training, Nora O’Donnell, whereas I suspect you learned that stance from watching The Green Hornet on TV. But let me introduce myself. I am Sherlock Kammen, and I work for your brother Ned.”
I’ll give her credit. She knew she’d been called out, but she kept up posing. “Prove it.”
I reached into my pocket, pulled out the new Vampire Bureau badge, and tossed it at her feet. She picked it up, looked it over, looked back up at me. “You said your name was?”
“Kammen, Detective Sherlock Kammen.”
She giggled. “Here’s your badge back, Detective Kammen.” She held it out. I walked forward to take it, and she started giggling again.
I took it from her, put it back in my pocket. She stopped giggling and said, “I’m sorry to laugh at your name. It’s just that the way my brother talks about you, I gathered your given names were ‘That Damned.’”
I had to smile at that. “Truth be told, I am not your brother’s favorite. Are you sure you’re not leaving any profanity out of my name?”
She shook her head, turned serious. “So, tell me, Detective Sherlock Kammen, if you work for my brother, why are you following him without his permission?”
This one was sharp. I decided to see what some truth will reveal. “Because your brother has asked me to investigate the difficulties we may be having with sorcerers, and I’m convinced he knows something important that he won’t tell me.”
“Where Martha Fokker and her friendly sorceress are. Martha’s the cute little homicidal maniac who made us into vampires. The sorceress is apparently named Love, which makes me wonder why she hangs out with Martha.”
I’d hit some sort of nerve. She frowned, look down at the ground for a while. Dissembling wasn’t her strongest suit. After a few moments contemplating her own feet, she looked back at me and said, “And I suppose you expect I’m going to betray my brother and tell you where they are, assuming I know.”
“It would save me some trouble, Nora. But no, I don’t expect it.”
That puzzled her. “Then why are you talking to me?”
“I can hope.” I looked about. “Mind if I sit down for a bit? I do have a bit more to say, and I’d rather be comfortable.”
Rather than answer, she sat down on the ground herself, and I took up a position facing her about two feet away. “It’s like this, Nora,” I said to her, “most of the cops Martha turned into vampires like the little hellion because she taught them how to be good vampires. Me, Martha and I never got along.”
I paused for moment, and Nora interjected, “You don’t get along well with my brother, either. Maybe you’re the problem.”
I had to smile at that, too. “Maybe my social skills aren’t what they ought to be, but that’s not the real problem. Your brother’s admitted to me that Martha has a sorceress working with her, and I’m pretty sure that that sorceress is somehow or other using us in some sort of sorcerers’ war. I want to find Martha and her sorceress and find out what they’re up to, to see if we can get out of the way of that conflict. Because anything that might prevent the police department and the mayor from accepting us is bad for us, and that definitely includes being bad for your brother.”
She thought about that for a bit, and then said, “My brother doesn’t think they’re involved.”
I shrugged. “He may be right. But until I talk to them, I won’t know for sure. And I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t trust your brother or any other of Martha’s vampire children when it comes to judging Martha. It’s not a matter of feelings, but of finding out the facts, and it’s their feelings, you brother’s feelings, that are getting in the way of finding out the facts, not my lousy disposition.”
She thought a bit more. “Maybe you don’t know all the facts.”
“Granted. But, you see, that’s the point.”
She acknowledged that with a rueful smile. And then another thought struck her and she brightened. “Would it change your opinion of Martha to know she furnished the badges and police radios you’re using?”
“Interesting, but no. That still leaves her ultimate motivations a mystery.”
It was funny, but talking to Nora was reminding me of talking to my sister. She was pausing, thinking through what to say. Though she hadn’t appeared to be doing that with her brother. But then again, I was a stranger to her, and one who might be working against her brother.
This time, she gave me an uneasy look. “You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?”
Reluctantly, she replied, “And now you’ve got me worrying. I’d like to help you, Detective Kammen. I really would. But I can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“OK, let me worry you a bit more. A sorcerer already tried to kill me and a human cop over this business. If they find out that Ned’s the leader of the vampire cops, they can find you, and use you against him, even kill you just to get at him.”
“You’re trying to scare me.” Her tone indicated I was succeeding.
“Yes, exactly, and for good reason. The next time someone strange drops into your yard, don’t stay to talk with them. Run. Don’t try to fool them by pretending you know karate. Get away as fast as you can. If it’s a sorcerer, he can make you do anything he wants. If it’s a hostile vampire, he can enthrall you and make you his willing victim. You have only a slim chance of getting away if you run, but none at all if you stay. Take the safe chance, Nora O’Donnell. You’re of no help to your brother if you wind up dead or a pawn of his enemies.”
I stood up. “Time for me to go. I’ll find other ways to continue my investigation. I’d rather you didn’t tell Ned I was here, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.”
Nora stood up, reached out to me. “Wait a minute.”
I stood there looking at her. She wasn’t certain she wanted to meet my gaze, but finally looked me full in the face. “You’re a vampire. You could enthrall me. Wouldn’t I tell you what you wanted then?”
As much amused as exasperated, I said to her, “I’m about to leave, and you remind me of ways I could attack you?”
“But you could, couldn’t you?”
“Yes, I could.”
“So why haven’t you?”
Why not, indeed? In truth, because she was a smart but innocent teenage girl. But that wouldn’t sound like a convincing reason. And then I had an idea. Maybe it had been in the back of my head all along. I said, “First, because you’re Ned’s sister, and he would hit the roof if he found out. Tailing him is one thing, tampering with his family is another. And second, because you did give me one bit of helpful information, that Martha’s been buying stuff for Ned, which means he’s in frequent contact with her. I don’t hurt people who help me.”
She looked chagrinned. “I didn’t mean to do that. I just wanted you to see that there’s something good in Martha.”
“‘I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind,’” I replied. Nora winced. Seeing she’d got my point, I continued, “Look, in any case you did me a favor. Now, your brother sees you frequently, right?”
Nora had to think whether that would be telling me anything important, but eventually nodded.
“Good. Now, a lot of guys who were good cops are counting on this Vampire Bureau scheme to get them reinstated. They’re depending on your brother for leadership, and on me to figure out how we can avoid conflict with the sorcerers. If, for any reason, your brother or I disappear without explanation, or you think you’re being threatened by a sorcerer or vampire, go to the main library downtown, any time you can get in, day or night. Hang around near the reference desk and whisper my name over and over again. Someone, not me, will come to help. Got that?”
She took that in, and understood exactly what I had done, that I was entrusting her with confidential information, even if she would not return the favor. She didn’t look happy about it. In a low voice, she said, “I wish I could trust you, Detective Kammen. I really do.”
“Don’t,” I told her. “At least don’t trust anyone else who drops by unannounced.”
I turned to go, but she stopped me for a second time. “Detective Kammen.” I turned back, waited. Nora seemed to be debating over whether she really wanted to say something. I was not going to hurry her. She started to say something, hesitated again, and then said, “The sorceress’s full name is Make Love Not War.” She saw my raised eyebrow, because she added, “Really.”
I smiled, leaned over, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Thanks. I’ll let you know how it turns out, Miss Nora O’Donnell. Assuming your brother doesn’t tell you first. ‘Fair thoughts and happy hours attend upon you!’”
Nora smiled. “That sounds like a quotation, Detective Kammen, and not your first.”
I bowed. “My father was an actor, so I come by it naturally. That line is from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.” We both smiled at that. And on that note I transformed and flew away.
As I later found out, Nora knew quite a bit more information than that. Because I already had told her part of the sorceress’s name, she was willing to tell me the rest of it, without feeling that she was betraying her brother. But beyond that she wouldn’t go, and I didn’t push.
At least I had a more solid lead. Make Love Not War: sounded like a hippie name. So the sorceress must still look young, probably not much different from how she looked in the 1890 photo, apart from clothing. Probably a different hair style, though; for her sake, I hoped so. Time to start checking out the neighborhoods where young people hung out, looking for hippies, particularly ones who had come to the city in the last year or so.
I had my failsafe plan, as well. If Ned or I were killed, Nora could go to Ivy, and Ivy would try to pick up the pieces. I’d make sure to speak to Ivy and explain why I was doing this. It wasn’t a great contingency plan, and Nora wasn’t the ideal agent, but she’d do. She knew what was going on, she was connected to Ned without being directly involved, and she wasn’t stupid, just a bit naïve.
End of chapter twenty-one